Last year I spent a couple of days on The Ridgeway but jumped in (for logistical reasons) part way along this ancient route and started at Wallingford. This time though I started at the very beginning* (a very good place … ) and had company to boot in the shape of friend Jeff and my brother-in-law, John (who joined us on the 2nd day for some of the route).
* The ‘beginning’ is maybe a moot point in that the actual ‘Greater Ridgeway’ is some 362 miles long and starts in Dorset then heads up all the way to Norfolk. We walked about 45 miles of the 87 mile long ‘middle bit’ known as the Ridgeway National Trail that starts at Overton Hill.
Here’s a map with the section we walked (from Overton Hill up to Streatley) shown in red:
Resources and inspiration:
To get me in the zone and / or to help on the trip itself, I used these source of information.. much of it fascinating, especially Francis Pryor’s book on ancient britain:
– Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans (Text Only) Francis Pryor has a great writing style, loved this book and it gave me a great ‘lens’ through which to look at the stones and barrows around Avebury and along the trail itself.. a lens that illuminated real people, albeit separated by 5000 or so years from me.
– Rambling Man Walks The Ridgeway: From Overton Hill to Ivinghoe Beacon (a little self-published ebook from Andrew Bowden which I enjoyed)
– Avebury Cosmos: The Neolithic World of Avebury henge, Silbury Hill, West Kennet long barrow, the Sanctuary & the Longstones Cove (some of the really detailed star chart type of discussion in here lost my attention but the evocative descriptions of the shift in alignment between horizon, stones and the milky way caused by precession and and our ancestors’ response to that makes this book by Nicholas Mann well worth a read before you visit Avebury, Silbury Hill and the surrounding area).
And I again took along the Ridgeway guide book I used last year by Nick Hill – a really handy little book.
The maps I used (online) came via :
The days in detail.
Actually, time is against me, as it seems to be so much nowadays, so instead I’ve summarised the three days via video and some photos I took en route. I treated myself to a GoPro camera a couple of weeks back and one of those extendable ‘action shots’ type of poles.. much fun had by me but maybe less so by my long suffering walking companion Jeff 😉
Day 1: Overton Hill to Ogbourne St George
Approx 10 miles (including Avebury ‘detour’)
We had travelled down the night before and camped at Foxlynch Farm. Jackie who owns / runs the stables there has space for tents in one of the fields. I’d arranged to leave my car there, for a small fee, whilst we walked the three days. Which really helped with the logistics of it all. As well being able to leave my car, Jackie gave us a lift over to Avebury on the morning of the first day and also cooked brill breakfasts on the two days we stayed. And she’s really friendly – I don’t think Foxlynch is on tripadvisor but if it was it would get full marks.
We spent some time around Avebury, West Kennet Avenue and Silbury Hill before walking over to Overton Hill to start the trail proper.
To some extent, despite having these amazing artefacts in front of me, my mind was focused on the hike ahead I think. It was only as we walked the Ridgeway and I had some time to reflect, that I found myself imagining the people (and their changing culture) who would have lived, worked, worshipped and socialised in the area or have been traveling through it all those generations back (and across generations themselves of course).
Day 2: Ogbourne St George to White Horse Hill, Uffington
Approx 14 miles (stopping at Britchcombe Farm campsite).
Bro in Law John had joined us the night before, missing the evening menu service at the nearby pub by approximately one minute. Sadly they weren’t anywhere near as friendly and helpful as Jackie at the farm. They were disinterested to the point of curtness about him missing out on food so he had to share some of our meal, kind of dampened what was an otherwise sociable evening.
Whereas, Jackie included him in the cooked breakfast, despite us only knowing he’d be eating with us late the preceding evening. Another top mark for Foxlynch.
Jeff and I had planned to walk to Sparsholt Firs and John did around the 5 mile mark before turning back and heading to Ogbourne St George where he’d left his car. It was great to have had a walk out with him though.
As I said we’d planned to stop at Sparsholt Firs for the night but after 12 miles or so and near the Uffington White Horse, we spotted a sign for cream teas (and a campsite)… it was a quick decision to head downhill off the Ridgeway!
Before that we had explored Liddington Castle and then an atmospheric (tranquil, even) Wayland’s Smithy – I found it an affecting place despite a few other visitors begin there at the same time.
And in the evening I took a walk up to just below White Horse Hill, standing on a little hill (Dragon Hill I think) opposite; pondering the Horse in the twilight in one direction and the Vale of The White Horse stretched out in the other – a lovely pocket of time. Interrupted only by the cacophonous return of myriad Jackdaws from a day of malarkey to their nests in the nearby woods.
Day 3: Britchcombe Farm / Uffington to Streatley
Approx 19 miles.
This was the toughest of the three days without doubt – not just a longer distance but because it was so hot and for pretty much the whole day we were away from the tree-lined trail you get higher up the Ridgeway past Wallingford. We were essentially under the gaze of an early summer sun all day. And we knew we couldn’t rely on finding water taps along the route. We’d read a couple were capped off (true) or broken (not quite true – I got one seemingly ‘dry’ tap working again with a lot of suction). But uncertainty about the taps meant we were both carrying full hydro bags as well as full rucksacks.
The path across the three days is often very broad and runs parallel to Gallops in quite a few places – but we didn’t see any race horses out for the runs (well, gallops) unfortunately. We did see a lot of horses but most were taking easy in fields or, at one point, pulling pairs of jolly folk in little gigs to what I guessed was a rally somewhere (see video below).
For me this was the least remarkable section of the trail. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, as the countryside is really nice and you get some great views from the broad camber of the Ridgeway. But there isn’t so much obvious ‘history’ either in eyesight or packed in around the path unlike the first two days.
Having said that, I really like Streatley and the part of its conjoined twin, Goring, that we saw. If it wasn’t for the blisters I developed on my right foot on this final day, I may have been inclined to have more of a wander once we had dumped our rucksacks at the YHA around 5pm. As it was we did a quick recce then had excellent oven cooked pizza which is served in the beer garden of The Catherine Wheel. A great way to end the last pretty arduous day.
This has been a necessarily short blog post, to say that I walked and camped for three days along such a beautiful ancient tail and in really great weather but suffice to say I really like the Ridgeway. And I still have the last leg (Wendover to Ivinghoe Beacon) to look forward to, which hopefully I’ll do this summer at some point!