Michelmersh to Avebury

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Mother Beech holds her babies in her branches

Its a year now since we were in these bluebell woods near Michelmersh. Accompanied by Ayla and Susie we found shelter for a few days beneath a magnificent beech. Days were spent wandering among the glowing blue, with visits to the local gastro pub to see if we could sing for roast potatos.

Please do read on….

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Grimbled nodes

One night we awoke to stomping feet around our heads, heavy clumping and breaking branches. Coming closer, the invisible night monster started shouting….NO! NO! NO!

There was nothing for it but to lay still and wait for it to pass by or perhaps tear us to shreds.  None were willing to grab staff and grapple like Beowulf the angry beast of the woods, and eventually it roamed away, its cries echoing into the distance.

Morning brought bluebell glow to heal worried sleepers and we soon forgot our fright and lingered more in the otherwise friendly woodland.

Here are a couple of recordings of Ayla, Susie, Ed and Will in Michelmersh church:

After a time we moved on toward Salisbury, crossing yellow fields of rape seed , through cowfields, where we often pause to sing. The cows will always respond to a good song, and they themselves sometimes at night sing also, a stange and eerie music which at first sounds like lots of noise. Listen for the harmonics they hit, and suddenly the depth of cow song is revealed.

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The cows want Ayla to sing again

Reaching Salisbury, we sit to take a morning coffee. Fresh from an article in the Telegraph, people keep approaching, “are you those boys who….”, “yes, thats right” we reply, starting to get a small glimpse of what it must be like for those poor public faces, who can no longer enjoy a peaceful streetside morning coffee.  We take the warning, and embrace the blessing as a tour guide comes up and asks us to perform for her audience.  A mornings work in a matter of minutes as notes are squeezed secretively into our hands with knowing winks and smiles.

After busking awhile in the town centre we visit a pub we are recommended. There we sing for the bar and drink a  pint. It is a day of meetings as Lucinda comes to join our crew of four, so for a day or so we are five strong, without a place to stay. While busking a kind lady had offered us her house or garden for a nights sleep. We asked her tentatively about the possibility of sleeping five and she batted not an eyelid, accepting us all into her home.

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Fiona, Stefan and Olivia invite us all to stay

An evening of song and fine French food followed. Ayla and Susie sung some wonderful new tunes, while Stefan showed us bows and arrows he had made and green wood chairs he learnt to construct with Mike Abbott, the chap Ginger went off to learn from. Good luck to Olivia on her new naval career, and thank you to a remarkably welcoming family.

Some of us awoke in the garden, others in the house. It is a morning of goodbyes as we become once more a duo, and prepare to cross Salisbury Plain.  We have a date with Radio 4 on the Wiltshire downs.

On the way out of town a car pulls over. “Are you those boys walking and singing…” comes the Salisbury chant, “yes thats right” comes our jaded reply. “Would you like to join us for lunch then?”  Well, we had left town now and had no desire to go back, even for a feed so we declined the surprise offer. But the kind couple would not take a no, and arranged to meet us up old Sarum outside town for a picnic. This was a first, having a full lunch, with sandwiches and chicken legs and cake and beer and juice and all sorts of goodies brought to us en route.

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Surprise picnicking up old Sarum fort

So with belly full and packed leftovers for dinner, we thank our fortune and our benefactors, give payment with what we have (songs),  and set out north across Salisbury Plain.

We supplement our packed lunch with some young, soft beech leaves. We were told by a fellow in Dorset that they are good for the eyesight and thats why the deer eat them. They are certainly tasty.

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Beech leaves in their new light green spring form, tasty, nutty, a good salad snack

The morning after next we are to meet Clare Balding for a recorded radio walk across the Wiltshire downs to Avebury.

We walk until late and dip into a copse for some sleep, with miles to cover on the morrow to make our appointment.

Its raining hard when we wake, so we move along quickly, stuffing wet bedrolls into our bags for later.

When the rain ceases for a while, we rig up a washing line, while army trucks thunder by wondering why people are doing their washing on Salisbury Plain.

