On Monday 3 June I was one of fifteen volunteers who enjoyed a guided walk over the Stonehenge Landscape, led by Michael Robinson of the National Trust.
Starting at Tombs Road in Larkhill, the walk took in King Barrows Ridge and the King Barrows themselves, Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus Barrows, and the Cursus. Despite having walked this landscape several times in the past, including the former WW1 airfields at Stonehenge and Larkhill – walks organised by ‘Wings Over Stonehenge’ – and taken the trouble to read the information boards en route, I still learned new things. Thus I learned that it was not until the Great Storm of 1990 felled some trees growing on the barrows did archaeologists discover that the mounds were made of turf and soil rather than the usual chalk. The importance of these monuments to the Bronze Age people can be appreciated when one realises that an area of 12 football pitches (valuable agricultural land!) would need to have been stripped of grass to create them. The King Barrows have never been excavated.
Leaving King Barrows we took the path that led us onto the Avenue where we could savour the effect, experienced by our forbears, of Stonehenge gradually coming into view as we ascended the final stretch. Two of our party walked the left hand bank whilst the main body walked the right hand bank so that we could visualise the width of the Avenue.
Leaving Stonehenge we walked across the site of the former Visitor Centre and carpark and took the path to the Cursus Barrows. From here we could look across in the direction of Normanton Barrows and Bush Barrow, the latter being the site of Britain’s richest Bronze Age burial, the artefacts of which can be seen at Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.
Amongst these artefacts is a bronze dagger adorned with 140,000 minute gold rivets. This excavation was led by William Cunnington (1754-1810) whose colleague, John Parker, of Heytesbury, is credited as being the first person to use a trowel on an archaeological site. John Parker had scattered these “points of gold” before Cunnington had had an opportunity to examine them.
Coincidentally, a YouTube video describing this was uploaded only yesterday (3rd June). This can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhxcdGLzGbI
Whilst at the Cursus Barrows we were all enthralled by the sight of a small but spectacularly blue Adonis Blue butterfly, whose sole larval food source is horseshoe vetch. This beautiful butterfly is one of the most characteristic of unimproved southern chalk downland, but has undergone a major decline through its entire range (-19% since the 1970s). However, it has recently expanded in some regions, notably Dorset and Wiltshire.
At the end of the walk, many of us were extremely flattered when we were asked to sign a ‘permission to use our images’ form from the National Trust which referred to us as ‘models’.
My iphone ‘Health’ app informed me that we had covered about 7km during this walk.
This was a very enjoyable and worthwhile morning out.