Friday, 13 August 2010

White horse at Pewsey Downs 25/7/10

As usual I have kept all pictures to a decent size, so do click for more detail.

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.


  1. I found this set of photos stunning and deeply moving, Gretel, not least because I haven't visited that part of Wiltshire since I left Swindon College, effectively severing all ties with Will and hence a chapter of my life. I'd forgotten how dramatic and atmospheric that terrain is, and I love the way you move from the intimacy of the dragon fly, for example, to the contemplation of vastness of landscape. I still feel all shook up inside!

    Thank you so much for these!

  2. Amazing photographs of skies and countrysides.
    Loved your picnic lunch, the barges and the dragonfly! All...such beautiful scenes!

  3. i couldn't keep my eyes off your beautiful skies w/the
    puffy white clouds. it looked like the became a bit
    threatening, though.

    the chalk horse is just incredible.

    thank you for the lovely tour of your gorgeous

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful walk with us. The scenery, the sky, the horse... all... just beautiful.

  5. These skys look so much like ours. Our pastures however are not that green. Loved the pictures.
    The crop circles are interesting too.

  6. I love your pictures. You are very fortunate to live where the countryside is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I feel as though I have been there too! Carla

  7. Gretel you are so very kind to take your camera along on such magnificent days out. Thank you so very much! It must be rather tiresome (though wonderful in its own way) to be painting at home, knowing that such glorious landscapes are outside.

    All those photos with the low horizon and the various clouds moving across that fantastic blue sky, well, they just made me want to dive into the laptop's screen. Just thinking of the possibility of sitting and sketching and perhaps even getting out the brushes and watercolors in such vicinities ... well, I am sure you have been there and done that ... but please do know what treasures are around you.

    Of course, you do know it.

    The picnic ... perfection.

    The pub that you and Andy stopped at, I think that I would also love it.

    Gretel, I do hope that all your indoors work will soon entitle you to more freedom to venture out and about. Hoping that your back garden is providing lots of wonderful veg.

    New York has been having an untypically hot summer. I do not like it. The daily subway commute does not give me skies with beautiful blue and changing could shapes. I stick my head in a book or magazine and try to transcend.


  8. Hey Gretel...I am currently away from my computer and I am writing this on a very..very slow borrowed unit...will comment when I much to say!!!

    Janet xox


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