The Ridgeway is an 85 mile (137km) national trail which combines some of original Ridgeway (an Ancient Road on top of the Wiltshire and Berkshire Downs) some of the Icknield way (an Ancient Road beneath the Scarp of the Chiltern hills) these are complimented by Grim's Ditch (an Ancient Earthwork, origin and purpose unknown). The start of the Ridgeway is at Overton hill west of Marlborough, Wiltshire, the finish being Ivinghoe Beacon, Bucks.
Myself and two friends walked in the opposite direction, in late August 1996 in four days. Distances do not include additional walking to accommodation.
The start of the Ridgeway in this direction is at Ivinghoe Beacon 757ft,(230m) on the Buckinghamshire / Hertfordshire border. This is an excellent view point, especially for the Whipsnade white lion. From here the path runs through the chalk downland passing in and out of Herts and Bucks before passing over the Grand Union Canal and into the Beech woodland of the Chiltern hills. The path goes through Wendover and onto Coombe hill which gives us our first view of Didcot power station. The hill has a memorial for Boer War casualties. Then there is a drop down through Chequers watched by video cameras and through farmland and here we left the Ridgeway for Askett, our first stop.
We left Askett, climbed back onto the Chiltern hills over Whiteleaf hill passing the Whiteleaf Cross, drop back into farmland, skirting Princess Risborough, then up onto the Bledlow Ridge, passing below the Bledlow cross, then it passes through more farmland into Beacon hill Nature Reserve then under the M40 you shortly pass into Oxfordshire. The path passes below Watlington hill and its unusual White Mark and Long Barrow. We then passed through some small villages Swincombe, Ewelme and Nuffield before negotiating the Maze of a golf course and finally following the best preserved part of Grim's Ditch with excellent views of the ever present Didcot Power Station, through Mongewell into Southstoke for a well earned pint or three in the Perch and Pike.
The most ambitious day started with the walk into Goring to cross the Thames at the Goring gap and into Berkshire after a couple of miles climbing the top of the Berkshire Downs are reached and the long trek begins. Didcot Power Station is never far away to the north as is A.E.R.E Harwell. The ridge is wide and heavily rutted by 4WD vehicles and the scenery hardly changes, but the view is good. The unusually named Scutchamer Knob (a round barrow) is passes as is the Memorial to Lord Wantage. The last few miles of the day were the most interesting passing Segsbury castle, several gallops and onto Whitehorse hill. Here are Uffington Castle, the Uffington White Horse and Dragon hill, well worth a visit. Close by is the five thousand year old long barrow of Wayland's Smithy. Shortly after we cross into Wiltshire and Bishopstone was eventually reached and a night of alcohol abuse ensued (all be it a day prematurely).
The path heads southwest and Didcot Power station is seen for the last time, Liddington castle is passed. The scenery changes a little with a few more trees being visible. The Ridgeway nearly circles Ogbourne St. George before heading west to Barbury castle. This next section is the highest of the walk reaching 900ft (270m) .The White Horse of Broad Hinton is passed as are many sarsen stones similar to that of Avebury and Stonehenge. The drop to Overton hill is endless the reward is the Sanctuary situated close to the end. The finish for us was up the stone avenue into Avebury for a quick half before heading home.
The Ridgeway is one of the oldest roads in Europe, stretching from the Dorset coast to the Wash. The Ridgeway long distance footpath covers only about a quarter of the original route. Although all the original route can be walked on the Wessex Ridgeway, the Ridgeway, Icknield way and the Peddars Way long distance footpath.
The Icknield way was a trading route from Norfolk to the southwest, mainly part of the road network now. The Icknield way follows ridges from Thetford to Ivinghoe, follows parts of the Ridgeway and roads to Streatley, here it follows the line of the Ridgeway but slightly to the north via Wantage to Wanborough. The name Icknield comes from the old english word for upper.
This is a large linear earthwork named after the Nordic god Grim. Little is known about this earthwork, possibilities include boundaries and defense, perhaps to link hill forts. The largest section remaining on the Ridgeway is from Mongewell to Nuffield. There are many parts off the Ridgeway however.
Probably the most impressive site on the walk, Whitehorse hill as its name suggests has the famous Uffington Whitehorse cut into the chalk. This is around 4000 years old, and believed to represent a Celtic horse goddess Epona a known to represent fertility, healing and death. It may have been created to be worshipped in religious ceremonies. Also on the site is Uffington castle an Iron age fort circa 2000 years old used to protect the Ridgeway. Then there is dragon hill, where legend has it was the site where the mythical dragon was slain by St. George, the grassless patch is where the dragons blood was said to have spilt. Another interesting feature is the manger, a steep valley formed by glacial erosion in the last ice age.
The small village of Avebury, is interesting in itself but foremost it is the large stone circles, which surround the village which cause the most interest. These are the largest in the world dating from about 2000BC. The village is enclosed by two such circles and also a bank of earth. Also the approach to the village is sided by rows of stones, making a very impressive sight. There were approx. 100 of the Sarsen stones in all although some have been destroyed, the largest weighing some 50 tons.
There are many long barrows mainly in the western part of the walk, the most famous of which is Wayland's Smithy. The long barrows were chambered burial tombs constructed from stone and set slightly in the ground. These all date from 3000BC to 1500BC and the West Kennett long barrow has been excavated and can be explored. The Wayland's Smithy is one of the oldest long barrows and is well worth the fifty or so meters diversion from the Ridgeway. The current structure built about 3000BC was built on the site of an older barrow. Legend has it that if you leave you horse with suitable payment, by the tomb then the Saxon god Wayland would have reshod you horse when you return next day.
This is just opposite the official start of the Ridgeway, and is the site of two stone circles erected some time around 2500BC. The have now disappeared, but their positions are marked by concrete posts.
Just one of the four hill forts along the western half of the Ridgeway, the others being Liddington, Uffington and Segesbury. The view from Barbury castle is excellent, looking into Swindon. The castle has excellent facilities, toilets, shop, information center and well worth a visit. These forts built during the Iron age were used to protect this part of the Ridgeway which was an important trading route.
This 16th Century house is the Prime Minister's Country retreat and has been since 1917 when it was given by Lord Lee of Fareham for the purpose.
The Grand Union Canal started its life as sections of different canals. That they effectively joined to give a major route from Birmingham to London is fortunate rather than intentional. The present Grand Union Canal comes from an amalgamation of many of the different companies in 1926.
This power station built in the 1960s is visible for most of the walk on the flat area to the north of the western Ridgeway and to the west of the eastern Ridgeway. Construction of a second power station at the site is currently underway.
Top of Page
Back to my Home Page