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Today, I'm on a journey through Wiltshire.
I'll be starting by exploring its ancient past
and ending very much in the 21st century
by attempting one of Britain's newest extreme sports.
My journey starts on the slopes of Silbury Hill,
a mysterious mound near Avebury.
Then, it's onto Wroughton,
where I'll find out why Wiltshire is a land of chalk.
Within this very county, we have 40% of the world's chalk grassland,
which makes it very important that we do our very best to preserve it.
I'll then head over to Caen Locks near Devizes,
where I'll be getting to grips with an amazing feat of engineering
and helping a few boats along their journey.
You have to be a skilled driver to get that.
It's going to hit the side!
Heading south to Tisbury, I'll join the Wildlife Trust
in their never-ending battle
to rid the Wiltshire countryside of destructive, invasive plants.
We just need to get the chemical in there.
It's just a simple push in there
and an injection.
My journey ends in Salisbury, where I'll be having a go at slacklining.
It's fairly new to the UK and very new to me.
Along the way, I'll be looking back
at the best of the BBC's rural archive from this part of the world.
This is Country Tracks.
Wiltshire, with its lush, chalky pastures and gentle landscape,
sits in England's fertile southwest.
It's prime farming country,
but what gives Wiltshire such a stirring atmosphere
is of course those mysterious stone monuments.
Unchanged for centuries, silently linking us with ancient times.
Still no-one knows why or how the stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge came to exist.
If anything, the debates and theories only add to the intrigue.
We do, after all, love a good mystery.
Here on the outskirts of Avebury is another head-scratcher.
It's Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe.
Literally prehistoric, it's made of chalk and clay,
piled 100 feet high.
It has fascinated people for centuries,
leading to major excavations in the hope of unearthing its secrets.
Archaeologists like Jim Leary from English Heritage,
know it was built around the same time as Stonehenge
but that is just the beginning of the story.
-Right, let's scale this hill.
Silbury Hill isn't ordinarily open to the public,
but we have special permission to climb it today.
So, what was happening when this was built?
This was built in 2400 BC
so we're talking nearly 4500 years ago.
This period is the very start of the Bronze Age,
the very end of the Stone Age.
This was constructed in that period
which must have been one of very profound change.
New ideologies, new people, new materials.
So we have to see the hill in that way.
How many excavations have there been here?
Being situated next to this main road,
it has always attracted interest
and the first excavation we know of was in 1776,
and that is when a chap called Edward Drax
excavated a shaft from the very summit to the middle.
The second one was in 1849,
and they dug a tunnel in from the side
and the last one, previous to our work,
was in 1968 and '69,
when they re-entered that tunnel and expanded it.
So it's seen three major excavations in the past.
Were any of the excavations hoping to find something specific?
That's right, yes, they were all looking for something in particular.
Why throw up a great, big mound like this if it's not over something?
John Aubrey, famous antiquarian in the 17th century
recorded a local myth that there was a life-size gold horse
buried in the centre of this mound,
and over time that developed to become a life-size man
sat astride the gold horse in the centre,
so they were all looking for the treasure.
And was there any treasure, was there a life-size gold horse?
Well, there was no life-size gold horse, but there was treasure,
for us archaeologists - there was something much better than gold,
and that's really, really well-preserved organic material.
There was brass that was so well preserved
it retained its green colour,
and there were insects that look so well preserved
that it looked as if you were to touch them,
they would suddenly scuttle off for cover.
It was a fantastic, little snapshot into what the environment was like.
With the utmost respect, only an archaeologist could say,
"We found something better than gold - fossilised insects."
Right, let's get to the top.
I'm still not entirely sure why Silbury Hill exists,
but Jim believes the answer lies at the top.
Nearly at the top.
So, here we are, at the summit.
Do you know what? Here, it doesn't feel as out of place as it looks,
because we're among... There's pretty high ground around here.
Exactly, and I think that's a really key point.
A lot of the interpretations of the hill have been about people saying,
well, it's about bringing people closer to the gods - perhaps you could imagine
a priest or a shaman on the top, shouting up to the sky.
But, as you pointed out, we're surrounded by high area.
If getting up was a reason for the hill,
then they would have built it on a high area.
I think it's to do with the lowland setting.
I think you could say it's in an ancestral landscape,
surrounded by much earlier monuments,
but the important point is that it's surrounded by rivers and springs,
and, in particular, just over there, is the Swallowhead springs,
which is the very beginning of the River Kennet, which flows from west
to east, into the River Thames, which is also a west-to-east-flowing river.
And we know that the River Thames was a sacred river in this period,
so, I think that this point
was believed to be the starting point of that sacred river,
and I think that's why it was constructed here.
How can we be sure that that's why?
This is archaeology for you.
We can always get closer
and use deduction to rule out various theories
but we will never, ever know for sure.
