Walking The Ridgeway, one of the oldest roads in the world

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 Ridgeway amongst flood plains

The Ridgeway amongst flood plains

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.

Ridgeway National Trail

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.

On the way to Waylands Smithy

Looking out over the high ground

Looking out over the high ground and an Iron Age Fortress!

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.

The Ridgeway at Mongwell

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!

Incidentally, my new book Secret Gardens of the City of London is now at number 3 of the Amazon section charts.

Secret Gardens of the City of London is now at number 3!

Secret Gardens of the City of London is now at number 3!

Secret Gardens of the City of London is available in Kindle format for £3.99 from Amazon UK, $4.99 from Amazon.com and all over Amazon stores around the world.

Secret Gardens of the City of London is also out worldwide in Paperback including Amazon UK  and Amazon.com 

Last but not least, if you’re an Apple fan then Secret Gardens of the City of London then click on the Apple logo below.   Secret Gardens of the City of London is also available from other top retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and many more.

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You can read more about Secret Gardens of the City of London on the dedicated book page from the top menu.

Secret Gardens of the City of London

Secret Gardens of the City of London

 

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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3 Responses to Walking The Ridgeway, one of the oldest roads in the world

  1. Ankur Mithal says:

    Curious…are Oxfordshire and the place where Oxford Univ is located, two different places?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oxford is the capital city of the county of Oxfordshire but the photos in this video are less than 22 miles from the city centre. You’d think it was miles away but its all down to the very strict ‘green-belt’ policies here. My American tourists are always amazed when I drive them out of London and one minute we are in the suburbs and then the countryside starts after the last house!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Waylands Smithy – The neolithic monument which is home to a supernatural Elf! | Stephen Liddell

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