Day 1. White Horses

I set off at 0900 and then realised that I had forgotten to put my helmet on so had to turn round and remedy the situation.  My route took me across Horsington Marsh and up the hill into Wincanton where I joined the old A303 past the Hunter’s Lodge and through Bourton and Zeals before turning left across the old airfield towards Stourhead.  I went along the main road rather than past the front of the Palladian Mansion, owned by the National Trust and skirted Maiden Bradley House, one of the homes of the Duke of Somerset, before turning down the mile long drive to Longleat House. There was a steady stream of cars visiting the various attractions at Longleat and the traffic to get into the Safari Park was 6 abreast, so that should please the Marquess of Bath.

On to Corsley where, for the first time I engaged the motor to get up the steep hill to the main road and then turned it off again as I made my way across to Westbury and the first of the White Horses.  Located on the edge of Bratton Downs and lying just below an Iron Age hill fort, it is the

oldest of several white horses carved in Wiltshire. It was restored in 1778, an action which may have obliterated another horse that had occupied the same slope. A contemporary engraving from around 1772 appears to show a horse facing in the opposite direction that was rather smaller than the present figure. There is, however, no documentation or other evidence for the existence of a chalk horse at Westbury before 1772. 

The road was now relatively flat all the way to Market Lavington, past Dauntsey’s School, devoid of pupils for the summer holidays and on through Urchfont where I glimpsed the small Pewsey White

Horse: to Pewsey itself, where I stopped at the Royal Oak for a  very good pannini and a pint of Henry’s IPA which slipped down a treat.

The back garden of the pub where I sat in the watery sunshine is now jostling for space with a scaffolding stage which will host Oakstock, featuring local bands, on 21st August.

Onwards past watery roadworks and Burbage to East Grafton where I hung a sharp left climbing over the downs, but not steeply enough to warrant the engine, to cross the Kennet and Avon canal at Crofton

No sign of narrow boats but a mile or so further on I came across the gateway to the Crofton Beam Engine, unfortunately closed except at weekends, which purports to be the

the oldest working beam engine still in place doing its original job.  Who am I to argue?

When I was at school, more years ago than I care to remember, I spent several weekends clearing the Kennet and Avon canal which was then overgrown and unused.  It is now open to traffic from Bristol to Reading including the magnificent Caen Hill lock system at Devizes, which I missed today but passed by on my trip between the County Towns in 2016.

I now followed the canal and railway  which travel side by side demonstrating the Geography teacher’s dream of three parallel transport systems which largely superseded one another.  I left the canal just past Little Bedwyn where I had to climb over a hill to reach Hungerford which was bustling in the warm and sunny afternoon.

Crossing the Bath Road, once the main road from London to Bath and Bristol, but somewhat less busy now that the M4 takes most of the traffic, I had to take the main road towards the M4 and Wantage. Not a pleasant experience with impatient drivers, especially the large artic that cut me up and forced me to brake sharply to avoid being mangled.  The road headed over the Berkshire Downs, now busy with combines harvesting barley and OSR but very little traffic once I had passed under the M4. The route was now largely uphill and, as I had plenty of battery to spare I switched on the motor at its lowest setting to take the pain out of the climbs.

The last few miles of the 77 travelled were a glorious swoop down towards West Illsley where I am to stay the night with one of my oldest friends with whom I played rugby for Bedford back in the 1970’s.  We haven’t seen one another for a couple of years but, as old friends do, we shall catch up from when we last met and tell stories that grow taller as the years pass.

Tomorrow I make my way to London to catch the overnight sleeper to Inverness so no need for an early start as the train doesn’t load until 2030 and I only have a relatively easy 64 miles to travel, much along canal towpaths.

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