Long Distance Trails

The Ridgeway National Trail in Britain: A Hiker’s Paradise

POSTED ON July 26, 2023 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Stretching across the stunning landscapes of southern England, this trail offers a captivating blend of natural beauty and historical wonders. As you traverse this remarkable 87-mile (139km) long route, you’ll be immersed in the outstanding natural beauty that showcases rolling hills, picturesque valleys, and breathtaking panoramas at every turn.

Prepare to discover the rich heritage of the region as you encounter ancient hill forts and archaeological sites that paint a vivid picture of the chalky uplands of Southern England’s past. The Ridgeway Trail grants entry to an enchanting tapestry of landscapes and cultural landmarks, from the majestic West to the awe-inspiring North.

Join us as we explore this captivating trail, delving into the heart of England’s verdant parks and eastern realms, where the magic of the Ridgeway awaits.

History

The history of the Ridgeway National Trail is as captivating as the landscapes it traverses. This ancient path, now known as the Ridgeway National Trail, holds a significant place in England’s rich cultural heritage.

Dating back thousands of years, the trail’s origins can be traced to the Bronze Age. It served as a vital trade route between communities and travelers in Britain. Remarkably, evidence of human activity along the Ridgeway can be found in the form of Iron Age forts, such as Uffington Castle, which proudly overlooks the trail. One of the most iconic features along the Ridgeway is the Uffington White Horse, an ancient chalk figure etched into the hillside, believed to be over 3,000 years old.

Throughout the centuries, the Ridgeway’s strategic location and its proximity to the River Thames made it a critical thoroughfare for transportation and trade in Europe. During the Roman period, it became an important entry point connecting London to the west, north, and east. Later, in the 19th century, the construction of the Lehigh Valley and Lackawanna Railroads further solidified the trail’s significance as a transportation corridor.

Today, the Ridgeway Trail is not only a pathway through time but also a designated World Heritage Site and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As you walk along the Ridgeway, signs of its historical past intertwine with the stunning natural surroundings. The trail takes you through picturesque farmland, across chalk downs, and even through enchanting swamps, offering a diverse and captivating landscape.

A section of River Thames

Facts About Ridgeway Trail

  • The Ridgeway is one of the oldest trails in England, with records dating back to the Bronze Age.
  • The trail is located in southern England, passing through four counties: Wiltshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire.
  • The Ridgeway Trail offers stunning views and diverse landscapes, including rolling hills, chalk downs, farms, and river valleys.
  • It is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, showcasing the scenic beauty of the English countryside.
  • The trail is home to several historic landmarks, including Iron Age forts such as Uffington Castle and the famous Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric chalk figure.
  • It served as a major trade route in ancient times, connecting communities and facilitating commerce.
  • The Ridgeway offers opportunities for walking and cycling, catering to outdoor enthusiasts of all levels.
  • Along the trail, there are various access points, car parks, and facilities for visitors.
  • The trail connects with other popular paths, including the Thames Path, allowing for extended journeys.

Navigating the Ridgeway: Trail Difficulty, Length, and Recommended Itineraries

Understanding the trail’s difficulty and recommended itineraries can help you plan your hike more effectively.

Ivinghoe Beacon

Here’s what you need to know:

The Ridgeway spans approximately 87 miles (139 kilometers) from Overton Hill in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. The length of your hike will depend on your chosen itinerary and any additional detours or side trips you plan to take. It’s important to factor in the time needed for rest breaks, sightseeing, and exploring points of interest along the way.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad, the Lackawanna Railroad, and Ridgeway Road all intersect with the Trail in various places, creating interesting points of interest for backpackers. Overton Hill is another major intersection on the trail that offers a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding area. Lastly, many ridgeway passes provide entry to the best views from higher elevations.

The Trail is generally considered to be of moderate difficulty. While it does involve some challenging sections, such as steep ascents and descents, the trail is well-maintained and suitable for hikers of varying experience levels.

However, it’s important to be prepared for uneven terrain, muddy patches, and potential exposure to the elements, especially in certain sections.

Here are some popular itineraries for trekking the Ridgeway Trail

Ardington village near Wantage

Full Trail

The complete trail can be completed in 6–8 days, depending on your pace and fitness level. This allows you to fully immerse yourself in the trail’s diverse landscapes and historical sites.

Section Hikes

If you have limited time, consider navigating specific sections of the trail. Some recommended sections include Avebury to Wantage, Wantage to Goring-on-Thames, or Goring-on-Thames to Ivinghoe Beacon. These shorter hikes can be completed in 2–3 days and still offer a rewarding Ridgeway experience.

