Last Saturday I completed the last 12 miles of the Ridgeway (actually, 14 or so by my reckoning, when I count some off-track wandering in the Chiltern woods). A day I’d been looking forward to for a couple or three reasons:
– it marked the end of the trail (if you go with The Ridgeway being up to Ivinghoe Beacon and not the whole ‘Greater Ridgeway’ that stretches 363 miles from Dorset to Norfolk). It’s always nice to tick a goal off a list and all that.
– the day started in Wendover, my old home town. Well, Halton RAF base next door was the actual location of the ten or so houses we lived in over the years – but Wendover is definitely more of home-town shaped location.
– most importantly, I was hooking up with my daughter Lian at Tring, around the 9 mile mark, so she could escort her old man up to the beacon (which is the site of an iron age fort).
Map of the last section: courtesy of The National trail site: http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ridgeway/plan
I did the two earlier sections* out of geographical sequence and both were great trips and more challenging (although never challenging in a Bear Grylls kind of way). Read my blog posts on the first two sections in this order as it makes more sense: Avebury to Streatley and Wallingford to Butlers Cross.
But whilst this was only a day hike, the ancient forest that covers much of it and the views that appear in the final three miles or so make it a great day’s walking.
Here’s a short film of the day .. or read on for more info and some photos.
As mentioned, a lot of the route from Wendover is ancient woodland, a real contrast to the moors where I live. I’ve spent essentially two halves of my life in each area (allowing for some city living on occasion). There’s obvious differences between each area but both are beautiful rural / ‘wild’ areas (in so much as any of britain is genuinely wild), great places to live and walk in.
In some ways I timed the hike wrong. It was an indian summer kind of day which was great but if I had waited another day (I found out later) then the RAF Halton, where I grew up, was having an open day. I could have had a trip down memory lane as well as along the Ridgeway.
And if I had postponed the walk for three of four weeks, then the trees which were beginning to tentatively drop a vanguard of leaves would have been more resplendent with autumn chutzpah.
I spent the first part of the walk in relative tranquility. Just me and the trees. Aside from the four groups of enthusiastic Duke of Edinburgh trekkers at different stages (who all seemed purposeful and full of energy, good work, youth), an occasional horse rider and a handful of lycra warriors on mountain bikes.
I had lots of time for reminiscences about boyhood walks in the Wendover / Halton woods with our two family dogs. And musing about the history of the Ridgeway, how people have walked this route for thousands of years, most with more of a vocation than me (‘let’s get these axes up to that fort’, ‘I need to get these sheep down to Avebury before the feasting starts’.. etc).
Before I got to the busy A41 (which you can hear for a long time before you get to it) I walked through Tring Park, which is actually a decent sized woodland. A great place to stop for a quick snack and to watch the first autumn leaves fall.
Things got chattier when I met my daughter Lian at Tring train station, the pre-agreed rendezvous point.
Without embarrassing her, her lively conversation belied the fact that hiking, for her, is hard work. That’s because she has a hypermobility syndrome (‘a’ rather than ‘the’ as there’s more than one expression of HMS as I understand it). Essentially, every day stretching / movement causes joint pain and inflammation to differing degrees for her. So exercise is kind of counter productive in many ways. She was even told to lay off swimming a while back. She was using some compression bandages on the walk, to stop her knees, ankles and hips from throwing a wobbly. But the new walking poles she had bought herself seemed to help over some of the uneven ground.
It was slow going for her but she was in good form and I’m (unscientifically) sure that the fresh air, lovely views, sense of camaraderie and use of the strapping and poles equaled happy endorphins and some ‘good’ muscle / joint stretching.
And this hopefully balanced out the aches and pains and ameliorated any joint damage for her. I’m not advocating she do all 87 miles of the Ridgeway (at least not in one go!) but good on her for walking with me. Very Proud Dad.
After meeting up at Tring Station we soon got to the Ashridge Estate, a National Trust property which Ivinghoe Beacon sits within.
The final couple of miles are full of great views of Aylesbury Vale and you can see why the beacon made a great location for an Iron Age fort, it really does command the area.
I made Lian capture me for one of those end of a trail type photos. I felt a bit of a fraud as I hadn’t exactly walked all 87 miles in one go. But I was still feeling ‘well chuffed’ when I saw the sign pointing back to Overton Hill.
So that was the Ridgeway – I enjoyed the whole route, from the Avebury area up to Ivinghoe Beacon. I really enjoyed the solo hiking but also enjoyed the company (at different stages and on different dates) of the friends and family who walked a part of it with me: Mark and Jamie, Jeff and John and on the last section, Lian.
Time allowing I’d like to walk the Greater Ridgeway – but if I get to live long enough I’ll maybe get some other Long Distance Paths http://www.ldwa.org.uk/index.php (or sections thereof) under my belt/boots first.
* You may have noticed that strictly speaking I am a sham and haven’t actually completed the full Ridgeway Trail. For logistical reasons on two separate trips I missed the section between Streatley and Wallingford. I know, no badge for me!