The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Swin­don is the clos­est station to the start of the trail; buses run from Swin­don to Coate Wa­ter, from where it is about 11km on foot to Bar­bury Cas­tle. Sal­is­bury, at the trail’s end, also has good rail links. The X5 bus runs be­tween Swin­don and Sal­is­bury. More: sal­is­ The Old Forge B&B in East Ken­nett is a con­verted black­smith’s house near Sil­bury Hill; the­old­forgeave­ There are five stylish river­side gue­strooms at the Trout­beck Guest House in East Chisen­bury, which is at­tached to the Miche­lin-starred Red Lion Free­house; redlion­free­ The Great Stones Way (Cicerone Press, 2016); OS Ex­plorer maps 157 and 130. More: ord­nancesur­; vis­itwilt­; vis­itbri­ pub, Tu­dor man­sion and cream tea cafes packed into a vil­lage ringed by the coun­try’s big­gest stone cir­cle, erected about 2500BC. There are no bar­ri­ers here as there are at Stone­henge and chil­dren play hide-and-seek among the sarsens.

I leave the cir­cle for Sil­bury Hill; at al­most 30m high, it’s the largest man-made mound in Europe. What was it? A cer­e­mo­nial site, an ob­ser­va­tory, a gi­ant com­post heap? Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions have un­cov­ered no hu­man re­mains in­side, un­like at nearby West Ken­net Long Bar­row (built 3650BC), where ev­i­dence of more than 40 bod­ies has been found. What is known is that Sil­bury started as a small mound and was added to over time, like a slowly ex­pand­ing ball of rub­ber bands. The more time I spend there, the stranger it seems; the walk from my B&B to the pub takes me past it at dusk, when all is quiet, and with the un­nat­u­rally con­i­cal hill sil­hou­et­ted against a red­den­ing sky, the­o­ries of alien ac­tiv­ity seem al­most plau­si­ble.

The next morn­ing as I plough south, men­tally scan­ning the land­scape for tu­muli, I pe­ri­od­i­cally glance over my shoul­der, each time see­ing Sil­bury still loom­ing be­hind. How im­pos­ing this strange mini-moun­tain must have seemed in a time be­fore great build­ings and mon­u­ments had been erected.

Even­tu­ally I es­cape from Sil­bury’s shadow and into a land of … well, what? The ex­panse be­tween Ave­bury and Stone­henge has been dubbed “the great sepa­ra­tion”, over­shad­owed by those sites to its north and south. But, with its un­her­alded man-made relics, gently rolling fields and com­plete ab­sence of other peo­ple, it pro­vides some of the most sat­is­fy­ing walk­ing. For a while I fol­low the Wans­dyke, a rem­nant of the early me­dieval pe­riod. This deep-ditched, long-for­got­ten earth­work once stretched for about 65km across the West Coun­try. Then I traverse Milk Hill, a flock of paraglid­ers swoop­ing over­head. I pass a Ge­or­gian-era White Horse, crest Adam’s Grave, yet an­other Ne­olithic bar­row, and gaze over Pewsey Vale.

A few kilo­me­tres ahead sits prob­a­bly the coun­try’s big­gest henge — not that you would know it. Mar­den Henge’s fea­tures have been di­min­ished by cen­turies of farm­ing; Hat­field Bar­row, Mar­den’s own 15m-high ver­sion of Sil­bury, was flat­tened in the 19th cen­tury. As I stride the un­re­mark­able field, I just about dis­cern earth­works first raised around the time of the Egyp­tian pyra­mids. If a jolt back to the 21st cen­tury were needed, Sal­is­bury Plain pro­vides it. Here, the route skirts Min­istry of De­fence land that booms with ord­nance; I stick du­ti­fully to the path, re­lieved to de­scend to the wil­low-lined River Avon. Near its banks, the Red Lion Free­house pro­vides Miche­lin-starred sustenance and a wine or two to set­tle the nerves.

I have bro­ken this hike into three sec­tions, al­though you could take longer, or even in­clude short hops by bus. So the last day is a big one, both in terms of dis­tance and his­tor­i­cal im­port. Af­ter a morn­ing walk­ing in miz­zle, I even­tu­ally ap­proach Dur­ring­ton Walls, a huge en­clo­sure that now em­braces the busy A345 but once held a set­tle­ment of about 4000 res­i­dents. The­o­ries about it emerge all the time. For in­stance, large num­bers of ado­les­cent pig

Stone­henge, left; Ave­bury henge stone cir­cle, top; walk­ing the Wans­dyke an­cient earth­work, below left; Bar­bury Cas­tle, bot­tom

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