The Michaelmas Pilgrimage 1993

A review by Andrew Jackson

The recent pilgrimage to Uffington and Avebury sticks in my mind mainly for three things: the minibus, the pub, and Silbury Hill; these (and the reasons for their memorability) will be described as I come to them.

Firstly, the minibus. The expedition was oversubscribed to the extent that some sixteen people wanted to go on it, and (I was told) the minibus had seats for only fifteen. This caused some consternation for me, which was exacerbated when I found, on the Saturday morning, that the front seat was missing. Craig assured me that this was normal for archaeological minibuses, but I remain unconvinced. Anyway, the lack of a front seat somehow meant that more people could fit in, so we ended up with a spare place. I always thought mathematics was a tricky subject, but finding that 15 - 1 = 17 was a new one on me. However, I was in no mood to argue, having been up until six that morning. So we set off, reading Victoria's somewhat ironic notes on the sites.

First stop was somewhat short of Uffington White Horse, as we found a coach stuck on the verge, the driver too busy arguing with the owner of the (presumably) responsible Land Rover to bother shifting it, so we all waited, listening to some Dark Age music, courtesy of Craig - veterans of North Wales know and love it, especially the wonderfully evocative war horns. Anyway, we got going to the car park, then faced a howling gale on the way to the Horse, which tuned out to be badly in need of a scouring. Up at the fort, we saw that William Horwood was right - there were molehills everywhere. A short navigational hiccup later, we were on the road to Wayland's Smithy, only one or two people limping due to my inspired route off the ramparts. (Gnostic Gnavigation!)

A brief stroll took us to the Smithy, past interesting fields and hedges, just in time to meet the minibus. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the slight dent in the front repaired, due to lack of time, so off we went to Lyddington Castle. A slight misreading of the map led to our having a glorious long-distance view of the Castle, from a World War Two bunker, so we hastily retreated to the minibus, strategically parked on a junction, in order to go for dinner in a pub.

Hence the second memorable event. Pubs in Wanborough do not seem to be disposed towards serving sixteen Arthurians at a time. After leaving the one not serving, and heading for the full one, we eventually found a rather nice one, the Harrow (plug!) which did very nice steaks and bitter quite cheaply, so that was all right, best beloved. Ho, hum. The waiting merely sharpened our appetites. As Victoria says, perhaps we should phone ahead and inform some hostelry of our impending presence next time.

After lunch we hit Avebury New Age Shop, a few oddballs going off to see some old stones nearby. Then came West Kennet Long Barrow, complete with horses with odd numbers of legs, booby traps, and God knows what else. I believe a scheme was mooted to turn the barrow into a Celtic fast food restaurant, but my memory may be faulty. I hope it is.

Finally, as night drew near, came Silbury Hill, of the "Don't Climb the Fence" notices; so of course, no-one went up it. The view was very nice, from the top. Better than that half-way down, rolling, at least. Ho, hum. And so home.

One last recommendation: the minibus needs, as well as a front seat, and lights to sing by, pillows. Having had only two hours sleep the night before left me in sore need of these last. Otherwise, it was a very enjoyable day.