You started digging here in 2007,
you're still writing up your findings.
What is it about this place that holds your attention?
Um, it's such a remarkable...thing.
I think it's far more interesting than Stonehenge
or any of the other monuments of the time.
Something about this place just captures my imagination,
and as you say, I dug here for the best part of a year,
in the tunnel and on top of it.
It was really, sort of, a part of me that had been left behind.
It was a very sad day when I finally left the tunnel.
We were inside the centre of the hill,
and I just remember, on the last day,
I just sat quietly by myself as the lights had been removed
and just, sort of, thought about the hill.
It's very special, a very special place to me.
Do you think we know everything
we're ever going to know about Silbury Hill?
I sincerely hope not,
I hope people will challenge what we have come up with from this work,
and develop theories and advance it from there.
There's a kind of otherworldly remoteness about Silbury Hill,
which is surprising, considering there's a busy road running past it.
The writer Tom Fort was also on a journey through Wiltshire,
by way of the A303, to learn more about its ancient past
and get a bit closer to the people who shaped Silbury Hill
and the surrounding landscape.
Here we are, just turning off.
Whoa! Oh, not an easy manoeuvre in a Morris Traveller,
of the old days.
Here we go.
Hope the suspension can take it.
This is one of my favourite places along this road -
There's a tremendous view of the landscape,
falling away to the south. the A303 is just below.
But our impact on this part of the world goes back much further.
From where I'm standing, in all directions dotted around the place,
are ancient, prehistoric burial mounds, tumuli, barrows.
Some of them disappeared under the plough or under buildings,
many of them still visible.
And when you drive along the A303 through this part of the world,
you're in fact driving through a prehistoric graveyard.
It's the A303's most famous landmark, Stonehenge.
We're quite a distance away,
and the stones look rather small, don't they?
From here, they're also overwhelmed by the traffic.
But, step to one side and you'll see why I've stopped here.
They do look small,
but what you get from here is a sense of their context,
of where they stand in the landscape.
The great, open sky, the wide, open spaces, the rolling grassland
and the monument in the middle of it.
And I know English Heritage will hate me for saying this,
but, actually we're just close to the road,
it's not a bad place to be stuck in a traffic jam.
Because it will give you perhaps the best view of Stonehenge there is.
A proper car, a real car.
-What do you think of it?
-I think she's beautiful.
-She - I like it.
She has to be, I'm going to give you the guided tour.
'Robert Key grew up in Wiltshire, in 1983, he became the local MP.
'MP for Stonehenge, you might call him.'
The A303 runs right through his old constituency.
This must be one of the first cars
that has flashing orange indicator lights, instead of the flippers.
Today, Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site,
which loosely translated means, "interfere with it at your peril."
But we weren't always so protective of it.
During and after the First World War,
the flying corps were based here.
And the military were allowed to do pretty much as they wanted.
I've seen a photograph of an army Land Rover perched
on top of the stones,
brought here in the middle of the night
after a particularly good evening in the Officers' Mess at Lark Hill,
which is only a couple of miles...
And goodness knows how they got it up there, but they did.
They wouldn't get away with it today, would they?
They certainly wouldn't, no.
But would they get away with THIS today?
In the 1950s, cranes were brought in to rearrange the stones.
Sacrilege, some said.
These are the stones that were re-erected.
-These massive ones.
And the smaller ones, here, they were OK.
Well, some of them were tilted, so they were straightened up a bit.
You can see on that stone,
there's a great, big wodge of concrete holding it up.
Which people don't really think about when they go past the stones.
Were they at an angle, were they lying down?
Yes, mostly lying down. Some of the tops of the stones had disappeared.
And so they put them back on top.
And it was a major reconstruction, really,
I think, over the years, something like 23 stones have been re-erected
with the lintels put back on top.
In the early days of motoring, the A303 was a mere slip of a thing,
which didn't trouble the stones at all.
How things change.
Today, the road's a scourge - noisy, dirty, and often gridlocked.
There have been many plans to re-route it - over 50, in fact -
including one to bury the A303 in a tunnel. All fell by the wayside,
despite Robert's best efforts.
In the '90s, he struggled to find a solution,
as competing government departments, public pressure groups,
and even the Druids locked horns.
I thought, there's only one thing to do - go to the Prime Minister.
I kid you not, Margaret Thatcher was on her hands and knees with me
in her room in the House of Commons
poring over maps of all the possible routes around,
discussing which land belonged to the Ministry of Defence,
National Trust, which was English Heritage.
She was really engaged on it.
Even Margaret Thatcher was defeated by Stonehenge.
Even Margaret Thatcher?
John Major, bless him, did the same.
Pored over the maps, but then absolutely nothing happened.
Now, at least everyone can shut up about it.