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A brief gap in the rain

We try a busk in a small town on the way. A solicitor leans despairingly out of his window above us. “Excuse me, some of us have work to do, would you please go away”, so we walk on.

Come late afternoon we stop for a replenishing pint in Upavon. Singing quietly outside, a fellow asks us to come inside to sing some songs for an Irish lady’s birthday party.

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Accordian player at the party, The Ship, Upavon

One thing leads to another. Songs all round with accordian too:

Pints line up and buffet supper is provided, the evening unfurls into uproarious revelry.

We end up on the floor of the landlords flat above the pub, with alarms set for 6am ready to rock the next 8 miles to meet the radio.

Ed doesn’t sleep a wink, hes up all night feeling nautious and poisoned. The sun rises too early, and we stumble out slowly on our way to the Wiltshire downs.

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Making slow shuffles toward Dragon Hill

Along the way a rock commemorates a blood pact between King Alfred and his brother before they set out to war against the Danish invaders. It makes us feel weaker, but drives us towards strength. The radio ring and we ask them to bring us coffee.

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A barrow (burial chamber) on Salisbury Plain, complete with graffiti lorry

We meet Nicola and Clare in a car park where they instantly point a fuzzy microphone at us and ask us to describe each other. Will gives lavish descriptions of staves, feathered hats and brass lions while Ed mumbles that Will looks like a 19th century farmer. Its a start.

We drink our coffees and off the four of us walk up to Adam’s Grave hill and onto the downs.  The recording is for Ramblings on Radio 4 with Clare Balding, in which she walks with ‘interesting’ folk upon their favorite landscape.

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Adam's Grave, the start of the Wessex Downs

It all went passably well, Ed recovered into vague lucidity half way through, while Clare and Will waxed poetic about the beautiful hillocks. At one point we got a bit lost and had to climb a couple of barbed wire fences. We visited West Kennett long Barrow for a song, then on to Silbury Hill and Avebury Henge where we say goodbye to our new friends. If you’d like to listen to the program, click here.

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Ed, Clare Balding and Will at Avebury

Avebury is a village surrounded entirely by a series of stone circles, with stone avenues and a couple of great big Long Barrows.

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One of the circles and some sheep

It lies on the Ridgeway path, said to be the oldest path in Europe, which seems to indicate that Avebury has been a pilgrimage destination for many thousands of years. It feels good to be here.

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Resting against one of the stones

We climb  the nearby Silbury Hill, a huge ancient manmade hill which was built using ox’s shoulder blades as shovels.  Last time we were passing through here we found diggers tunneling into the top of it, looking for something, we presumed.

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Silbury Hill and Will

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Atop Silbury Hill

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Swallowhead Springs, the source of the river Kennett, feeding the Thames with half its water. A hop and a skip away from Silbury Hill.

Feeling all shattered out, we find a tiny hidden patch of wood by a field and slink in to get some sleep.

Goodnight.


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Bedtime

2 Responses to “Michelmersh to Avebury”

  1. bill major says:

    In 2008 I spent a week in Churchyard cottage in Avebury, opposite the church yard, a little more luxurious, a lot more in fact than your travels. It lived up to my expectations, it was the one warm dry week in a wet summer, I walked north south east and west from Avebury. Avebury itself, as you know is a site that is easily accessible, unlike so many that are closed to the public.I did get a feeling that much of the paths and byeways had remained unchanged for centuries, although it is interesting that the stones themselves [as with Stonehenge] have been very recently “re-sited”. In the 1950s I believe they re -erected many of the lintel stones at Stonehenge and Keiler who revived Avebury as a national monument took some of the stones back from people’s houses [they in turn, or their ancestors had ripped these massive stones from the original sites. What is original and what is not is a very difficult thing. The West Kennet long barrow is a spectacular construction, i think it is open 24 hours so might be a place to take shelter? Maybe strong nerves required, especially if you have read Tolkien? Best wishes, Bill

  2. chris S says:

    Good to see you back on the road again giving and taking joy to/from all corners

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