Circular Walks

Explore circular walks that incorporate portions of the Trail and nearby attractions. For example, the Uffington White Horse circular walk combines a visit to the iconic white horse and surrounding landscapes with a section of the Ridgeway.

Day Hikes

If you prefer day hikes, choose a specific section of the trail to explore. This allows you to experience the trail’s highlights without committing to a multi-day journey. Popular day hikes include walking from Avebury to Barbury Castle or exploring the area around Ivinghoe Beacon.

Seasons and Weather Considerations for the Ridgeway Trail

When planning your adventure along the trail, it’s essential to consider the climate and weather conditions you may encounter along the way. This iconic national trail, renowned for its breathtaking landscapes and historical landmarks, experiences distinct seasonal variations that shape the experience for backpackers and travelers alike.

Uffington Castle - White Horse And Dragon Hill

Spring (March to May)

Spring brings refreshing temperatures to the Ridgeway, with average highs ranging from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F) and lows ranging from 3°C to 7°C (37°F to 45°F). This season showcases the trail’s beauty as nature awakens, with vibrant blossoms and lush greenery.

Be prepared for occasional rain showers and muddy sections, especially in lower-lying areas and swampy terrain.

Summer (June to August)

Summer offers pleasant weather for outdoor exploration. Expect average highs of 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F) and lows around 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F) in July. The long daylight hours allow for extended hikes, and the trail’s elevated position provides refreshing breezes.

Remember to pack sun protection as the sun can be strong, and keep in mind that some areas may become dry and exposed, so carry sufficient water during your Ridgeway travels.

Fall (September to November)

Fall showcases the trail’s vibrant colors as the leaves change. Average temperatures range from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F) for highs and 3°C to 8°C (37°F to 46°F) for lows. It’s a beautiful time to walk the Ridgeway, but be prepared for varying weather conditions, including cooler temperatures and occasional rainfall.

Keep in mind that trails can become slippery, particularly on exposed sections or near streams. So you should know the best boots to use along the trail.

Winter (December to February)

Winter brings chilly temperatures to the Trail. Average highs range from 5°C to 8°C (41°F to 46°F), and lows can drop to 0°C to 3°C (32°F to 37°F). Winter offers a different perspective on the trail, with serene landscapes and fewer travelers. However, be prepared for potentially icy conditions, especially on higher ground. Proper gear and caution are necessary for safe walks. Check out our guide to winter hiking to know what to consider along the journey.

As you plan your journey, consider checking weather forecasts and local conditions before setting off. You can find valuable weather information at this link.

Packing appropriate clothing layers, sturdy footwear, and essential gear will ensure a comfortable and enjoyable Ridgeway experience, regardless of the season.

Best Time to Go

The Ridgeway Trail offers its own unique charm throughout the year, with each season bringing its own highlights. However, the best time to visit the Ridgeway Trail largely depends on personal preferences and the type of experience you seek.

River Thames

Here’s a breakdown of the seasons to help you choose the ideal time for your adventure along this iconic national trail.

Spring is a popular time to visit the Ridgeway Trail, especially for those who enjoy witnessing nature’s awakening. The trail comes alive with vibrant blooms and fresh foliage, creating a picturesque backdrop for your hike. The temperatures are generally mild, making it a comfortable time for walking. However, be prepared for occasional rain showers and some muddy sections, particularly in lower-lying areas and swampy terrain.

Summer offers longer daylight hours and pleasant weather, making it an excellent time for exploring the trail. The warm temperatures and refreshing breezes on the high ground create a pleasant environment. This season allows for extended walks and ample opportunities to appreciate the best views along the ridge. Remember that summer can be popular, so expect more fellow travelers on the trail.

Fall is a beautiful time to visit the Ridgeway Trail, especially for those who appreciate autumn colors. The changing leaves paint the landscape with vibrant hues, adding a layer of beauty to your journey. The temperatures are generally mild, but prepare for cooler weather as the season progresses. Fall offers a quieter and more serene experience on the trail, with fewer crowds compared to the summer months.

Winter brings a unique and tranquil atmosphere to the Trail. The snowy landscapes and frosty mornings create a serene ambiance, perfect for those seeking solitude and a sense of adventure. However, be aware that conditions can be challenging, especially on higher ground, so proper winter gear and caution are essential. The winter months offer an opportunity to experience the trail in its raw and untamed state.

Recommended Gear

When preparing for your visit, having the right gear can enhance your comfort and safety along the journey.

Here are some recommended items to consider packing:

Sturdy Boots: Invest in a reliable pair of waterproof and ankle-supportive boots. The trail’s diverse terrain, including uneven ground, muddy sections, and rocky paths, requires the correct footwear and compression socks that provide stability and protection against blisters.

