Friday, 22 September 2017

Barbury Castle and the Ridgeway

To mark my 200th posting to this blog I thought I would revisit one of my favourite spots and also do another section of the Great Ridgeway in the area between Swindon and Marlborough.But my start was delayed because I spotted in my garden not one but two Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum), these are not native - it is too cold in winter and they fly in on southerly breezes from the continent. They were feeding on an Abelia x grandiflora bush that is very good for late summer/early autumn bees and butterflies.

hummingbird hawkmoth,Macroglossum stellatarum

It is back in September 2004 that I last walked the route and little has changed. September is usually a good walking month - not too hot but this year there has been persistent cloud with a cool northerly breeze so I have only managed two this year. It is a 14 mile route:

I parked in the charming old village of Ogbourne St. George. It has some quaint old thatch cottages. These houses creating a difficulty with parking - they were built right onto the road with no thought in mind of space for cars!

Ogbourne St. George

I went passed the church and joined the Great Ridgeway on the track up Smeathe's Ridge. This is an attractive walk as there are good views to both sides. Feeding on the haws along the track-side were a party of meadow pipits. One of them allowed me to get close enough for a snap.

meadow pipit

The weather was 'sunny spells' and this can give interesting landscape views with dappled shade.

Smeathes Ridge,view

Many flowers were still out including Ladies Bedstraw (Galium verum).

ladies bedstraw,Galium verum

The whole area is vitalised by the horse racing industry. Lambourn is not that far away and there is a prestigious racing business up on the Barbury Downs. Usually the horses are out for a gallop earlier in the day, but I did see two horses in an energetic uphill exercise.


Barbury Castle is probably the most impressive hill fort in the whole area. It has great views north to Swindon and far beyond.

barbury castle,hill fort

The deep ditch around the hill fort was an ideal habitat for wild-flowers. I saw a good range: Knapweed, Small Scabious, Harebell, Eyebright, Thyme, Hawkbit and in place groups of Devil's bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis). In the distance you can see a vast array of solar panels that have been erected on Wroughton airfield.

devils bit scabious,Succisa pratensis

I then headed east on what must have once been an alternative to the Ridgeway as it makes a short cut across the valley, saving a four mile detour. I liked this view of a small copse on Burderop Down.


I then started to see the chalk downs on the other side of the valey of the river Og. The eastern arm has Liddington Castle hillfort at its northern tip.

liddington hill,view

Along the track a resplendent Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) was showing off the eyes that are often hidden away on its underwing. On the whole walk I saw Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals, Commas (quite a few), Speckled Wood and a few Cabbage Whites - unfortunately no Painted Ladies or Small Coppers. The track is called 'Gypsy Lane' that often indicates that it is a long standing route.

peacock butterfly

Having crossed the busy A346 Swindon-Marlborough road I started climbing up on the eastern side. A freshly ploughed field had a good show of poppies still flowering along the edge.


I joined the Great Ridgeway and headed north for a mile just so I could join up with a previous section I walked six years ago, almost to the day to Aldbourne and Upper Upham.

Turning back to head south, the Ridgeway is for three miles a rather uninteresting track with high hedges obscuring any view. However the shelter and warmth had attracted butterflies. Here I saw a number of Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album) as with this one on elderberries.

comma butterfly

The Ridgeway then leaves the chalk downland to head to Southend where it crosses the River Og. I joined up with previous walks I did through Mildenhall and Ramsbury as well as Ogbourne St. Andrew and Rockley. On the way I saw spindleberries (Euonymus europaeus) about to burst open.

spindleberry,Euonymus europaeus

Soon enough I was back at Ogbourne St. George. The clouds cleared and I was able to get a better view of the church - which is of course dedicated to St George - than I had in the morning.

Ogbourne St. George

Walking down Church Lane a cat was wondering what I was up to.


The high street of the village has one or two more old cottages that looked good in the late afternoon light.

Ogbourne St. George