This problem's never going to go away.
The A303 is going nowhere.
Tom Fort exploring Wiltshire on wheels.
My journey has taken me from Silbury Hill to the outskirts of Wroughton.
This is a quiet, rural spot.
At a glance, there's nothing outwardly spectacular
about these fields and hedgerows,
but I'm here to find out why Wiltshire's landscape
is uniquely precious.
One thing that defines Wiltshire is chalk,
and two thirds of this county is actually covered by chalk grassland.
It might look like lots of rural Britain,
but this landscape is something people are very protective of.
The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust aims to protect, preserve
and, crucially, create more chalk grassland.
Catherine Hosey explains.
Why is there so much chalk grassland in Wiltshire?
Well, it's all down to geology.
There's a big chunk of chalk that stretches from the northeast corner
right down to the southwest corner of the county.
It creates a great environment for wildlife and animals,
but what types of things do really well here?
A whole range of wild flowers
and grasses and insects and invertebrates.
I feel like we're not doing chalk grasslands justice,
cos this isn't normally what it would look like.
-There'd be more flowers, wouldn't there?
-There would be.
At a really nice chalk grassland site there would be so many flowers,
it would just be a blaze of colour,
with butterflies overhead, it would be fantastic.
This site, here, is a good example of restoration grazing,
we've got the Herdwick Sheep here as well.
The reason we're doing restoration grazing here,
is because it wasn't grazed hard enough for a long period of time,
before the wildlife trust purchased it in 2008.
So we've introduced these sheep to tackle the grass
you can see in the banks behind us, the bright green stuff,
which is what is called Brachypodium pinnatum,
Which is very vigorous and very invasive,
and will spread and spread forming these great, big clumps.
The sheep are ideal for grazing it and breaking it up.
The wildflowers can then re-establish themselves and grow back.
So, how long will it take those wildflowers to come through?
Probably a great many years. We're seeing improvements, but it's a long process.
And we've got hope that there is still enough seeds in the seed bank
for these wildflowers to germinate from.
Why do you think it's so important to look after this chalk grassland?
In the UK, we have 80% of the world total of chalk grassland.
50% of that is in Wiltshire,
which means we've got 40% of the world total of chalk grassland,
which makes it incredibly important that, in Wiltshire,
we do our very best to preserve it.
So, what can we do to protect it?
You need to make sure you get the right management.
There's lots of help out there from wildlife trusts
to help farmers and landowners
get information on managing their chalk grassland.
It's staggering to think nearly half of the world's chalk grassland
is found right here, in Wiltshire.
Aside from conservation efforts like this one,
it's also a rich agricultural county.
The land is grazed by livestock and much of it is sewn with crops.
It's also home to bountiful orchards, as James Wong discovered.
Autumn produces a bumper bounty of delicious fruits.
But many of the tastiest traditional crops
have disappeared from our shops and markets.
Quinces, hawthorns, crab-apples - these are Britain's forgotten fruit.
This guy has got to be one of the strangest of all autumn fruits.
It's kind of brown and crusty looking,
it's called a medlar, and it's not exactly the supermodel of fruits.
If you lived in medieval times,
then you'd have been very familiar with it.
For one thing, if you were called a medlar,
you'd know that someone was being very rude about you,
because the fruit was popularly known as dog's bottom.
And in those days, you'd have also known what an unbletted medlar,
fresh off the tree, would taste like.
That's not good. That's not good at all.
If medlars aren't that common now, then medlar experts are even rarer.
But I found one - Jim Abri from the Royal Horticultural Society.
So, Jim, tell me all you know about medlars.
Well, medlars have been cultivated since ancient times.
Fist in Iran, and then the Greek and Roman empires,
and possibly brought to Britain in Roman times.
And then very popular in the middle ages in Britain.
So, how would you eat something like this?
Fresh off the tree?
You can eat them when they're bletted, which is a softening,
which is either straight off the tree,
or you pick them and ripen them off the tree.
Bletting is that process where,
either through frost or through leaving them hanging,
-they soften and get sweeter?
-That's right, yes.
It's strange, because to modern taste,
not only does that not look exciting on the outside,
on the inside, it's not particularly brilliant.
No, it looks like... You wouldn't eat it at that stage.
You know, we're used to things that are bright and shiny,
and essentially, not very ripe,
is how we buy and eat a lot of fruit, now.
The flavour completely changes.
It's kind of like apple compote,
but with all the spices already cooked into it, it's amazing.
Kind of a caramel flavour in there?
That's it, like dates and figs and caramel and vanilla.
It's not hard to see how a fruit you've got to eat half rotten
fell out of favour.
But it's about to make a bit of a comeback.
One Wiltshire food company has launched a hunt for medlars.
And they're looking, of all places, in people's back gardens.
-Hi, there, guys.
