A good, all year round 87 mile hike, the Ridgeway trail follows the line of the Chiltern hills and offers many endearing features; open views of rolling chalk downland, archaeological monuments, a white horse figure cut into the chalk, ancient forts, woods, nature reserves, grasslands and small villages.
The route follows the ancient Ridgeway from Overton Hill to Streatley. From here it tracks the ancient Icknield Way through the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
History of the Ridgeway National Trail
The Ridgeway route has been used for over 5000 years by travellers, farmers, armies and drovers (who were moving sheep or cattle from one place to another in groups). It was a reliable trading route to the Dorset coast and to the Wash in Norfolk. The high, dry ground provided a vantage point, giving traders a commanding view, and therefore protection against potential attacks.
The Bronze Age saw the development of the stone circle at Avebury, and the creation of the Uffington White Horse, a 110 m long figure formed in the side of the hill from deep trenches, filled with crushed white chalk. During the Iron Age, hillforts were built along the Ridgeway to help defend the trading route.
Following the demise of the Roman empire in Western Europe, Saxon and Viking armies used the route to invade. In medieval times and later, the Ridgeway was used by drovers, moving their livestock from the West Country and Wales to markets in the Home Counties and London.
The Enclosure Acts of 1750 made the Ridgeway more permanent and the route clearer, and it became a National Trail and public right of way in 1973. Today, it is one of only 15 designated national trails.
How difficult is the Ridgeway National Trail?
The trail can be rather wet and muddy, but it is a relatively easy walk with much of it spent walking along ridges. There are some gentle climbs, and to reach your accommodation you’ll usually need to head downhill.
Much of the walk follows ancient tracks, some of which are classed as byways so vehicles can use them. This has caused rutting in some places, so wearing sturdy walking boots
How long does it take to complete the Ridgeway National Trail?
Based on an average 15 miles a day, the trail can be completed in 6 days. If you’re not a seasoned long distance walker it’s advisable to start gently, with just half a day’s walk, and then have a short day in the middle. You also need to factor in time for exploring and relaxing.
A typical 6 day itinerary is:
||Ogbourne St George
||Ogbourne St George
||Goring and Streatley
||Goring and Streatley
Many walkers complete the trail in sections over several weekends, which is obviously easier if you live locally. The Ridgeway’s train and bus links allow for this, although the western section between Overton Hill and Goring & Streatley has less links and needs to be done as a three day block.
What to expect from the Ridgeway National Trail
The first half of the trail follows the exposed chalk ridge of the North Wessex Downs, which passes through, or close by, many prehistoric sites. This half of the trail offers wide open spaces with few villages, towns or major roads.
Approximately a mile away from the start of the trail at Overton Hill in Wiltshire, is the World Heritage Site of the Avebury Bronze Age stone circle, one of the largest prehistoric monuments of its type in Europe. Nearby you’ll find Silbury Hill, the largest manmade hill in Europe where many ancient tools have been found.
Wayland’s Smithy is a Neolithic burial mound, 50 metres north of the Ridgeway. It is 5,000 years old. It was believed that Wayland’s blacksmith’s forge was with him in the burial chamber and new shoes would be found on any horse left next to it overnight, as long as a payment had also been left!
Uffington is home to the Uffington White Horse mentioned above. On top of the hill is Uffington Castle, an Iron Age fort, 857 ft high, that dates back to 600 B.C. There are two other Iron Age forts along the Ridgeway at Barbury and Liddington. Close to Uffington is Dragon Hill, believed to be where St. George slew the dragon. The grass on the top of the hill has been worn away and no longer grows. If legend is to be believed, this is because it marks the area where the dragon’s blood poured onto the ground.
After dropping down from the ridge to cross the Thames Valley, the second half of the Ridgeway heads north east over the wooded Chiltern Hills on narrower, more enclosed paths.
Ashdown House in the Berkshire Downs, Oxfordshire was built from the local chalk. It dates from the 1600s, and was for Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of King Charles I, as a retreat from the Great Plague. She sadly never lived in it, dying before it was finished. It is now owned by the National Trust.
In Wantage, Oxfordshire, King Alfred the Great was born in 849. The blowing stone that he used to summon his army in 871 can be visited just west of the village.
The Watlington White Mark in Oxfordshire is another chalk hill figure. In 1764, the village vicar, Edward Home, was dissatisfied with his spireless church so he came up with an ingenious idea. He removed some grass on the hill to expose a chalk triangle so that when he looked out from upstairs in the vicarage, it appeared as if the church had a spire!
The route of the Ridgeway is very well waymarked, with plenty of the trail's black and white signposts to show the way.
Get in touch
If you’ve been inspired to walk the Ridgeway National Trail, as with all long distance hikes, you need to be fully prepared. BCH Camping
stock a wide range of footwear
equipment. Get in touch
for any advice or information we can offer, we’d be delighted to help. Remember, the adventure starts at BCH…