Ranger's highlight: "Piggledene is a fine example of a sarsen stream with large boulders deposited higgledy piggledy along the valley. Dotted between mature hawthorn trees you can see evidence of where the stones were worked, split and hewn for building materials in the past. Visit in Spring and young lambs can be seen frolicking amongst the stones, or maybe just sit a while and listen to the skylarks overhead."
Along the way
This area is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the sarsen stones to be found here are home to rare lichens and provide sheltered habitat for birds, flowers and insects. Sarsen stone is a hard sandstone, formed in ancient tropical wetlands, now partially eroded to leave this spectacular landscape. Many of the stones have been removed for building and were used in the creation of the Avebury stone circle. A long term archaeological project, started in 1960 and continuing until 2088, is underway to help us understand processes that happen once an artifact is buried and how soils change and move over time. You may witness the periodic excavation in the area during your walk. On Overton Hill lies a Bronze Age barrow cemetery known as Seven Barrows (though there are 12!); the excavations have uncovered a number of related bronze and ceramic items.
The Ridgeway Car Park, Overton Hill, off A4 (nearest postcode SN8 1QG)
Park at the Ridgeway Car Park at Overton Hill and go through the gap next to the gate onto The Ridgeway. Pause for a minute before the gate to read the information panel and map. This ancient trackway begins here at Overton Hill and continues for 87 miles through rolling downland to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. You will only be following it for about 1.5 miles but look out for round barrows on either side of the track as you do. The ones on the left have been planted with beech trees in years gone by and are affectionately known as 'hedgehogs'. From here you get a fantastic view of Avebury, with Windmill Hill and its barrows in the background and over towards Cherhill and the Landsdowne Monument.
When you reach a crossroads , marked with a black fingerpost sign, turn right through a metal pedestrian gate into Fyfield Down National Nature Reserve, managed by Natural England. An information panel and map by the gate tells you all about this fascinating site. Please keep dogs on leads as sheep graze throughout the reserve and there are ground nesting birds in the spring and summer. Follow the well-trodden path across the field.
Just before you reach the gate onto the gallops, turn right through a large metal gate on your right and head towards a clump of three trees slightly to the right. Skirt around the right-hand side of this clump and head towards the Overton Down Experimental Earthwork - a fenced off mound with black and white ranging poles sticking up from the top of it. This earthwork was dug in 1960 to allow researchers to see how earthworks and their contents degrade over time and is designed to continue for 128 years. Keeping the experimental earthwork on your left-hand side, head for the highest point on the downs in front of you which is actually a collapsed barrow with sarsen boulders on top. There are lots of nettles in this area and there is no footpath visible on the ground to follow as the downs are open access.
Once on the high point look for the large grey barn ahead with a small thatched cottage to the left and head straight for them via whatever route you choose - the worn sheep tracks are very handy here! Keep an eye out for hares and listen for the distinctive call of skylarks in spring as you make your way down the valley.
When you reach the fence line in front of the buildings, turn left and continue along it until you find a small metal pedestrian gate and pass through it on to the trackway leading towards the cottage. At the fork, take the left-hand track and continue until it joins with the main hardcore track, turning left and continuing until you reach a gate next to some farm buildings.
Go through the gate, keeping the farm buildings on your right. At the next fork keep left and follow the track towards another set of barns surrounded by a high stone wall. Pass through a gate, or over the stile to the left of it if the gate is locked, and continue towards the barns. At the fork just before the barns keep left and continue round behind the barns, keeping them on your right. Once behind the barns the track continues through a gate on the left, if the gate is locked climb over a stile to the left of the gate and into Piggledene.
Weaving your way between the sarsen boulders continue along the contour of the valley which sweeps round in a curve to the right. A large badger set can be seen in the hedge along the fence line in front of you - their giant excavations are hard to miss with large chalky spoil heaps visible. Have a closer look to see if you can see where they have cleaned out their bedding and left trails of dried grass into their holes. Drop down a slight ridge into a lower part of the valley and continue round the curve until you see the A4 ahead of you with a gate and stile in the right-hand corner of the field.
Climb over the stile and cross the A4, very carefully as this is a very fast and busy road, onto the pavement on the other side , turn left and carry on up the hill for approx. 220 yards until you reach a road on the right signposted Lockeridge and Lower Fyfield. Turn right down this road and head towards Lockeridge village. The road takes you over the River Kennet. Just past the river you will need to cross over to continue on the pavement on the other side of the road. The 'Who'd a Thought It' pub in Lockeridge village makes a convenient stop for refreshments as you are now two-thirds of the way round the walk.
Just past the pub and before the school, turn right down a narrow (signposted) public footpath, carry straight on alongside the back of a house and out onto a trackway. Continue straight on, the track then bears round to the left and out onto a road. Turn right onto the road and head towards West Overton village.
When you reach a fork in the road, just over the crest of the hill past the West Overton village sign, take the right-hand fork and continue down the hill. Turn left through the churchyard, with the church now on your right-hand side, and out the other side where you join a tarmac road. At the bottom of this road, turn left (which actually appears as if you are continuing straight on) through the village.
At the T-junction turn right (which again actually appears as if you are continuing straight on) and once you have passed two houses on your left turn left down a narrow (signposted) public footpath; unfortunately the sign is partially obscured by a fence panel. Cross through a small yard area and down a small track to the road, cross over the road and the footpath continues straight on. Keep right through a small playing field and then turn right onto a short gravel path beside a house and emerge onto the road. Turn left onto the road and continue straight on towards East Kennet village.
When you reach a T-junction with a large stone wall in front of you turn right, continuing straight on over the River Kennet again, then follow the track as it snakes round first to the left and then to the right and carries on up the hill. Continue up the hill and the A4 and the Ridgeway car park should come into view ahead of you. Once you reach the A4, before returning to your car, turn left through the gate on your left and visit The Sanctuary. Begun in about 3000 BC, the Sanctuary was originally a complex circular arrangement of timber posts, which were later replaced by stones. These components are now indicated by concrete slabs. Its function remains a mystery; possibly it enshrined the dwelling place of some revered person, and certainly huge numbers of human bones were found here, accompanied by food remains suggesting elaborate death rites and ceremonies. Later, West Kennet Avenue was constructed to connect it with newly-built Avebury, reinforcing the status of this enigmatic but clearly very important site. Two interpretation panels on site will tell you all about it. Cross the A4 carefully to return to your vehicle and complete the walk.
The Ridgeway Car Park, Overton Hill, off A4 (nearest postcode SN8 1QG)
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