If there are five people in this country today looking for medlars,
you're three of them. What are you doing it for?
Well, we are going to make medlar jelly.
And how do you eat it? Is it like a quince jelly, have it with cheese?
Yes, you have it with roast meat, or with game.
-I wonder if you could give me a hand doing this.
You have to go up the ladder.
Then you can reach some of those, and I'll carry on.
I can, I can.
So, what does each family who gives you access to one of their trees
get in return, a couple of jars of jam?
We give them a couple of jars of jelly,
and a couple of jars of the other things that we make.
-That's a good trade.
-I think they thought it was a fair swap.
Definitely. I need to plant one of these and live near you!
'We've got all the medlars from this tree,
'so, now it's down the road and onto the next garden.'
We've come for your medlar tree.
Oh, how exciting, come this way.
-Look at that! How old is it?
-I think it's about 200 years old.
This part of the house was built then,
and that's when all the specimen trees went in, like the medlar.
Can we start to meddle?
Oh, meddle away, shall I help?
So, how many kilos would a tree like this produce?
You've got three, two trays here.
I think we'll fill those, we may even fill a bit more,
so we may even get, I don't know, 80, 90 kilos off here.
The lovely thing about these is that they're quite ripe
but also quite hard, which is perfect for jelly-making.
So, you want them halfway between completely fresh
and that half-bletted stage.
Yeah, if they're completely bletted
we're not going to get a lot of juice out of them.
Have you noticed the scent that's coming off them as were picking them?
It's like a sort of autumnal perfume.
We've been here 30 seconds,
and we've managed to denude this whole section,
we're like human combine harvesters. I'm going to move around here.
To reach the medlars at the top branches,
we've got a special method to try.
-Wow, look at that!
Why didn't we do that from the beginning?
It's raining medlars.
With the last of the medlars picked, it's time to get cooking.
To make the medlar jelly, we'll be following the trusted recipe book.
Where is this recipe from?
That's Mrs Beeton, and that's one of the many books that we use.
Suitably old-fashioned, as well.
Well, there's no way like making it the way it was meant to be made.
So, that's what we try and do.
So, we start off with a recipe like that
and pretty much do an identical thing, with taking the medlars,
we're chopping them,
and then trying to make the fruit go all soft and squashy
so we can get as much juice out as possible.
To the chopped-up medlars, we add some lemon zest.
Give it a good stir.
Heat it for 20 minutes
and put it through a strainer to extract the medlar juice.
Put it into a boiling pan.
and wait a bit.
What we should end up with is a clear, golden liquid.
What are we doing here, testing to see if it's done?
Yeah, to see whether or not it's starting to form jelly.
You can see it's still a little bit thin.
It's not quite holding.
It's not holding, I want it to hold a bit more than that.
And finally, it's ready to pour.
This looks really spectacular.
You wouldn't imagine that a medlar,
which is not exactly the most appetising-looking fruit,
could turn into that, so pure looking.
Wonderful golden colour, isn't it?
That's something that any jelly-maker would be proud of.
I've done quite a lot of free labour today,
when do I get to have some of that?
Well, you see this just forming here?
You can see it's forming, the jelly, it shouldn't be too hot.
Yeah, I'm going in.
if you were to run your finger across there,
and have a taste of that.
-Wow, that's fantastic.
It's funny, it tastes a bit...
It's caramel-y and all those things that a fresh, bletted medlar is,
but also a bit like tea as well.
Well, you've got a few flavours in there, but when it sets,
it will almost concentrate the flavour.
It's going to be sweet, because we've used sugar in it,
that's the point and that's how we preserve it.
-But it's very fragrant, isn't it?
-That's exactly the word.
An unusual food from a weird fruit,
so, if you got one of these in the garden,
maybe it's time to invest in a cookbook.
James Wong discovering the fruits of Wiltshire.
I've arrived at Caen Locks in Devizes.
The Kennet and Avon Canal opened 200 years ago as a major trade route
between London and Bristol.
Huge cargoes of stone and coal
were hauled between the Thames and the Bristol Channel.
It was a mighty waterway, carved into the landscape,
no matter what stood in its path.
So, what happens when a canal reaches a hill?
Well, you have to build a lock.
The trouble is, when you reach a really steep hill like this one,
the only answer is to build a lot of locks.
The Caen Hill flight of locks was the final piece in the jigsaw
after 14 years of construction.
It's an engineering masterpiece,
which conquered the climb and connected the canal.
It's now a national, scheduled ancient monument,
a worthy reflection of its genius.
This section of canal rises 237 feet in just two miles.
In order for boats to make it to the top of the hill,
there are a series of locks.
They act a bit like steps, to help the boats get to the top.
There are 29 locks in total.
16 of them are in a straight line right behind me.
