Happy Birthday to the Oldest Road in Britain!
The Ridgeway trail runs 87 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire to Avebury in Wiltshire. It runs along the chalk downland, a natural ridgeline that tracks through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the North Wessex Downs AONB, past the ancient and enigmatic Uffington White Horse and Wayland’s Smithy, an 5,000 year old tomb (that you can go inside and explore!). It boasts rare wildlife habitats, with populations of plants, butterflies and birds that are uniquely adapted to the chalk grasslands, and takes you through some very cute villages.
You can walk the whole route, and bike and horse-ride the western section of the trail. If you through-hike, it takes most people about 6 days but there are plenty of footpaths and bridleways that enable you to walk just a section of the route and loop back to where you started. For lots more info, check out https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/en_GB/trails/the-ridgeway/
The route itself, used by farmers, soldiers, traders and herders for thousands of years, was designated as a National Trail in 1973. So this year is its 50th Anniversary and the people who look after the trail very kindly invited me to be the Anniversary patron!
National Trails are supposed to be the ‘gold standard’ of our public rights of way network, but they’re plagued by the same challenges as all our national parks and AONBs – a chronic lack of funding. And good access costs money…so as well as celebrating the amazing route and all the volunteers who look after the Ridgeway and its habitats, the farmers, land managers and charities who are caring for sites along the route, I’ll also be lobbying for better access for people using mobility scooters along the route, working with local communities to help them discover their Ridgeway, and hopefully tackling the challenge of affordable accomodation and camping for through-hikers and bike-packers. We’ve got work to do!
While you’re planning your trip, why not listen in to me and the editor of Countryfile Magazine, as we explore the Avebury and the western end of the Ridgeway and the mysterious archaeology of the surrounding World Heritage Site: