17 September – It was a beautiful , clear start as I left Iwerne Minster for the day I had labelled my Wessex Heights. I have long had an affection for the poem “Wessex Heights” by Thomas Hardy and indeed have written several posts about it before (found here). I was full of excitement and gratitude as I began this day’s trek.
I had a couple of miles to walk across the fields to Iwerne Courtney to get back on the Wessex Ridgeway and then headed across to Hambledon Hill. This was the first of the many heights I knew I would be climbing this day. The climb to the top was reasonably slow and gentle and not too taxing . I took frequent stops to take in the opening panoramic view below. A couple of horse riders guiding a third horse overtook me on their way to the top.
The ramparts of this huge fort came clearly into view and on reaching the top at the trig point a complete 360 degree panorama spread out all around. I could see vales and woodland; the escarpment edges and isolated hills dominating the small villages nestling at their feet. To the side was a system of banks marking the edges of a Neolithic graveyard. I stopped a while and drank in the beauty. This was the first of many moments this day when I just wanted to blend in with the landscape and never leave.
Eventually, however, I began to leave the heights and went steeply downhill across sheep grazed fields to enter the area around Hanford Farm. There were several fields to cross here before I passed by Holloway Farm and skirted the village of Shillingstone. I could see by the close contouring on my map what the next delight to await me was. Climb number 2.
My guidebook described the next climb up heavily wooded areas out of the village as one of the longest and steepest climbs of the whole Ridgeway route. I would agree. I did not stop to rest or take a break whilst climbing afraid that if I did I wouldn’t begin again! A slow rhythmic meditative plod – one step after another awarded me the summit at 223 metres. It was extremely hard work. I hoped for a splendid view at the top but that was yet to come. So I bided by the trig point. The climbing was, however, over for a while.
The view opened out a mile on by the fire beacon near Okeford Hill and then stayed with me for many miles. This was ridge walking at its finest.
The sun was warm ; there was a slight breeze; I could see for scores of miles. One hill followed another without any effort. After Okeford Hill; then Bell Hill; Ibberton Hill and the Way continued above Chitcombe Down to Woollan Hill. I understand that the views range across to Glastonbury and The Quantocks. I could not pick them out but could quite believe it.
For several miles my head had been reciting the lines of Hardy’s poem . It seems to sum up for me perfectly the freedom I get from walking the hills and leaving behind that other materialistic, judgemental world in the town down below. Hardy describes the next height I was to reach as “homely Bulbarrow” and today I experienced it at its welcoming, gentle, enfolding best. It supported and held me whilst I took in the superb views. I did not want to leave. I have no idea how long I stayed. I took some photos, but they don’t do it justice. Something eminates from deep down in the very earth below that simple hill. The place to me is all.
Leaving behind this haven, physically, not ever spiritually I left the Ridgeway itself. I took my time to amble the long way down into the tiny hamlet of Ansty and my accommodation for the night.
Mileage – maybe 12; it does not matter. These heights are mine.
“I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be.”