The Ridgeway - History and Facts | History Hit

The Ridgeway

Overton Hill, England, United Kingdom

Peta Stamper

04 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Ridgeway

The Ridgeway is an ancient trackway in Oxfordshire, England, that is known as Britain’s oldest road. The historic route trails from Wiltshire along a chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs to the River Thames, and then along the Icknield Way running from Salisbury Plain to East Anglia on the east coast.

The Ridgeway has been an 87 mile long National Trail from 1972, although it has been walked for much longer than that. In fact, the ancient trail is believed to have been travelled for at least 5,000 years.

The Ridgeway history

The high and dry ground of the Ridgeway made travelling easy, also providing some protection from the height advantage against potential attackers. During the Bronze Age, the Uffington White Horse was formed by prehistoric society, filling grooves cut into the ground with crushed chalk. The high ground later saw hillforts built through the Iron Age as the Ridgeway defended the trading route.

After the Roman Empire in Europe collapsed, the invading Saxon and Vikings used the Ridgeway to cross the country, later followed by medieval drovers who were taking livestock from Wales to markets in London.

Depending on path conditions, travellers followed a series of informal paths across the chalk ridge. This changed in 1750 with the Enclosure Acts – the ridge route was marked by earth banks and planting hedges.

The Ridgeway today

Today, the Ridgeway is used by walkers, runners, cyclists, mobility scooter-users and horse riders, all following in the steps of Saxons, Vikings, Romans and prehistoric folk. The route, guided by clearly marked signs, takes you through woods and small valleys, including nature reserves rich in wildlife, often stopping in villages and small towns for refreshment and other facilities.

The best time to walk the Ridgeway is between Spring and Autumn: with better weather and vivid wildlife, the underfoot conditions make for a beautiful trip across England’s varied landscape and can be walked in 6 days.

Getting to The Ridgeway

Start the Ridgeway at Overton Hill, south of Swindon near Marlborough, which is an hour drive from Bristol via M4, or 2 hours and 20 minutes from London. You can reach Overton Hill via public transport from London, getting a Great Western train to Swindon before catching the 49 bus to Marlborough, stopping at Telephone Box and walking 5 minutes to Overton Hill.

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