From Avebury, Wiltshire, to Ivinghoe Beacon, Buckinghamshire.



The Ridgeway has been in use since at least 3,000 BC and is commonly regarded as Britain's oldest road. The original route stretched for 250 miles between the Dorset coast and The Wash, generally following the course of the high ground that lies in between. In ancient times, such a path would have allowed for swifter, drier and safer progress than would have been possible through what was then a tree-enclosed landscape below. Throughout its long and distinguished history, the Ridgeway has been used by a variety of peoples. It was primarily a trading route, drovers have also moved along it from ancient to medieval times, in the case of the latter bringing cattle to London from Wales and the West Country, and during the Dark Ages both the Saxons and the Danes made use of it to move their armies across Southern England. There was, however, no single path that could be defined as the Ridgeway in these times, it was more accurately a collection of broadly parallel routes that crossed the Downs, all more or less heading in the same direction but enabling each traveller to choose their own way according to their destination and what conditions may have been inflicted on the paths by inclement weather. It was not until the Enclosure Acts of 1750 that the Ridgeway became a single route, defined by the digging of earth banks and the planting of thorn hedges for the purposes of controlling wandering livestock from adjacent fields.


The modern route is now only 85 miles long, beginning at Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chiltern Hills and ending near Avebury, with a rich variety of ancient monuments lining the route. The section of the walk between Wantage and Avebury is particularly notable, and includes the hill forts, Segsbury Camp, Uffington, Liddington and Barbury Castles, White Horse Hill, the Wayland's Smithy burial chamber, and the track ends a mere mile from such unique sites as Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.


Although much of the land surrounding the Ridgeway is agricultural, today the track exists primarily for recreational purposes and it is well-used by walkers, cyclists, and even the occasional off-roader, although there are, quite rightly, moves afoot to restrict or ban the use of such vehicles in order to maintain the peaceful ambience. In spite of the popularity of the route, anyone attempting to walk the full length of it will discover that encounters with passers-by are rare, except for a mile or so either side of monuments or the occasional road junction, which are very popular with short-distance walkers. In between these places, it is possible to walk for miles and not encounter a soul. For any keen walker with an interest in history, the Ridgeway, and its glorious views across one of England's noted beauty spots, cannot fail to impress.



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