It has been such a long time since we were able to get out for a walk; I have been tied to my painting board with another deadline and am only just getting back into the swing of things now that I am free. But our last walk, at the end of July, was a wonderful day spent on the Pewsey Downs, in nearby Wiltshire, one of my favourite counties; although it is technically *Cotswolds*, it has a very different feel.
Here the landscape spreads before you with a swan-like grace. The chalk downs and broad, open skies are windswept and airy - a clean atmosphere that leaves the walker refreshed and gasping for more.
We are climbing up to the Pewsey white horse, cut into the chalk hillside, starting a long circular walk that will take several hours, approaching the horse from the left. Unlike the ancient Uffington white horse, it is a modern monument, dating back to 1937, though it replaced an earlier one which dated from the late 1700s. It stands cheek by jowl with a proper earth antiquity, the Iron Age barrow 'Adams Grave' which we bypassed, as it was crawling with Other People. (Don't worry, we will pop in on the way back when it is less occupied). We headed for the horse, and searched for a quiet picnic spot.
I know of few better places to eat al fresco than high up on the Downs overlooking the Pewsey Vale - the earth seems to go on forever.
Far below us we were amused to see the throngs milling about a famous *magical* Wiltshire crop circle - beyond nestles the village where our next stopping point, the Barge Inn beckons - that is the largish building with two chimneys, at about one o'clock in the distance. There is a better picture of the crop circle here.
Full of baguette, pork pies, boiled egg and cake, we set off past the horse, just seen cut off here, sloping to the left.
Now we are going down the hill, towards the bright green patch in the middle of fields where the farmer is combining in his rapeseed crop.
The dry, shallow earth is covered with tiny, jewel-like wild flowers and herbs, where butterflies and insects enjoy a sadly rare rich habitat.
Here we are right down in the Vale, looking back to the white horse just up there on the hill, where we had our picnic. And there goes the combine harvester.
Down here the colours seem flattened, although the clouds still sail gloriously across the big sky.
White horse now just to the right edge.
Soon we are in the pretty village of Pewsey, walking on towards the canal.
Seen here from the bridge, the trail takes us down to the footpath which runs alongside the canal.
We don't lose sight of the white horse - there it is, just through the hedgerow.
And again, faintly behind this barge, on the hilltop beyond.
Nearly time for a pint, and I fall in love with this big Dutch barge - surely enough room in there for us, four cats, several thousand books and various gubbins? Andy thinks not.
The Barge is one of my favourite pubs; it has an relaxed, easy atmosphere, much loved by bikers, bargees, travellers and anyone who appreciates tolerance and informality. The beer is excellent too.
I could have sat there all afternoon, but there are a few miles to cover yet and we carry on along the towpath. Andy speeds ahead to the red brick bridge which we ascend to, to begin closing the circle.
A bit of road walking here and still the horse remains the pivot of our walk.
We find a poor dead dragonfly and it is secreted away in a picnic box - dragonflies preserve very well and dried out, make sweetly macabre ornaments.
Off the road and past more cottages, to the start of our return.
Almost time to begin the big climb up to the long barrow up there.
Not only the chalk horse here, (just visible on the horizon) but three real ones too.
The route to the summit of Adam's Grave long barrow is long, slow and a bit of a slog, especially after the miles behind us.
But the views are quite glorious. The sun has vanished and so have the tourists. A chilly wind sweeps the wild grasses as evening descends and still we hear the soft drone of combine harvesters bringing in the crops.
Andy has got ahead of me again and is a tiny speck atop the hummock.
Eventually, I get there too.
The sun comes out for a last burst, as we head back towards the motorbike, weary in leg, refreshed in spirit.