Great Stones Way, Wiltshire - Part 1 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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Swindon doesn’t sound like the most adventurous starting point for a walk, but what lies beyond is worth the trip.
Summoning us due south of the Wiltshire town is arguably England’s most monumental, mystery packed landscape. This is a region that has been at the heart of the country’s human history for over 4, 500 years. It was only created in 2011 but the Great Stones Way hiking trail is an easy amble linking the pretty villages, rolling fields and abundance of ancientness scattered in this area. Officially the route spans a distance of 58 km, beginning at Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort south of Swindon, and finishing at Old Sarum, the mighty hill fort or Norman castle just north of Salisbury. However, there are optional and in my opinion essential detours to Avebury and Stonehenge which take the total up to 85km.
The Great Stones Way may have only existed as a named trail for eight years, but the area it negotiates has been tramped for millennia. Indeed, you can hardly walk for Neolithic tumuli, henges, barrows and mounds, for medieval churches and 19th-century chalk horses. On the first morning, having crossed the M4 and having followed a strand of the Ridgeway, we found ourselves walking on top of Barbury’s immense banks and ditches. These are thought to have been constructed around 500 BC. The views are big with the wildflowers waving and the trail leading us on.
Over the next three days, we roamed the gently undulating hills of rural southern Britain. We picnicked alongside a Victorian white horse and watched people stare at a freshly made crop circle below us. We watched the sunset at Silbury Hill which is the largest manmade mound in Europe. We made sure to avoid the crowds at Stonehenge by approaching the site via its ancient processional avenue. We deliberated on every lump and bump in the Wiltshire countryside, trying to decide which were the work of Mother Nature and which had been moulded by successive human occupations. The region has been changed by Roman legionnaires, Saxon farmers and 21st-century soldiers.
The energetic and truly fit can squeeze this hike, and its detours, into a great long weekend adventure. This means roughly 30 km of walking a day for three days which is high, but the terrain is fairly gentle, with very few climbs. You could reduce the distance by excluding the detours, or perhaps incorporating the odd bus/taxi ride. You could even trace the backbone of the route by car, stopping off for short walks. However, if you’ve got time, you could turn this short break into a longer one by taking more time to explore each area that you stop.
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