Today, the canal lock system looks impressive,
but 50 years ago, it was a very different story.
Like so many canals across Britain, the Kennet and Avon
became redundant after goods were loaded onto trains and, later, lorries.
It led to years of neglect.
Until the 1960s, when a decision was made to resurrect
the Kennet and Avon Canal. Millions of pounds was spent on its restoration,
and the canal came back.
Today, the lock gates on Caen Hill are open for business again.
A steady stream of boats chug up and down the hill, whatever the weather.
It's a slow process and a complicate one,
and is the job of lock keeper, Bob Preston,
to keep this 200-year-old system ticking over nicely.
-Sorry to interrupt.
How on earth do you keep an eye over 29 different locks?
Well, we utilise the general public. They're our eyes and ears.
They're happy to tell us when something isn't right
-and we appreciate that help.
-Is there something not right here, or is this general maintenance?
Yeah, it's general maintenance. Just a little bit of oil to keep this sluice lubricated
so it doesn't squeak when the sluice is raised.
And the general well-being extends the life of the sluice,
-obviously, if it's properly lubricated.
-Do they take a lot of looking after?
Well, yeah, there's 116 sluices here at Devizes and 116 sluices
have to be oiled or lubricated at least once a month.
Is it quite a balancing act, then,
because you've only got a certain amount of water
-and you've got to take a bit out here and there...
-There's only a finite amount of water.
Yeah, it's a balancing act and it relies on rainfall,
back-pumping, so it's not like a big estuary.
It's just a man-made structure which, obviously,
only has this finite amount of water which has to be managed properly.
Well, it looks like there's a boat waiting,
so it's time to see these locks in action.
Wow, it's coming out at quite a force.
You can see how quickly it's dropping.
Helen, I'll push this gate round, if you could do that one, please? Thank you.
Whenever I see people do this on telly, I think,
"Oh, they're making it up, it can't be that stiff." But it is.
Oh, that's right, he's doing it that way, that makes sense.
Ah! Now I'm starting to understand the path.
It's got these little grooves in, so you can do that.
You have to be a skilled driver to get that...
it's going to hit, it's going to hit the side.
Just think, those locks have had hundreds of years
of barges doing that.
So no wonder Bob needs to maintain them.
Not criticising your driving, though.
Would it be fair to say that canals have had a bit of a renaissance?
They were hugely significant at the time of the industrial revolution
but then they sort of went out of fashion, didn't they?
-They weren't used.
-Renaissance is probably a good word, Helen.
The... I suppose...
the canal is probably industrial archaeology that actually still works.
It can be enjoyed by everybody, a multitude of activities take place like boating, angling,
someone just walking their dog, or you can cycle on this towpath
all the way from Devizes to the beautiful Georgian city of Bath.
-We'd better get this gate closed, then.
-OK, if we pull on this thing.
-This path is just so simple but so effective.
-Hill grip radius.
200 years ago, this would have been the height of technology,
-It certainly was, it was the industrial highway between Bristol and London, this canal.
Still pretty effective, though, Bob,
because how else would you get a narrow boat up such a steep hill?
You wouldn't. Not without locks.
Every year, there are more than 11 million visits to the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Some of those on water, others on the towpath.
You can walk or cycle the entire length of the canal for 87 miles.
I'm exploring only a snippet as I continue on my journey.
Dominic Littlewood was north of here at Abbey House Gardens,
seeing a very different side to Wiltshire.
Today is a day with a difference
because here in the heart of rural Wiltshire lies Abbey House Gardens.
And they're stunningly picturesque.
This was a Benedictine monastery 1,300 years ago
so it's fair to say it's a historical and holy place.
But nowadays, once a month,
people come along here to enjoy the scenery,
the gardens, have a picnic... throw their clothes off?
And not get told off for it! It's a first for me.
BIRDSONG AND CHATTERING
Like me, you're probably asking yourself why naked in the garden?
Let me tell you.
It all started when naturists Ian and Barbara Pollard bought Abbey House.
Now being keen historians AND gardeners,
they set about recreating this estate to reflect the history of the site.
Tell me about the gardens.
We bought the place back in '94
so 13 years, and when we came, there was nothing here.
The only bit of yew was that funny face.
It's not a bad resemblance, actually.
Yeah, thanks, I see where this is going.
We wanted to get the history of the place into the garden.
We've just been walking along the side of what is my Celtic cross knot garden.
This is an open day with a difference, isn't it?
We've become known as the naked gardeners.
We found that naturist were e-mailing and saying,
"If you garden naked, can we visit naked?"
And we decided that we would offer one day a month
-to allow people to do that.
-What's the difference between a naturist day and an open day?
A normal naturist event elsewhere
would be in the majority that everyone has to take their clothes off.
Here, it's entirely optional.
What could you do that would make me feel like getting my clothes off?