Layered Clothing: Dress in layers to adapt to changing weather conditions. Opt for moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and a waterproof outer shell. This allows you to adjust your clothing as needed to maintain comfort during different seasons or weather fluctuations.

Backpack: Choose a comfortable backpack with adequate capacity to carry essentials like water, snacks, a first aid kit, a map, a compass, a flashlight, a whistle, sun protection, and extra layers of clothing. Look for a backpack with adjustable straps and a hip belt for better weight distribution.

Navigation Tools: Carry a reliable map of the Trail and surrounding areas. Consider a compass or GPS device to aid navigation, especially if you plan on exploring alternative routes and trails or venturing off the main trail.

Rain Gear: Pack a lightweight, waterproof jacket and pants to protect yourself from unexpected rain showers or damp conditions. This ensures you stay dry and comfortable during your hike.

Hat and Sunglasses: Shield yourself from the sun’s rays with a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses. This protects your face, neck, and eyes from sunburn and glare.

Water and Snacks: Carry an adequate supply of water to stay hydrated along the trail. Pack lightweight, nutritious snacks to fuel your energy levels during the hike.

Trekking Poles: Consider using trekking poles for added stability, especially on steep ascents or descents. They can also reduce joint strain and provide additional support on uneven footpath.

First Aid Kit: Pack a compact first aid kit with essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, blister treatment, and any personal medications you may need.

Other Essentials: Don’t forget to bring a mobile phone with a fully charged battery, a power bank, a whistle for emergencies, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a multi-tool for minor repairs or adjustments.

Here is another guide to help you avoid common hiking mistakes in the wild.

Safety and Navigation on the Ridgeway: Equipment, Maps, and Resources

Ensuring your safety and effectively navigating the Trail is of the utmost importance to making your journey enjoyable and secure.

A Compass for navigating Trails

Here are some key tips, equipment, maps, and resources to consider before embarking on this iconic trail:

Essential Equipment: Wear sturdy and comfortable footwear suitable for varied terrain. Dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions. Carry a backpack with essentials like water, snacks, a first aid kit, a map, a compass, a flashlight, a whistle, and sun protectione.

Maps and Navigation: Obtain reliable maps of the trail before setting out. Ordnance Survey maps, including Explorer 170 and 171, provide detailed information about the trail, points of interest, and nearby landmarks. Familiarize yourself with the route and alternative paths to make informed walking decisions.

Online Resources: Utilize online resources such as official trail websites, forums, and online communities dedicated to the Ridgeway Trail. These platforms offer valuable insights, trail updates, and experiences shared by fellow walkers. Additionally, digital mapping applications like the Silverlight app can assist in navigation and provide real-time information.

Signage and Waymarks: The Ridgeway Trail is well-marked with signs and waymarks, guiding you along the path. Look for signposts, markers, and arrows indicating the direction of the trail and any detours or alternative routes. However, it’s advisable to supplement these with your own navigation tools.

Safety Considerations: Prioritize your safety while walking the Trail. Inform someone about your plans, including your expected itinerary and estimated return time. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in remote areas, and take precautions against potential hazards such as steep slopes, slippery sections, or unstable ground. Stay on marked paths, respect private property, and adhere to local regulations or restrictions.

Emergency Contacts: Carry emergency contact numbers, including those of local authorities and nearby facilities. In case of an emergency, contact the appropriate authorities and provide them with accurate details of your location and situation.

Local Knowledge: Interact with local travellers and residents who have knowledge of the Trail. They can offer valuable insights, tips, and information about specific sections or conditions along the trail.

Leave No Trace: The Ridgeway is rich in natural beauty and historical significance. Practice Leave No Trace principles by respecting the environment, disposing of waste properly, and leaving historic sites undisturbed. Stay on designated paths, respect private property, and adhere to local regulations to protect this cherished trail.

Camping and Accommodation Options along the Ridgeway

Camping is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape and extend your adventure. While wild camping is not permitted along the entire trail, there are designated campgrounds and options for overnight stays.

Camping and Caravan Stays

There are several established campgrounds and caravan parks near the Ridgeway Trail. These sites offer facilities like toilets, showers, and sometimes even electrical hook-ups for campervans or caravans. Some popular options include:

  • Britchcombe Farm: Situated near White Horse Hill, this working farm offers camping facilities for both tents and caravans. Basic amenities such as toilets and showers are available, and the farm provides a peaceful setting for campers. But this farm is temporarily closed at the moment (as of August 3, 2023). So, you’ll need to check for the current opening dates.
  • Cholsey Grange Camping and Caravanning Club Site: Located near Wallingford, around 2 miles (3.2 km) from the trail, this campground is often situated in a scenic and tranquil setting of the Oxfordshire countryside. It typically offers clean toilets, hot showers, washing-up areas, and access to fresh water points. They may also have waste disposal points for caravans and motorhomes.

