The Ridgeway: The ancient path on the chalk escarpment of the Chilterns

The Ridgeway is an ancient trail that follows the chalk ridge in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire. Running parallel to a prehistoric path called the Icknield Way, this trail was the first thoroughfare in the region, a natural highway using the chalk escarpment of the Chilterns. In this article, we will explore the history of the Ridgeway, its importance to ancient Britons, and its relationship with the Icknield Way.

The Ridgeway and Human History

With the final melt of the ice age 12,000 years ago, the chalk ridge would have popped out of the moist valleys, as inviting as a sturdy bridge over a muddy river. The Ridgeway was the only course on which you could keep your feet dry at all times of the year. This ancient trail has been the waypoint for many people throughout history, from prehistoric hunters to modern hikers.

The Importance of the Ridgeway

The Ridgeway was the only road in the area, being a thoroughfare, a lookout, and a comforting certainty in a world of wilderness and unknown. This ancient trail was of great importance to the ancient Britons, as the chalk escarpment was the easiest and safest route to traverse the region. The Ridgeway was also an important trade route, where British traders traded goods with their European counterparts. The importance of the Ridgeway is evident in the many prehistoric sites and artifacts found along its length, including burial mounds, hillforts, and ancient trackways.

Icknield Way: The Prehistoric Path

Why the Icknield Way avoids the chalk ridge ready-made trail is a mystery. However, the Icknield Way is believed to have a sacred and cultural nature, as it runs along the route of ancient shrines and prehistoric graves. The Icknield Way runs approximately 500km from Lyme Regis in Dorset at Hunstanton in Norfolk. This route has been used by ancient Britons since the Paleolithic era, and then became a trade route during the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The Importance of the Flint

The driving force behind the first settlement in this part of the world was probably flint. Palaeolithic flints from Oxfordshire have been found at a number of locations along the Ridgeway. Early human waste from the area has been found in Rotherfield Peppard, Berinsfield, Iffley, Crowmarsh, Benson, Ewelme, Stanton Harcourt, Cassington, Goring, and Wolvercote and Osney Oxford. These archaeological finds have been preserved and can now be seen in the display cases of the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock and the Ashmole.

The Modern Ridgeway

Today, the Ridgeway is a National Trail and a popular destination for hikers and walkers. The trail covers 87 miles, starting at Overton Hill near Avebury in Wiltshire and ending at Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. The trail passes through stunning countryside, including the rolling hills of the North Wessex Downs, the Chiltern Hills, and the Vale of Aylesbury. Along the way, walkers can explore many historical sites, including Bronze Age burial mounds, Iron Age hillforts, and the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric chalk carving.

Walking the Ridgeway

Walking the Ridgeway is a unique and rewarding experience. The trail offers stunning views, fascinating history, and a chance to connect with nature. There are many different routes and itineraries to choose from, depending on your preferences and fitness level. Whether you choose to walk the entire length of the trail or just a section of it, you will be able to immerse yourself in the rich history and natural beauty of this ancient trail.

Planning Your Ridgeway Walk

Before embarking on your Ridgeway adventure, it’s important to plan your trip carefully. You’ll need to consider factors such as your fitness level, the time of year, and the weather conditions. You’ll also need to decide on your route and accommodation options, as well as what equipment to bring.

There are many companies that offer guided walks and self-guided walks along the Ridgeway, which can take care of all the logistics for you. Alternatively, you can plan your own route and make your own arrangements.

What to See and Do on the Ridgeway

One of the main attractions of the Ridgeway is the historical sites that line the trail. Some of the most popular sites include the Uffington White Horse, an ancient chalk carving that dates back over 3,000 years, and the Iron Age hillfort at Barbury Castle.

There are also many quaint villages and market towns along the way, such as Avebury, Wantage, and Wendover, where you can stop for a bite to eat or to rest your feet.

The natural beauty of the Ridgeway is also a major draw. The trail passes through some of the most stunning countryside in the UK, including the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Tips for Walking the Ridgeway

Walking the Ridgeway can be challenging, especially for those who are not used to long-distance hiking. However, with the right preparation and mindset, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your Ridgeway walk:

  • Train beforehand: Make sure you are physically prepared for the challenge by building up your endurance and strength through regular exercise.
  • Pack wisely: Only bring what you need, and make sure your backpack is comfortable and well-balanced.
  • Wear appropriate footwear: Choose comfortable, sturdy shoes that are suitable for the terrain.
  • Stay hydrated: Bring plenty of water and refill at regular intervals along the trail.
  • Check the weather: Be prepared for all types of weather and dress accordingly.
  • Respect the environment: Follow the Countryside Code and leave no trace of your visit.

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