From ancient track to long-distance path

Ivinghoe Beacon seen looking north from The Ridgeway © Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Ridgeway is Britain’s oldest road, an ancient trackway that runs along the chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs from Wiltshire in the west to the River Thames in the Goring Gap. Here it meets the Icknield Way, another ancient trackway which ran from Salisbury Plain all the way across the country to East Anglia. 

In 1972 the route was adapted and extended as a 140 km (87 mile) National Trail for walkers, following the ancient Ridgeway from the West Kennet Long Barrow, south of Avebury, to the River Thames at Streatley. From here it follows the Icknield Way through the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. Designed as a walking path, parts of the trail are also suitable for mountain bikers, particularly the stretch to the west of the Thames.

Map of the Ridgeway National Trail ©

The Ridgeway passes through ancient landscapes such as downland, secluded valleys and woodland, and has been used by travellers for at least 5,000 years. As with the Hondsrug in the Netherlands, the high dry ground of the track made travel easier. The commanding distant views also provided a measure of protection against potential sudden attacks.

The Ridgeway passes near many Neolithic, Iron Age and Bronze Age sites including Avebury Stone Circle and the ancient hill forts of Barbury Castle, Liddington Castle, Uffington Castle, Segsbury Castle, Pulpit Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon. Other monuments along the route include Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chieftain burial tomb; the impressive Uffington White Horse, an ancient 120 m (400 foot) chalk horse carved into the hillside; and Grim’s Ditch, an 8 km (5 mile) Iron Age earthwork at Mongewell near Wallingford.

The track was used by the armies of the Romans, Saxons and Vikings. Later, medieval drovers followed the Ridgeway to move their livestock from Wales and the West Country to markets in the Home Counties and London.

The River Thames flows through the Goring Gap beneath the Ridgeway © BBC
The Ridgeway in Grim’s Ditch near Mongewell, with Common Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in flower © Wikipedia Public Domain
Ivinghoe Beacon seen looking north from The Ridgeway © Wikipedia Creative Commons

Source             Wikipedia and the National Trail website

Much more information can be found online at:

Text                 Alun Harvey


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