The sacred art of brewing is one of the most ancient and revered trades of all. Just today I have been reminded of what an important part this played in all our cultures, regardless of what pompous academics might say. Especially as they tend to have very limited abilities to organise a micturition event in an alcoholic beverage production facility.
What jogged my memory? It was some thirsty walkers on the Ridgeway Trail commenting on the purity of the stream water. I was minded to recycle some thoughts on the matter.
The Ridgeway Trail crosses the Og Valley to connect the megalithic sites at Silbury and Avebury to those at Wayland's Smithy, Uffington and Dragon Hill.
As an aside, the head of the Og valley is flanked on both sides by two hill tops. Just to confuse visitors, they are both called Castles (Barbury and Liddington). Where they really castles? Ah well, no. But if they weren't castles, what were they? The usual reflex answer from orthodox historians or archaeologists is that they were hill-forts. Castles, forts, wars and death sounds a lot more exciting. Which is great for academic careers, books and TV series. But how much evidence have we that they were military forts or places for battles? Outside of a few known battles between native Britons and mercenary Saxons, there is surprisingly little evidence. Instead the bulk of evidence suggests something much more mundane and peaceful. That is, the Ridgeway Trail is an ancient trade route, used for thousands of years, connecting a string of enclosures that were only rarely used for military purposes as well.
Back on track: Locally, what we know now as Gypsy Lane was one of the most direct routes between Barbury and Liddington. It passes close by the head of the Og river, near a location known to have been a pre-Roman building. The ortho-archaeos at first thought it was a temple (ritual stuff), until the more insightful realised the largest room in the building was a large malting oven for roasting barley. Which is, of course, a crucial ingredient in brewing beer. The other crucial ingredient is water, which suggests a plentiful supply of fresh clean water from a spring or well. Roasted barley has an acidifying effect on the beer mash. Because of this, modern-day brewers tend to treat the mash with calcium carbonate to keep the pH in the proper range. The chalky Og water would be slightly alkaline, and perfect for a naturally balanced brew.
The Ridgeway Trail is mostly on chalk uplands, with few rivers, and these are mostly winter bournes, which means rivers that usually only flow in winter time. Victorian era maps of Ogbourne St.George show many wells in the area, so that villagers had a dependable water supply all year round. So for most of the year, every year, the Og valley would have been a special place on the Ridgeway, as one of the few parts where travellers could depend on finding water for themselves and their animals. The most famous example now is The Inn With The Well, which is still refreshing weary walkers to this day, and may be carrying on a local tradition which has lasted for five thousand years. Cheers!
Ogbourne St.George features as the first walk on The Megalthic Empire's walks.