We're not here to persuade you to take your clothes off at all.
What we ARE doing is giving you the opportunity.
-So, really, I'm the odd one out with my clothes on.
-I'm afraid so.
Of course, you don't have to stay clothed.
I can't help feeling a little bit awkward
about letting people see me in my birthday suit.
Especially as it needs an iron.
# Keep on running... #
Like they say, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. That's what I did.
I got butt naked, and mingled with all the naturists...
Oi, oi, oi! Do you mind?
I've got to be honest, I didn't enjoy it at all.
I felt very conscious of the fact that I was looking at people,
they were looking at me, and when there was a pause, I wanted to cover myself up.
I can understand why Ian and Barbara do it,
but what I can't understand at the moment
is why so many other people travel so far to come and do it here.
-Bill and Sharon, where are you from?
Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves except me.
-I never know quite where to look.
-You find that people don't look anywhere apart from eye contact,
most of the time, and it's just the feeling of freedom, that you can enjoy nature as nature intended.
I hope you don't mind me saying this, your hair looks like it's lost.
-Yes, it's over your chest, not up there.
-Why are you carrying around towels with you?
-All naturists carry towels.
You carry something to sit on.
-Do you tell people at work about this?
-They all know now.
-They'll definitely know now!
It's been a liberating experience but I've got to be honest,
I'm not sure I'll be doing it again soon.
One thing I have learnt, though, is this is not a place for voyeurs.
In fact, voyeurs are actively discouraged.
So if you don't have any hangups
and you want to experience that feeling of getting back to nature, well, this could be for you.
-Ladies, you haven't seen a big pile of clothes lying around anywhere, have you?
-Any chance of borrowing one of your towels?
-No, bring your own.
Thanks a lot.
That was Dominic Littlewood as I've never seen him before.
Meanwhile, I've left the canalside and headed for Tisbury.
This lane is typical of rural England at the height of summer.
Everything is bursting with life and it's a pretty tranquil place
to be but what you can't see is there's a war going on.
A war against alien invaders.
This is the front line in a battle against invasive non-native plants.
Every week, an army of Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers are out and about
in the Wiltshire countryside
wrenching unwanted visitors from the ground.
They're led by Sam Bull.
Right, what we're going to be doing today is we'll just focus on
the bits that are in flower because they'll be going to seed a lot quicker
than the other bits. All right? We can crack on.
Today, they're tackling Himalayan balsam
which has taken root on the banks of the River Nadder.
I'm here to do my bit for the war effort.
Sam, Himalayan balsam is actually quite pretty,
why do we want to get rid of it?
Well, the problem is that it just grows into these huge stands.
I mean, what we see here looks bad but it's nowhere near as bad
compared to some rivers that have got this and it hasn't been dealt with.
And it just outcompetes our native vegetation,
so we can't get anything else to grow there,
and because it's got shallow roots, when it dies back in the winter,
you end up with nothing else growing on the bank and you get bare banks,
which then get erosion, soil erosion and bank collapse as well,
so it's a problem for wildlife and also just for the structure of our rivers.
One of the most striking things about it are the pretty little purple and white flowers,
surely they must be good for insects or butterflies?
They'd be brilliant for insect if it wasn't such a bully
and didn't outcompete everything else.
It's brilliant when it's mixed in, we've got a diversity of different plants,
but because you get this outcompeting everything, it's the only thing growing,
it only flowers for a short period of time
so when it's not flowering, you won't have anything else.
This is so strong smelling,
that you'll find the insects will get attracted to this
over our native plants,
so our native plants and flowers won't get pollinated
and it just leaves...
It speeds up the cycle for this becoming dominant and taking over.
Talking of things that are fast, your team!
There was a huge amount of Himalayan balsam here about 10-15 minutes ago
-and they've just ripped it away, haven't they?
-Yeah, you can't slow them down.
I mean, the volunteer work is fantastic.
We'd never get this amount of work done if we didn't have
dedicated volunteers that we've got working with us.
Well, there's loads of it.
It's actually quite satisfying, this.
You need to crack the bottom off,
otherwise, if you leave a bit of root around, it can still grow.
On the upside, Himalayan balsam is very easy to pull up
but other plant invaders put up more of a fight.
Sam is going to show me one of the worst.
-Right, here we are.
-So, this is the serious work?
This is the serious work. We've got Japanese knotweed all around us here.
Because we're doing injection using pesticides, I need to get my kit on.
I've got this lovely white suit.
You can carry the bucket.
You've cut all this back,
yet it still seems to be growing really well here.
Yeah, we cut this back about a month ago to help control it
but, as you can see, it's grown up in about a month.
You can see how fast it grows and what a problem it is.
Why is it such a problem?
Well, I've had a few people phone me up in the past year
because they've been refused mortgages on a house
because this has been growing in the garden.
