On Saturday I had my first and likely only real day out all year went to Oxfordshire to visit various ancient and picturesque sites. One of the places I was looking forward to travelling on was the Ridgeway which is one of the oldest continually used roads anywhere in the world
For at least 5,000 years travellers have used the Ridgeway. The Ridgeway provided a reliable trading route to the Dorset coast and to the Wash in Norfolk. Back then southern England was a much more treacherous place than it is today with warring tribes and predatory animals such as Wolves and Bears lurking around every corner. Southern England was (and in places still is) rather swampy and so it was much quicker and safer to stick to high ground where possible. The route even crosses the Thames at its narrowest point.
The high dry ground made travel easy and provided a measure of protection by giving traders a commanding view, warning against potential attacks. The road played a key role in the development of this part of Southern England. The Bronze Age saw the creation of the Uffington White Horse and the stone circle at Avebury. During the Iron Age, inhabitants took advantage of the high ground by building hillforts along the Ridgeway to help defend the trading route.
Many people think it was the Romans who built the first roads but as my old post shows, they merely improved upon many roads that were all ready here. When the Romans were finally forced to evacuate, invading Saxon and Viking armies used the Ridgeway. In medievaltimes and later, the Ridgeway found use by drovers, moving their livestock from the West Country and Wales to markets in the Home Counties and London. Before the Enclosure Acts of 1750, the Ridgeway existed as an informal series of tracks across the chalk downs, chosen by travellers based on path conditions. Once enclosures started, the current path developed through the building of earth banks and the planting of hedges.
Even in WW2 the odd invasion defensive structure was put in place on or near the Ridgeway as it would be militarily important now as it was thousands of years ago.
The Ridgeway is 362 miles or 583 kilometres in length and connects Lyme Regis in Devon with Hunstanton in Norfolk, following the route of the chalk uplands.
There are those that believe the Ridgway is up to 8,000 years old. If so, the Greater Ridgeway might have continued beyond Norfolk for a hundred or more miles into the heart of Doggerland. That was a fertile area which is now under the North Sea, and originally was part of the land bridge between Britain and mainland Europe.
In 1973 part of the ancient route became a long-distance National Trail, reaching out 87 miles (140 km) northeast from Overton Hill within the Avebury World Heritage Site to Ivinghoe Beacon which is just a few miles from where I was recently Visiting WW1 trenches in the heart of England.
I’d driven past the start of the Ridgeway National Trail before but had never actually walked upon it. I was near the Oxfordshire and Wiltshire border, an area of high and open ground. It was incredible to think of all the people who must have travelled the same route up to possibly 8,000 years ago.
As you can see from the photos above, the path is still kept in a very good condition especially considering the events of the year so far.
As you can see the Ridgeway isn’t totally in the open, this photo is from 10-15 miles away and shows it passing through a beautiful woodland in spring time.
Many people walk the entire length over a week or so but I was only on it for 3 miles and heading to see something else that whilst not quite as old was still ancient and infinitely more magical, Waylands Smithy… the home of a very talented and important Elf. But more of him next time!
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