Hackpen Hill, Barbury Castle and The Ridgeway
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
Hackpen Hill can be seen on the right as you drive north from Avebury towards Swindon. I have often glimpsed across to see the spindly White Horse on the hill and on busy summer days, I could see many cars in the car park at the top of the hill. This is clearly a place that people come to to experience the local landscape, so I decided to join them.
The road to the car park snakes up the hill, and in the field below the summit a crop circle could be clearly seen. It was an intricate design, and was attracting plenty of visitors who were paying the small entrance fee to walk into the centre. Rather than preventing access, the farmer was using it as an opportunity to raise money for charity. I make no comment on the source of crop circles, but they are a fascinating addition to the ancient Wiltshire landscape during the summer months. They clearly attract people into the countryside, which is a positive outcome.
My goal when I visited on a warm evening in late June was to capture some aerial shots of the White Horse then walk two miles up the ridgeway to Barbury Castle to watch the sunset, before walking back to the car as dusk set in. It turned out to be a magical evening of exploration, and the sunset was a truly extraordinary sight from the ramparts of the fort.
The Ridgeway itself is worthy of some words, as it is often described as Britain's oldest road. It starts at Overton Hill, down near the Sanctuary and heads up past Hackpen and Barbury Castle. Adopted as a National Trail in 1972, you can walk as far as Buckinghamshire, 87 miles away. But going back 5,000 years, the high ground of the path must have provided a sense of security and seeing the remains of Barbury Castle, indicates that the route was fortified as well. Today, the path is used by walkers, cyclists and the occasional off road vehicle.
Barbury Castle itself is a magnificent sight from the air. It was first occupied 2,500 years ago and its rural isolation makes it feel untouched, even though its proximity to Swindon means that local people often find their way up here to soak in the landscape. There are no settlements nearby, and while you can park nearby down isolated roads you have to walk amongst its ramparts to truly experience its size and wonder.
Once the sun set in the distance, a quiet walk along the darkening ridgeway provided a suitable end to the evening adventure. We are lucky that urbanisation has not reached these parts, and we can spend our time walking the same paths as our ancestors. The views may have changed due to the spread of agriculture in the surrounding fields, but this must surely be a view similar to that experienced by the people of prehistory.
Hackpen Hill can be easily reached from Swindon or Avebury via the A361. The viewpoint is clearly signposted from the main road and there is a good sized car park on the brow of the hill, above the White Horse. The ridgeway cuts right through the middle of the car park and there is plenty of signage to help with navigation.