The Ridgeway


The Ridgeway

Infobox Hiking trail
Name=The Ridgeway
Photo= Ridgeway mongwell.jpg
Caption= The Ridgeway in Grim's Ditch near Mongewell
Location=Southern England, United Kingdom
Designation=UK National Trail
Length=convert|85|mi|km
Start/End Points=Overton Hill, near Avebury, Wiltshire and Ivinghoe Beacon, Buckinghamshire
Use=Hiking
ElevChange=
HighPoint=
LowPoint=
Difficulty=
Season=All year
Sights=
Hazards=

"For other meanings see Ridgeway."

The Ridgeway is an ancient trackway described as Britain's oldest road. At convert|85|mi|km, the route follows the chalk hills between Overton Hill, near Avebury, and Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire and represents part of a route in use since Neolithic times. Specifically, the Ridgeway hugs the ridge tops of open downland west of the Goring Gap and the tree-covered Chiltern Hills east of the River Thames, thus avoiding once-difficult woods and marshes in the valleys below.

National Trail

Now one of fifteen long-distance National Trails in England and Wales, the Ridgeway beetles northeast, from its trail head at Overton Hill to its tail at Ivinghoe Beacon, near Tring. Opened as a National Trail in 1973, the Ridgeway meets the much newer Thames Path at the Goring Gap where both trails use the banks of the River Thames between Goring-on-Thames and Mongewell - the Thames Path following the western bank and the Ridgeway hugging the eastern bank.

In use since Neolithic times, the original Ridgeway almost certainly used to traverse the entire chalk ridge (escarpment) that runs from Dorset to Lincolnshire, but human development and military restrictions on Salisbury Plain have interrupted the trail; only convert|85|mi remain. The Ridgeway represents one of four long distance footpaths which combine to run from Lyme Regis to Hunstanton, collectively referred to as the Greater Ridgeway.

The Ridgeway passes near many Neolithic, Iron Age, and Bronze Age sites including, Avebury Circle, a stone circle similar to Stonehenge; Barbury Castle, Liddington Castle and Uffington Castle, all Iron Age and Bronze Age hill forts; Wayland's Smithy, a Neolithic chieftain burial tomb; the White Horse, an ancient convert|400|ft|adj=on chalk horse carved into the hillside near Uffington Castle; and Grim's Ditch, a convert|5|mi|adj=on section of earthwork near Mongewell created by Iron Age peoples as a possible demarcation line. Other points of interest include the Blowing Stone, and Victory Drive, the private drive of Chequers (the British Prime Minister's country retreat).

The Ridgeway's surface varies from chalk-rutted farm paths and green lanes (which have a propensity for becoming extremely muddy and pot-holed after rain) to small sections of metalled roads. Labelled a bridleway (shared with horses and bicycles) for much of its length, the Ridgeway also includes parts designated as byway which permits the use of motorised vehicles. Local restrictions along many byway sections limit the use of motorised vehicles to the summer months. Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, many public rights of way in England and Wales that authorities had not explicitly classified as Bridleway or Byway defaulted to the classification "Restricted Byway" which precludes the use of motor vehicles at all times. As a result of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, much of the Ridgeway remains free of motor vehicles year round. [cite web | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/5005478.stm | title = Ridgeway given 22-mile motor ban | publisher = BBC | date = 2006-05-22 | accessdate = 2007-11-05]

Despite the Ridgeway's artificial creation, the TV programme Seven Natural Wonders featured it in 2005 as one of the wonders of the South.

A Brief History

For at least 5000 years travellers have used the Ridgeway. Originally connected to the Dorset coast, the Ridgeway provided a reliable trading route to the Wash in Norfolk. The high dry ground made travel easy and provided a measure of protection by giving traders a commanding view, warning against potential attacks. The Bronze Age saw the development of the White Horse along with the stone circle at Avebury. During the Iron Age, inhabitants took advantage of the high ground by building hill forts along the Ridgeway to help defend the trading route. Following the collapse of Roman authority in Western Europe, Saxon and Viking invasions of Great Britain saw the Ridgeway used as a road for moving armies. In medieval times, the Ridgeway found use by drovers, moving their livestock from the West Country and Wales to markets in the Home Counties and London. Prior to the Enclosure Acts of 1750, the Ridgeway existed as an informal series of tracks across the chalk downs, chosen by travellers based on path conditions. Once enclosures started, the current path developed through the building of earth banks and the planting of hedges. Since 1973 the Ridgeway has enjoyed the status of a National Trail.

Places along the Ridgeway

Places that are near to (or on) The Ridgeway include (from West to East):
* Avebury
* Overton Hill
* Swindon
* Marlborough
* Faringdon
* Uffington Castle
* Lambourn
* Hungerford
* Wantage
* Abingdon
* Oxford
* Compton
* Newbury
* Didcot
* Blewbury
* Streatley
* Wallingford
* Thame
* Chinnor
* Reading
* Henley-on-Thames
* Princes Risborough
* Aylesbury
* Wendover
* High Wycombe
* Tring
* Maidenhead
* Ivinghoe Beacon
* Hemel Hempstead

References

Maps

* [http://www.communitywalk.com/map/13067#10190010751.2J=Y6-1.EIN0 Annotated map of the Ridgeway]
*Ridgeway National Trail. Published by Harvey Maps, UK.

External links

* [http://www.pegasusarchive.org/ancientbritain/ridgeway.htm The Ridgeway]
* [http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/Ridgeway/index.asp?PageId=1 The Ridgeway]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/moonraking/landscape_ridgeway.shtml BBC description of the Ridgeway]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/alongtheridgeway0607 Improvised music recorded at various sites along The Ridgeway]


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