Welcome to this week's Newbury Velo Quest everyone. This is the ride we can do in a Covid-safe manner but then share with all our club mates back on the Facebook page ( for a chance to win the much coveted Newbury Velo water bottle… ).
Thanks to our route planners Rhian Salmon and Rachael Elliott we have a 22 mile Dirty Chai as well as 22, 35, 53 and 60 mile road options. The Strava routes will appear at the bottom of this intro.
The theme to this weeks Quest is "West Berkshire: Cradle of Civilisation!"
We will be looking at the pre-Roman period and how even in those sparsely populated times, West Berkshire was an important centre for the people that lived here.
Our quests begin at Thatcham sewerage works on Lower Way. Thanks to archaeological digs here in the 1960s and 1989 this has been established as an important base for West Berkshire residents as long ago as 9500 BC ( the Mesolithic / Middle Stone Age ). The 11,500 year old occupation of this area gives Thatcham a strong claim to be oldest inhabited settlement in the UK! The dig showed that these early Thatcham residents enjoyed cooking pine nuts and hazelnuts and possibly cleared land to encourage greater growth of edible plants. They also used the nearby Kennet to sift flint stones before working them into tools. Although you may be tempted to linger, take a sewerage works selfie and head on to our other locations.
Combe Gibbet ( we love riding up to Combe ) is actually placed on top of a Long Barrow. These are ancient burial chambers from the 3900 BC to 1700 BC ( Neolithic = "new stone age" ). Long Barrows are generally older and rarer than the more common round barrows. It's likely that Combe Gibbet Long Barrow pre-dates the Egyptian Pyramids. So while the Egyptians were thinking about pyramids ( basically Lego on a big scale ) the folk of West Berkshire were making these magnificent piles of earth in honour of their leaders.
Walbury Camp is situated just to the south east of the Combe Gibbet car park and is the largest Iron Age earth work hill fort in Berkshire. It dates from between 800BC & 100BC. The Wayfarers Way cuts straight through the middle of it. You can see the wall about 30 meters to the east of the car park.
Wash Common Round Barrow cemetery is best accessed via Battle Road. Carry on to the car park and continue straight on for another 30 yards. On your left across the cut grass of the park you'll see two round "bowl" barrow burial mounds. These were mistakenly thought to be graves of those fallen in the Battle of Newbury by locals ( in fact one has a plaque to that effect from the town mayor dated 1897 ). Now we know these to be part of a Neolithic burial complex. From the same spot, now look to your right and you will see a path going through some trees to get to another open grass field / play area. To the right of that path you'll see some low earth works that make an embankment forming a circle. These could be mistaken for the embankments ( berms ) you get at mountain bike tracks. They actually form a "Disk Barrow", a much rarer type of barrow with a low raised outer circular wall and then another raised area in the centre. No one knows the significance of disk barrows, though one theory is that they might have been to honour important female members of the society.
Finally, the 53 and 60 mile riders get to enjoy the 3,000 year old Uffington White Horse ( I don't have a tattoo, but if I did this is what I'd get ) and Uffington Castle Iron Age Hill Fort. Beware of a damaged cattle grate on the descent from the White Horse. It should be remembered that Uffington White Horse was always part of West Berkshire until the 1970's when it was STOLEN by Oxfordshire.
I hope you all enjoy the rides, here are the routes: