Britain’s Oldest Road: The Ridgeway

The Ridgeway, often dubbed the Oldest Road in Britain, is a prehistoric track that has been frequented by travellers, merchants, cattle herders and even armies for more than 5000 years. Originally it was a series of routes that extended over 250 miles from the coast of Dorset to the Wash in Norfolk. It gets its name from the fact that, for much of its length, it avoided wet, low-lying areas by following higher ground. This also gave travellers the additional advantage of often being able to spot potential attackers a long way off.

Today the Ridgeway National Trail is a long-distance footpath that runs 87 miles along the downlands of Southern England. It begins on Overton Hill in Wiltshire, close to the Neolithic stone circles of Avebury. From there it follows the edge of the North Wessex Downs northeast, passing ancient hillforts and burial mounds along the way, often with spectacular views northwards across the plains of northern Wiltshire and Oxfordshire.

IMG_0016After crossing the River Thames at Streatley, the Ridgeway Trail follows the northern edge of the Chiltern Hills, often passing through woodlands and secluded valleys. Near Ellesborough it crosses the driveway to Chequers, the country retreat of the UK’s Prime Minister. The Ridgeway ends (or begins, I suppose, depending which way you’re travelling) at Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, a prominent hill on the northern edge of the Chilterns.

Anyone fancy an 87-mile  stroll?

Anyone fancy an 87-mile stroll?

Although there are countless beautiful locations along the Ridgeway’s entire length, two spots are particular favourites of mine. The first is at the very start of the National Trail at Overton Hill, which is hardly surprising given how smitten I am by the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and associated prehistoric monuments.

Start of the Ridgeway on Overton Hill

Start of the Ridgeway on Overton Hill

The Ridgeway pre-dates the Bronze Age Round Barrows that lie beside its staring point on Overton Hill

The Ridgeway pre-dates the Bronze Age Round Barrows that lie beside its starting point on Overton Hill

The Sanctuary on Overton Hill  - concrete posts mark the positions of six concentric timber circles erected during the late Neolithic

The Sanctuary on Overton Hill
– concrete posts mark the positions of six concentric timber circles erected during the late Neolithic

West Kennet Neolithic Long Barrow, seen across the Sanctuary from the start of the Ridgeway

West Kennet Neolithic Long Barrow, seen across the Sanctuary from the start of the Ridgeway

The West Kennet Avenue was built during the Neolithic to connect Avebury and the Sanctuary

The West Kennet Avenue was built during the Neolithic to connect Avebury and the Sanctuary

Avebury at Dawn

Avebury at Dawn

The enigmatic prehistoric mound known as Silbury Hill stands just over a mile from the start of the Ridgeway

The enigmatic prehistoric mound known as Silbury Hill stands just over a mile from the start of the Ridgeway

For similar reasons, I adore the stretch of the Ridgeway than runs between the Neolithic long barrow of Wayland’s Smithy and the Bronze Age hillfort known as Uffington Castle that stands proudly atop Whitehorse Hill, across which the famous Uffington White Horse gallops eternally.

The Uffington White Horse

The Uffington White Horse

Uffington Castle beside the Ridgeway

Uffington Castle beside the Ridgeway

The ditches of Uffington Castle

The ditches of Uffington Castle

The Ridgeway running down from Uffington Castle towards Wayland's Smithy

The Ridgeway running down from Uffington Castle towards Wayland’s Smithy

Approaching Wayland's Smithy on the Ridgeway

Approaching Wayland’s Smithy on the Ridgeway

Wayland's Smithy Neolithic Long Barrow

Wayland’s Smithy Neolithic Long Barrow

This post was inspired by this week’s Cee’s Which Way Challenge.

While your daydreams are wandering across the ancient landscape of the English downlands, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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About Jaspa

Star of my own award-winning adventure novels, Jaspa's Journey. Geocaching addict & F1 fan. Adventure Journeyer & blogger extraordinaire. Check out my website: www.jaspasjourney.com And don’t forget to download the books and see what the buzz is all about!
This entry was posted in Adventure, Environment, History, Jaspa's Journey, Photography, Travel, United Kingdom and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Britain’s Oldest Road: The Ridgeway

  1. Wow…all that history along that trail that used to be a road! How long does it take to walk the length?

    • Jaspa says:

      I think ‘road’ might be stretching it, Iris. At least in the sense we think of nowadays. I read somewhere the record for doing the entire length by a single person is less than 13 hours, although most people take about six days.

  2. touringlaura says:

    Thanks for sharing, it’s always good to know the history of places, and it’s interesting to find out all these little quirks!

  3. Cee Neuner says:

    Fabulous which way photos for this week. 🙂 🙂

  4. I’ve walked some of the Ridgeway and loved it! Hoping to leisurely complete as much as I can this year. Great pics!

  5. Amy says:

    Thank you for the tour, Jaspa! A magnificent place via your lens!

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