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 Dorset to 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. 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
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.
Ogbourne St. George on the Ridgeway
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.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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.