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The Great Stones Way concept

A walker along The Ridgeway National Trail from the north will reach the present end of the Trail on the A4 at Overton Hill, with the Sanctuary across the road, Silbury Hill West Kennett Avenuejust over the shoulder of the hill, and the mysterious stone circle of Avebury a mile away down the Stone Avenue to the north-west. Despite these numinous surroundings, it seems a strange place for the path to end. Surely the Sanctuary is not the destination? In truth, of course, the end of the Trail is simply a convenient point for access to this prehistoric trading route, which continues southwards, as the map shows, across the Downs and the Wansdyke towards the Vale of Pewsey, and the bulk of Salisbury Plain beyond, heading straight towards Stonehenge. 

Megalithic monuments are found all along the Atlantic coast, from Iberia to Orkney, dating to between 5,000 and 3,600 years ago, indicating the spread of an important  civilisation.  It appears that this part of Wessex was an important centre of ritual and settlement at this period, and a focus for north-west European trade. Later development of agriculture and hierarchical society during the Bronze Age “beaker” period confirmed the importance of the society settled around the great henges.  The ancient Ridgeway trail, running along the chalk escarpments for ease of passage, and joining Avebury/Stonehenge to harbours on the Dorset and Norfolk coasts, would have formed the principal axis for trade between the Wessex centres and the rest of the known world. There must surely have been a well-worn road between the great megalithic monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge, or the settlements around them, and it is astonishing that today there is not even a path marked. The Great Stones Way is conceived as an attempt to rectify this loss and to re-establish the route of the ancient Ridgeway.

Beyond Stonehenge, there are inviting routes leading southwards through Great Durnford, and thence above the east bank of the Avon to the ancient earthwork of Old Sarum. We may also envisage a link across the famous Mill Meadows in Salisbury and Cranborne Chase to join the Wessex Ridgeway at Win Green on the Dorset border. 

A path linking Avebury and Stonehenge must be attractive to any walker interested in these mysterious ancient monuments, and the megalithic civilisation in Wessex. It forms a convincing central link in re-establishing the ancient Ridgeway trade route from Norfolk to Dorset. The path will also give access to the major heritage attractions of Stonehenge and its environs, and to historic Old Sarum, and the City and Cathedral of Salisbury. Its extension across Cranborne Chase would create, with the Wessex Ridgeway, a magnificent circular route around the main chalk escarpments in Wiltshire, with all their ancient monuments. The path would link the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the North Wessex Downs, in Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire, and in Dorset.

In the modern world, facilities for outdoor recreation and enjoyment of the countryside are increasingly important, and walking provides fitness benefits with minimum environmental impact. Long-distance walking has increasing numbers of adherents, not only from this country but from overseas, and the economic benefits for communities along the routes have been shown to be considerable. The creation of The Great Stones Way as a new, way-marked path should be a high priority both for those promoting tourism and rural economic growth, and for anyone concerned with health and countryside access.

Photograph copyright Chris Cole. West Kennett Avenue