And it can grow through Tarmac, it pushes its way through walls.
It's so difficult to get rid of and that's the main problem
this is causing people at the moment.
How did it get to this particular bit?
Well, all of this has come from a pile about this size,
which was fly-tipped here. Someone just pulled up in their car and chucked it out the back.
It shows that tipping out garden waste into the countryside
is just as bad as chucking a fridge or a TV out.
It causes so much problem
for the landowners, people in the community
and the local wildlife as well.
And if you get it, if it crops up in your garden, how do you get rid of it?
Act as quickly as possible. The longer you leave it,
the more expensive it'll be to treat and the more difficult it'll be to get rid of.
-It's like something out of The Day of the Triffids.
-It is a bit.
What Sam's doing today
is far more hard-core than pulling up a few roots.
This is chemical warfare.
-Japanese knotweed is just down here.
-It's impossible to miss, it's huge!
I know. And so this is the area
that couldn't have been chopped down, so this is what we're going to treat today
using the injection guns.
How effective is the injection?
It's really effective because spraying,
you're landing the spray on the leaves, you're not always going to get 100% take-up by the plant,
but also it's so much better for wildlife, because with injecting,
we're getting the chemicals straight into the stems and nothing around us
is going to be hit by any sort of chemical at all,
so you just affect the plant you're targeting,
you don't get anything else affected.
The Japanese don't have a problem with Japanese knotweed, how do they control it?
In Japan, they've got a different makeup to us of the wildlife they've got in the countryside
and they've got the bugs out there that are going to eat this and keep it under control
that we just simply don't have in this country.
Right, so it's fairly simple.
We just need to inject between the first node,
-which you can see there's a little ring around the stem down here.
And the third node, which is this one up here,
so we need to get the chemical in there.
It's just a simple...
push in there, and...
And that one is done.
There's a little hole halfway down the needle
which shoots the chemical down into the stem.
How long does it take to die?
You can see the effects between almost immediately and in a few weeks' time.
Because we use a dye in the chemical in here,
you also will see the stems turn blue and then you can see
the colour moving down
as it takes the chemical down into its root system.
It can be worrying for people passing blue knotweed so we normally put a sign up
saying to people it's been treated, so don't worry about it.
We've seen how quickly it grows.
-Do you think we'll ever get rid of this?
I think in this site in particular, yes,
if we persevere with this, and keep visiting it year on year,
we'll be able to eradicate it from this area, so, yes.
-What about the rest of the country?
-It depends on everyone else, really, but I think countrywide,
it's a big task.
Some people might tell you these plants aren't the only
alien visitors to Wiltshire.
Julia Bradbury has been investigating
an unexplained phenomenon in this part of the world.
Today I'm exploring Wiltshire,
a county famous for symbols of its ancient past.
Many of them, like Stonehenge and Avebury, are steeped in mystery.
And so is this more recent phenomenon, crop circles.
Scores of them mysteriously appear all over this area
at this time of year.
Nobody really knows how or why.
This part of the county is a hotspot.
There have been 64 so far this summer.
My pilot, Shaun Byham, is very busy taking people up to see them.
So, do they come over all funny when you are hovering over a crop circle?
Well, we get some odd people who come flying with us
and yes, they do.
They say that their cameras stop working
and their watches stop working and things like that, so, yes,
we do get some odd things.
And can they feel the energy of all sorts of things?
They definitely say they can feel the energies as we go near the circles.
Personally, I can't, but they seem to be happy with it.
So, what is the crop of crop circles looking like
so far this year?
This year has been one of our bumper years.
Some of the more impressive ones I have witnessed
have been up towards the Avebury area.
The hummingbird that we are going to have a look at is
one of the things which I think is very good as well.
I will fly up in the evening at 7 o'clock in the evening
and there is nothing there, and then I'll fly again early
in the morning and see the formations
and that bit I find interesting, how they can do it overnight.
Just how they get here is a bit of a mystery,
because no-one sees them being made and no-one claims to have made them.
I've landed at Tim Carson's farm
and he's had crop circles appearing on his land for 20 years.
So, Tim, we are in one of your crop circles,
and of course, it is your land, so it is your crop circle.
Yes, this is one of eight we have had this year, Julia.
It is with enormous regularity I get them year on year.
What do you feel when you wake up in the morning and you hear
that there is another one on your land, how does it affect you?
Well, what normally happens is I see people walking across the field
and that is the first sign that something has appeared overnight.
They literally appear overnight.
And there is no clue, no signals, no noises, nothing you can indicate?
We have people up on the Downs at night time with infra-red binoculars,
night vision things, hoping to see something happen.
No-one ever sees anything, and yet, in the morning,
there is something there that no one has borne witness to at all.
All right, how much does it cost you?
