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Walks in an Ancient Landscape

Clyffe Pypard YH, 24th-25th March 2007

Flicking through the pages of the shiny new YHA Accommodation Guide, Clyffe Pypard YH looked like a place that would appeal to our group. A 14-bed bunkhouse, interesting part of the country, attached to a pub! Three months later it was time to see if it would meet those expectations.

Situated a few miles south of Swindon, the village (which is pronounced Cliff Pipe-ard, by the way) took some finding, but everyone managed to make their way there in good time nonetheless. On arrival, everyone was ordered to remove their shoes in order to protect the carpet. In my view, people who run hostels (and pubs) in muddy places shouldn’t be too precious about their flooring (even the patio outside couldn’t be walked upon in boots!). Hopefully they’ll get more laid back about this in time as having to walk around in stocking feet is the only thing to spoil this otherwise comfortable hostel.

Having chosen the only hostel in the country with a genuinely en suite pub, most took advantage by spending the evening in the bar. The beer was allegedly CAMRA approved, though it drew less favourable comment from our own resident expert Dr Self! Nonetheless everyone seemed well fed, watered and rested when it was time to start walking the next morning.

A brisk climb brought us to the top of the escarpment that gives the village the first part of its name. Though it’s not really steep enough to qualify as a “Clyffe”, its ascent certainly warmed people up on a chilly March morning. At the top of the slope the country changed to gently rolling farmland interspersed with small patches of woodland. As we set out across the first field, three deer broke cover and ran, springing and jumping, into the distance – they must have seen me trying to get my camera out!

Soon we were climbing up Windmill Hill, our elevenses spot and the first (and oldest) ancient site of the weekend. Apparently they’ve found some of the oldest pottery in Britain on this site, which was a gathering place for stone age tribespeople around 3700BC. We were more interested in finding somewhere out of the wind, but were still able to enjoy the view of Avebury and its surrounding countryside.

Coming down the hill, we passed through the village of Avebury, and pausing only for an ice cream in the village car park set off for Silbury Hill. This 130-foot high mound – the tallest in Europe – was built in 2660BC, but its purpose remains shrouded in mystery. We admired it anyway, before passing by the West Kennett Long Barrow and crossing the A4 (itself a Roman road, but a positive youngster in such company) back towards Avebury.

The final part of the morning’s preambulations took us along the West Kennet Avenue, an ancient route flanked by standing stones which led us to a gap in the huge bank and ditch surrounding the main Avebury stone circle. Another major prehistoric construction project, the Avebury henge is 14 times larger than Stonehenge and 500 years older. Like Silbury Hill, it’s the biggest of its kind in Europe.

When we arrived, a pagan ceremony was underway within the stone circle to mark the vernal equinox and welcome in the spring. However, the best efforts of the druids did nothing to dissipate the bitter north wind which was beginning to give the day a very un-springlike feel. Rather than beat our way head-on into this wind back to the hostel, I decided that we’d make use of the local bus service for part of the route. This also gave the group time to split up and see the various sites and sights at their own pace.

Once the bus had taken us back to the village of Broad Hinton we were soon on our way back to the hostel. Coming down the steep escarpment, we paused to take a look at the Broad Town white horse. First carved out in 1864 it’s a real youngster compared with the other sights of the day, but still pretty impressive once you get far enough into the valley to see it properly. A short walk across the fields brought us back to Clyffe Pypard, for another evening (what hardship) spent in the pub.

Lack of foresight on the part of the organiser meant that this trip was taking place on the weekend when the clocks went forward, so everyone lost an hour in bed. The early morning weather didn’t look too promising (not that most of us were up early enough to see much of it) – distinctly damp and murky, so when we convened on Hackpen Hill, next to another Wiltshire White Horse, it looked like the day’s walk would be a short one.

The first part of the walk continued the neolithic theme of the weekend. We were walking along the Ridgeway – an ancient trackway that has been described as Britain’s oldest road. Elevenses were taken in Barbery Castle, a comparatively modern iron age hill fort, an coincided with a marked improvement in the weather. As we continued across the Marlborough Downs, the sun came out and a succession of skylarks serenaded us on our way. Maybe the druidic welcoming-the-spring ceremony had a delayed action effect?

All thoughts of cutting the walk short were abandoned, and we followed a wide circuit across the downs, passing Rockley Hall before rejoining the Ridgeway and returning to the car park and the 21st century. This marked the end of another enjoyable group weekend, My thanks, as ever, go to the drivers and to everyone else who came.

One Response to “Walks in an Ancient Landscape”

  1. alison king
    11 Jul 2007 @ 10:39 pm

    You can take a white horse anywhere according to the 1970 advert, was it for the nat west? thanks for putting us in the picture and great write up. Seems to have been another interesting and enjoyable weekend I’ve missed! alison

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