‘Adam’, with ‘Eve’ in the distance, Longstone Cove, Avebury

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Backpacks Journal, Tuesday 30th April to Thursday 2nd May 2019:

A Beltane Backpack

Revisiting a once much-walked ancient landscape

Confined in bed for ten weeks after last November, I hatched a simple plan to get back into multi-day backpacking again: Wild camp for four days across the Wessex Downs; stopping only twice for water in Avebury and Marlborough; and all along the route, photographing as many of the lesser-known prehistoric sites as possible. 35 years after I first backpacked around the area I’m looking forward to the walk with anticipation.

Route: Devizes, Cherhill Hill, Windmill Hill, Avebury, The Ridgeway, Fyfield Down, Marlborough.

Metrics: Distance, 48km/30 miles; ascension, 740m/2,400ft; duration, 3 days.

route map
click map view the route – mapping courtesy of OpenStreetMap


Day 1: Devizes to Knoll Down, following the escarpment at the western end of the North Wessex Downs, Tuesday 30th April 2019 For Beltane last year I did a day-long walk in West Oxfordshire to document its prehistoric sites. This year the idea is slightly more protracted: a wild camp for four days across the Wessex Downs. I take a train to Swindon, then bus to Devizes, which I leave, on this first day, to follow the escarpment of the west end of the North Wessex Downs.
Day 2: Knoll Down to Berwick Bassett Down, zig-zagging across the ancient landscape around Avebury to find some lesser-known prehistoric sites, Wednesday 1st May 2019 May Day! Or since sunset last night, Beltane. I arise early as a result of a yellowhammer, wanting it's vegan breakfast, bellowing its lungs out from the top of my tent. I watch the dawn while making breakfast. Then I zig-zag across the ancient landscape to find some lesser-known sites that the car- or bus-borne visitors rarely see.
Day 3: Berwick Bassett Down to Marlborough, a wander around a neolithic quarry before descending across the downs into the Kennet valley, Thursday 2nd May 2019 On the third, and unexpectedly final day, I wander around a neolithic quarry before descending across the downs into the Kennet valley. All begins well, but then the rucksack issues develop as the morning wears on. By late morning I have to make a big decision before I get to Marlborough to re-stock.

I can’t possibly convey just how good it felt to get out with my pack. It wasn’t just that it marked the completion a three-month project to get fit again after so much time laid flat in bed. For some years now the intensity of my work has robbed me of a simple pleasure that was once a great part of my life. I want it back!

Every now and then when giving public talks, I often come across a ‘survivalist’- or ‘prepper’-type of person. Quite often the conversation will steer around to the subject of “bug-out bags”, and in many cases prepper-types will have these already prepared (I don’t, but I could get my camping gear together in about an hour if pushed).

In these cases I nearly always say, “and how often do you go training with your bug-out-bag to keep fit enough to carry it”.

I am amazed how often that question results in a blank stare.

Thing is, you can’t just walk off carry a quarter to a third of your bodyweight on your back. If you do, you won’t get very far; and even if you manage a few days, that’s when pulled ligaments and stress fractures might start to show up.

Doing this walk wasn’t simply reclaiming a part of my life I once valued.

After ten weeks laid flat in bed my body was wrecked. Having a vision of how to go from that, to a multi-day hike across the Wessex Downs was all about: eating the right food; getting progressively more intensive exercise; and, towards the end of the three month process, building-up the weight in my day rucksack to something like the weight of an expedition pack.

Of course, that instantly conflicts with my work situation. That, however, will have to change – if only because my eyes can no longer work at the intensity they used to. Instead, while thinking on this when flat in bed, I had an idea. Why not find a way of making backpacking pay? Researching that possibility is now my next priority.

Now I’m ‘fit’ again, the challenge is to keep that together. Just like the prepper-types I like to counsel about backpacking fitness, that means I’m going to have to keep doing this on a regular basis. The point is that’s not about ‘keeping fit’. It’s because being out ‘in nature’ is far more beneficial than purely the fitness you have to develop in order to do that with a pack and tent.