Barbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort situated about 5 miles south of Swindon, in Wiltshire. It is one of several such forts found along the ancient track known as The Ridgeway. It is described as Britain’s oldest road and is believed to have been in use for at least 5000 years.
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Barbury Castle is thought to have been first occupied approximately 2,500 ago. Historians have suggested that it may have served both as a settlement (a geophysical survey of the site in 1996 showed evidence of 40 hut circles within the earthworks), and to defend the ancient trading route that it sits above. Certainly, it commands a fantastic vantage point from its position on the northern edge of the Marlborough Downs, with incredible far reaching views in all directions. As well as plenty of parking, Barbury Country Park offers basic toilets, a picnic area and information boards.
From the car park, the footpath takes you along the edge of a field to an information board which gives an excellent overview of the site. The day we visited sheep were grazing both in the fields and across the earthworks so make sure you take the lead if you visit with your dog.
The earthworks themselves are still hugely impressive. Enclosing an area of about 12 acres, they are a double rampart and ditch design with two entrances. The outer steep sloped walls are thought to have been reinforced with huge Sarsen Stones, some of which can still be seen on the site today. To get a sense of how monumental the earthworks are, it’s really worth checking out the aerial view on OS Maps. There is free access to the site, and the kids and dog loved scrambling up and down the banks, while we took the more sedate path etched along the top of the ramparts and took in the stunning views.
The Ridgeway National Trail
We exited the Barbury Castle earthworks on the western side and followed the footpath down past two burial mounds to join into the Ridgeway. The Ridgeway is an 85 mile National Trail route that follows the chalk hills between Overton Hill, near Avebury and Ivinghoe Beacon in Hertfordshire. The route was used by prehistoric man and is thought to have been as important to them back then as our major road networks are to us now. This part of the ancient track has been surfaced (as I believe much of the trail is) so it made for easy family walking and would be suitable for pushchairs.
We had lots of fun imagining all the people who must have used this ancient road, talking about what they might have been wearing and carrying, and what may have been important to them. We find talking about the landscape around us is a great way to keep the kids motivated on a walk. This route is perfect for that, as there are some burial mounds and medieval field systems you can spot as well as the main earthworks. The kids also love following our routes using the OS Maps App and trying to match up what they can see on there with what we can see on the ground.
We picnicked at the side of the Ridgeway before turning onto the lane for the steep climb back up to the car park. It would be easy to extend the walk further down the Ridgeway before looping back if you fancied a longer walk. We plan to visit again when the weather is warmer to see the wildflowers and butterflies for which these Downlands are known. If you would like to try out our walk you can find it on OS Maps (along with many others) using the button below.