Ridgeway Footpath National Trail
The Ridgeway National trail is one of Englands oldest roads, 85 miles (136km) through ancient landscapes. Over rolling, open downland to the west of the River Thames, and through secluded valleys and woods in The Chilterns to the east.
Britain's Oldest Road. 85 miles (139km) long, much of it following the ancient chalk ridge route used by prehistoric man, The Ridgeway offers the chance to get away from the bustle of life in this busy part of England. The Ridgeway passes through two distinctive landscapes; the open downland of the west within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the more gentle and wooded countryside of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the east.
The Open downlands.
In the west The Ridgeway travels as a broad ancient track along the open and fairly isolated top of the chalk downland ridge, often several miles from the nearest village. Here, to the south is rolling downland and to the north, at the bottom of the steep scarp slope, the wide expanse of the Thames Valley. The far-reaching views are dominated by the sky, the clouds and small clumps of beech woodland and all you may have for company is a solitary skylark singing overhead or a hare chasing across an adjacent field. In the past these downs were sheep grazed, but since the introduction of fertilisers last century many areas have been ploughed and planted with crops. However sheep grazing does continue in places and, in others, a characteristic sight is immaculately managed grass tracks, the gallops used for training racehorses. The excellent turf of the downs makes this prime horse country but you need to be up early to see the strings of racehorses exercising.
At Goring-on-Thames The Ridgeway crosses the River Thames entering more intimate and less open countryside. It follows the bank of this famous river along a lovely 5 miles (8km) rural stretch before heading eastwards into the Chiltern Hills. Mostly on narrower paths, the Trail passes through woodlands, many of them beech, over neatly cultivated fields and across chalk grassland nature reserves rich in wildflowers. In contrast to the western half, although it's usually peaceful here, you're never far from pleasant small towns or attractive villages.
There are two very distinctive habitats along The Ridgeway; chalk grassland and woodland. The areas of unimproved chalk grassland are rich in the number of wildflower species and butterflies that feed on specific plants. They are also a valuable breeding ground for declining farmland birds such as skylarks and stone curlews. Historically this habitat was very widespread along The Ridgeway but it has been reduced significantly by modern farming methods and so it’s really worthwhile visiting one of the reserves, particularly during late spring or summer.
For other walking routes around The Ridgeway please see the National Trail website.
Last Updated: 4 Nov 2015