I suppose this circle,
we have lost £300.
£300 times 120, so, you know, it adds up over the years.
-It is costing you.
-Yes, over the years it adds up.
Many people who come to look at them
are searching for something spiritual.
This is the very centre.
Am I feeling anything strange?
There are healing properties in some crop circles.
There seem to forces out there.
Sometimes, they are very spiritual, peaceful, and a joy to be in.
I think although a few of them might be made by man,
it is obvious that the majority cannot have been.
Human hand or aliens?
Well, looking down on this one, this appeared over three nights
so it came in three parts.
We reckon humans on that score?
I think we can strongly veer towards the human touch, yes.
And that human touch is sometimes provided by this man.
Rob Irving is one of the few
who admits being responsible for crop circles and he is definitely not from out of space. He is from Frome.
We have got permission from a farmer to be here but making crop circles
usually means you're trespassing and even committing criminal damage.
-So, are you a vandal or an artist, Rob?
-I see myself as an artist.
I see circle-makers as artists.
What we are doing is we are making art that people don't
perceive as art, because as soon as you perceive something as art,
you change your behaviour towards it.
Is that why crop circle "artists" don't own up to their work?
As soon as you claim a specific event, you kill it.
You kill all of the magic out of it and it becomes pointless.
The whole point of the exercise is that your audience comes along
and engages with it magically, perceives it as being something magical.
If they perceive it as being man-made, then there is no magic.
And if you want to see the crop circles,
make sure you time a visit with the harvest.
I'm travelling through Wiltshire.
After tearing up some invasive plants near Tisbury,
I've moved on to Salisbury,
my final stop.
I've come to the Queen Elizabeth Gardens on the outskirts of Salisbury City Centre.
It's a peaceful scene, the sort of place you might come for
a picnic or a stroll, but I'm here to try something a bit more extreme.
This is slacklining.
I've seen it but I've never actually tried it until today.
Russ over there is going to give me a bit of a lesson but first,
here is the Country Tracks weather for the week ahead.
I've been on a journey through rural Wiltshire, starting
on Silbury Hill, the mysterious prehistoric mound near Avebury.
And moving on to the chalk grassland at Wroughton.
Onwards to Caen Hill Locks and then south to Tisbury,
where I helped to clear some unwanted plants from the riverbank.
I have now reached Salisbury and it's time to slackline.
This is becoming an increasingly common sight in parks
and forests across the UK. It is slacklining.
You can set them up almost anywhere and, you've guessed it,
I'm going to have a go.
Russ Holbert has always loved surfing and skateboarding.
He started slacklining about 18 months ago.
He has since set up a business with fellow slackers designing
and manufacturing slacklines.
He organises mini events like this one to get
people as hooked as he is.
Russ, what made you swap the skateboard for the slackline?
It's just a lot of fun.
It's a great thing that you can take into the park,
can have a go with friends, it's really accessible.
It's a good thing to do on a summer's afternoon. It is really addictive.
We have all fallen in love with it.
And I guess, one of the best things is, all you need is a park,
a bit of open space and a slackline. But, you also need a tree.
-Is this going to damage the tree?
The slackline runs around the back of the tree
and there is a lot of tension through the line.
The idea with these protectors is they just protect the bark from the slackline.
As long as you have got those on, it is fine.
I'm a bit nervous because people are going to think I can do this!
And that is because in February 2011 I walked a high-wire,
suspended between the chimneys at Battersea Power Station.
I did it for Comic Relief, and it was a great experience,
but it was totally different to slacklining.
-Right, so the idea is, if you put your foot on the line,
nice and flat and straight on the line, like so.
-If I help you up.
You bend this knee slightly
and the idea is that you have that leg hanging out.
-That balancing position is the first steps towards walking.
-You can see your centre of balance is straight up through your body there.
And that is perfect. That is really good, actually.
Most people fall straight off.
The idea is now you step to the other foot and do the same.
And hang that leg out, bend that knee.
And get that kind of centre of balance, focusing on a fixed point.
Yes, you've definitely got more skills than the average Joe.
Where does this actually come from?
It started in it Yosemite, in America.
It came from the climbing community, a bunch of climbers
using their climbing gear to traverse canyons, and instead
of shimmying underneath, they decided that they would walk over the top.
That's really good!
When people first start this, they shake like nobody's business
because their body says "No," totally rejects it.
To be able to do that, I mean, obviously,
you've had some balance training, so...
This Wiltshire journey has literally had its ups and downs.
It's captured my imagination with ancient monuments
built by our ancestors for reasons we may never really know.
It's been a beautiful journey, too,
from rolling hills of chalk, to the enduring remnants of old industry.
Well, this marks the end of my journey across Wiltshire.
But, funnily enough,
I think it might just be the start of a new hobby.
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