We were up early on our final morning in Wiltshire. It had rained overnight and everything was soaked, but there was something in the air that promised a hint of summer. The vividness of the green in the damp half-light made the world look unreal. Our host, true to his word, had asked around and had a few suggestions about the location of the Missing Mound, so two of us headed out into the morning to try and find it… and although our quest would prove fruitless, we found where the Ridgeway led through the village at both ends.
That is a special path in so many ways and one we would like to walk end to end. There are less than 90 miles of the ancient trackway still walkable, leading past many of the sacred sites of our ancestors and calling into question their location. Were they built close to the Ridgeway for convenience? Or does the five thousand year old High Way hold other secrets, following something in the land itself? Something our forefathers knew, but lost to our blinkered, modern sight.
We cannot know what dictated the route. The pragmatic explanations of trade and cattle droves seem to lack something when held against the sacred sites that mark its passage. The hedgerows line the path with nettles and thorns, yet amongst them bloom wildflowers and fluttering beauty on wings. The white of the chalk gleams ahead and behind, hidden and revealed by the undulations of the landscape across which it runs and from it the world opens to left and right as field and valley, in a beautiful analogy of life, memory and hope.
Once, it ran coast to coast from Dorset to Norfolk… now the preserved national trail runs from the Sanctuary at Overton Hill to Ivinghoe Beacon, both places that have a special part in our own journey. The Ridgeway has been part of our story since the very first weekend that saw the beginning of our adventures and the discoveries that led to the publication of The Initiate, the first of the books Stuart and I wrote together.
We had begun that journey by climbing Dragon Hill and seeing the White Horse before going on to Wayland’s Smithy, and it had been decided that it would be at Wayland’s where our party would spend the final morning of our weekend amid the Mountains of the Sun. Leaving before the rest of our party, there was time… so Stuart and I turned the car once more towards Dragon Hill.
It felt right to climb the orchid-strewn slope in the early morning, watching the flight of the birds over the Horse… including the buzzard that had marked the beginning of wonder for us. And as before, the land seemed to open its heart to us and whisper secrets, planting seeds that might not immediately unfurl, but which would, in time, lead to further understanding. We sat a while on the hill where St George is said to have slain the dragon, while the dragon held us in its hand. Sometimes going back to the beginning is the best way forward.