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Walking the Ridgeway: The Oldest Road in Britain

Walking the Ridgeway: The Oldest Road in Britain

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The Ridgeway is Britain’s oldest ’road’ that connects the Northwest with Central England and has been in constant use for over 5,000 years. Once upon a time, this was a busy Neolithic ’highway’ that stretched across the country from the rural parts of Dorset to the far end of Norfolk. The Ridgeway is a classic example that England has so much more to offer than just London and the other big cities. Walking the Ridgeway trail and discovering its historic sites is certainly an amazing experience and one of the things you must do while backpacking in the UK and this article will show you why.

The Wiltshire Ridgeway

The Wiltshire Ridgeway is an 85-miles-long path that stretches over four different counties and was the main trading route during the Bronze Age. If you’re planning a road trip around the UK, this is one of the regions that you should seriously consider adding to your list. Walking this ancient path and realizing that people have been doing the exact same thing you’re doing now for thousands of years truly is a spectacular feeling.

The oldest footpath in Britain is a great choice for both, country-side lovers and history buffs. Along the way, you’ll enjoy some spectacular countryside landscapes but will also find a lot of ancient sites and remnants.

Wiltshire: Things to See in the Area

walking the ridgeway

Wiltshire is exceptionally rich in historic sites, and one of the most famous ones is certainly Silbury Hill. This is the largest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe. It’s 40 meters tall (130 feet) and a similar size to the Egyptian pyramids in Giza. How this mound was built remains a mystery even today. After more than 200 years of investigation, nobody has been able to come up with a logical answer to the question “Why was the Silbury Hill built”? Early investigators assumed it was used as a burial chamber but all attempts to prove this theory failed.

Are you looking for some more famous vacation spots in the UK? Check out my article on the best holiday destinations in the UK.

Ogbourne St. George on the Ridgeway

wiltshire

It would be wise to stay somewhere reasonably close to the path if you want to make the most of your time and the small village of Ogbourne St. George is a perfect choice. The Ridgeway Path starts right here in this small village famous for the Avebury Stone Circles. Ogbourne St. George is only a ten-minutes bus ride from the charming old town of Marlborough and also not far from Avebury, which is a must-see for every visitor in the region.

Related: why should you consider backpacking Europe in the winter?

Avebury

Famous for its prehistoric circle of giant stones, Avebury is always overshadowed by its more famous Stonehenge counterpart. However, one thing Avebury allows and Stonehenge doesn’t is that you can wander around the stones freely and touch them. Another thing many people forget is that Avebury has the largest stone circles in Britain. Actually, the whole village of Avebury is built inside these stone circles.
Ridgeway trail

Marlborough

The small town of Marlborough is located only a ten-minute bus ride away from Ogbourne St. George. The legend says Marlborough hides the resting place of Merlin, King Arthur’s sorcerer. Marlborough’s convenient location makes it a perfect stop if you want to get a break from waking the Ridgeway. The town has a lot of shops and restaurants and you the mound where Merlin is said to be buried.

Wayland’s Smithy

aveburry

Wayland’s Smithy is an iconic historic thumb located near the Uffington White Horse. Archeologists have established that it was built shortly after the introduction of agriculture to Europe. That means that Wayland’s Smithy is more than 3,500 years old. At first sight, it looks like a long barrow, an architectural tradition widespread across Neolithic Europe. However, Wayland’s Smithy belongs to a localized variant of barrows created in the south-west of Britain. This group of monuments is known as the Severn-Cotswold group. Out of these, Wayland’s Smithy is the most preserved one which makes its historic importance even greater.

The White Horses of Northwest England

Sitting on the edge of Bratton Downs below the Iron Age hill fort, this white horse is one of the most spectacular hill figures in Britain and is the oldest of six white horses carved in Wiltshire. These figures were formed by cutting away the turf from the hillside to expose the underlying chalk. This practice became very popular in Britain in the 19th century but some of these figures are rather ancient. One example is the Uffington Horse (in Oxfordshire) are rather ancient being more than 2,000 years old.

white horse england

Ivinghoe Beacon and the Chiltern Hills

The Chiltern Hills form the most spectacular, undulating path of woodland and wide chalk downs in the country. Locally known as the Chilterns, this uncrowded, green English countryside is the perfect place if you’re looking for rest and relaxation. There’s always something new to be discovered in these pristine 324 square miles of superb scenery, remote villages and charming market towns.

Moreover, Ivinghoe Beacon is the icing on the cake. This local icon stands at 250 meters above sea level and serves as an imposing gateway to the rolling hills of the Chilterns. Even though it’s not the highest point on the Ashridge Estate, it’s certainly the best place to enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

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As the oldest path in Britain, the Ridgeway has a rich history. During the Neolithic and Bronze Era, the Ridgeway was a busy trading path. In the Dark Ages, The Ridgeway was the main route for the Saxons and Vikings during their advances into Wessex. That’s why today you will find a lot of interesting historic sights from many different eras. However, that’s not the only reason to visit. Camping under the open sky and enjoying the stunning landscapes you’ll encounter on the way is certainly something that makes walking the Ridgeway a must-do experience during your trip to England. If you’re looking for something different than just strolling through London or visiting the Buckingham Palace, walking the Ridgeway is a must.

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Medha Verma

Thursday 15th of November 2018

I love your fall picture of Marlborough! It looks gorgeous. Also, Avebury's pre historical stones look amazing, a slight bit like the Stone Henge. And the village of Ogbourne is the perfect kind of place I'd like to visit. Beautiful countryside and history are the two things I look for in my trips and it seems the Ridgeway has a mix of it all!

Passport Symphony

Thursday 15th of November 2018

Thank you, Medha. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Sinjana Ghosh

Thursday 15th of November 2018

This is a great article. I never knew about this 5000 year old road. it is a must-to-do thing to explore the ridgeway in UK trip so thanks for shaaring. I love the beautiful fall foliage and the white horse stick figures

Passport Symphony

Thursday 15th of November 2018

It sure is, Sinjana. Thank you for commenting.

Paula

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

Very interesting and historical place! This is the first time I heard of it even though I have spend quite a lot of time in the U.K. I love the views and how green the nature is there. The white horse is an very interesting detail. I didn't think that even that had an historical story.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

Thanks, Paula, I'm really glad you liked it.

Annick

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

What a great way to see history up close. This Ridgeway has continued its role as a link between towns and commerce and what a great tribute to camp alongside it as must have been done by so many travelers. I find both the stone circles and the horses fascinating and it is amazing that they’ve been around for so long.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

It sure is, Annick. Thank you for commenting

Navita

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

Wiltshire Ridgeway is an 85-miles-long path and is as old as the Bronze Age. Wow! There is something new to discover everyday. I have been to UK twice and I wish I had known about this amazing hidden gem! Would have loved to walk the ridgeway. The pictures looks fantastic and gazing at Avebury, I thought this looks different from Stonehenge and you are right, it is not a very popularly spoken spot. That's what would make it special though for me, apart from that fact that the whole village is within the stone circles. Even Wayland’s Smithy looks unique. Now I have something new to discover on my next trip to Britain and take this amazing historical trip.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

Thanks, Navita! You know me, I like getting off the beaten track :) I hope you get the chance to walk the Ridgeway when you visit the UK again.

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