Walking Britain’s oldest road

One of the best ways to see a new destination is to travel about on foot.  Moving at natural human pace gives you the time to observe properly and to really experience a locale, instead of merely viewing a place from behind the glass windows of a vehicle as you rush past.

Britain is home to some of the world’s great walks, and it is here that you can amble along Britain’s oldest road, the Ridgeway National Trail, a 139 kilometre (87 mile) trail which runs from Avebury in the south to Ivinghoe Beacon in the north.  Why is it called Britain’s oldest road?  Simply because it’s known that Neolithic people used the route over five thousand years ago and it has been in use ever since.

Along its route, the Ridgeway passes through two distinctive landscapes; the open downland of the west which falls 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.

There are many point of interest along the route, including the Avebury Circle, a Stone Age circle which encloses an area of about eleven hectares and which includes enormous boulders called Sarsen Stones, geological features that were carved out of solid rock by glaciers during the large ice age.

The route also passes many hill forts, some of which hark back to the ice age.  Hill forts which The Ridgeway passes west of the Thames are: Barbury Castle, Liddington Castle, Uffington Castle, and Segsbury Camp.  Uffington is also the location of the Uffington Horse, a huge horse that has been carved into a chalk hill. Debate about the age of this elegant figure has continued for years with dates ranging from the Bronze Age to Saxon times. There are many theories regarding the Uffington Horse, including that it was cut in Iron Age times as a tribal emblem by those who constructed the hill fort near it; and that it could possibly commemorate one of King Alfred’s victories over the Danes.

During the course of the walk you traverse agricultural land; indeed it’s not unusual to see farmers drive their tractors or other agricultural vehicles along parts of the track as they go about their normal business.  There are other parts of the trail on which vehicles and horses are allowed, but much of the trail is restricted solely to pedestrian traffic.  

For those planning to walk the whole of the trail, it is recommended that it be undertaken over six days.  This being England, there is no need to camp out, unless you really want to.  There are many pubs, inns and B&B’s located on or near the trail.  You can join organised tours, so that your luggage, accommodation and meals are taken care of, or you can walk the trail independently.

Although the Ridgeway is rarely crowded, the best times to do the walk are between April and November when the weather if kinder and your chances of enjoying clear views are at an optimum.

Walking may not be for everyone, and you certainly don’t have to try the whole trail at once.  For those that would just like the experience a walk through an interesting part of England, there are many sections where you can just do an hour or two before heading to a nearby pub for a pint, and to regain all that energy that you expired.

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