But note that Cholsey Grange Camping and Caravanning Club is usually affiliated with the Camping and Caravanning Club, and a valid membership may be required to stay at the site. If you are not a member, you may need to pay a non-member fee for your stay. Also, it is advisable to book your pitch in advance, especially during busy periods or the peak hiking season.

  • National Trust Campsite – The Chilterns: Positioned at the base of Ivinghoe Beacon, this campsite is ideal for exploring the eastern section of the Trail. It offers basic facilities and a tranquil environment within the Chiltern Hills.
  • Bridge Villa Camping and Caravan Park: Located in Crowmarsh Gifford, around 3 miles (4.8 km) from the trail, the park provides designated pitches with the necessary amenities, such as toilets, showers, and washing-up areas. They may also provide access to fresh water points and waste disposal facilities for caravans and motorhomes.

Bridge Villa Camping and Caravan Park are likely to offer camping pitches for tents, catering to both individuals and families. But it is advisable to book your pitch in advance, especially during peak seasons or busy periods.

  • Camping Barns: There are several camping barns along the trail that provide basic shelter for campers. However, these barns may require advance booking and offer limited facilities, so be prepared to bring your camping equipment.

But, it’s important to note that camping along the Trail may require permits or advance reservations, depending on the specific campsite. Check with the campsite or landowner for any necessary permits or booking requirements.

Outdoor camping

B&Bs and Guesthouses

You’ll find numerous charming bed and breakfasts and guesthouses that provide a comfortable stay and a hearty breakfast to start your day.

Here are five popular options.

  • The Highwayman Inn: Located in Checkendon (map), this historic inn offers cozy rooms and a traditional pub atmosphere. It’s an excellent place to rest and enjoy some local food and drink after a day of hiking.
  • The Crown Inn: Located a short drive from Preston Crowmarshl hamlet, the Crown Inn is a lovely country pub with accommodations. It offers comfortable rooms and a welcoming environment.
  • White Hart Hotel: The White Hart Hotel is a historic coaching inn with modern amenities and a delightful ambiance.
  • The Fat Fox Inn (map): Situated in the village of Watlington, The Fat Fox Inn provides stylish and comfortable rooms, along with a great selection of food and drinks.
  • The Old Farmhouse: Located a short drive from Bristol, the Old Farmhouse is a charming B&B offering a peaceful stay with scenic views.

Hotels and Inns

In the larger towns and villages near the trail, you’ll find hotels and inns offering a more luxurious stay with various amenities for travellers.

Here are four options.

  • The Lamb Inn: Located in the village of Wantage (map), The Lamb Inn is a boutique hotel with stylish rooms, a restaurant serving gourmet food, and a cozy bar area.
  • The Kingswell Hotel: Situated in the village of Harwell, The Kingswell Hotel offers well-appointed rooms and a restaurant featuring modern British cuisine.
  • The George Hotel: Found in the town of Wallingford, The George Hotel is a historic coaching inn with elegant rooms and a restaurant offering a mix of traditional and contemporary dishes.
  • The Catherine Wheel (map): Situated in the village of Goring-on-Thames, The Catherine Wheel is an upscale inn with comfortable rooms and a restaurant serving seasonal and locally-sourced food.

Bunkhouses

Bunkhouses are simple lodgings with shared sleeping areas and communal facilities, making them an affordable choice for those looking for a comfortable place to rest during their journey. So, there are very few bunkhouses along or near the Ridgeway, providing budget-friendly options for hikers and travelers.

Here are the two available options:

  • Streatley Youth Hostel (map): Located in the village of Streatley-on-Thames, this youth hostel offers dormitory-style accommodation with shared facilities. It’s a convenient option for those starting or ending their journey at the western end of the trail.
  • Court Hill Centre: Found close to Wantage, the Court Hill Centre provides bunkhouse accommodation with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Farm Stays

Some farmers offer farm stays, where you can experience rural life.

Here are a few options you might consider.

  • Rectory Farm: Rectory Farm is a family-run farm that may offer farm stays for guests looking to experience life on a traditional English farm.
  • Hardwick Parks Farm (map): Located near Standlake, West Oxfordshire, southeast of Witney, Hardwick Parks Farm offers farm stays for those looking to relax in a rural setting and experience the natural beauty of the area.

For up-to-date information on accommodations and camping regulations along the Ridgeway Trail, check with the official National Trails website or local tourism offices closer to your travel date. Enjoy your adventure on the Ridgeway!

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Getting to Ridgeway and navigating the surrounding area is essential for a seamless and enjoyable experience.

Here’s a guide on how to reach the trail and get around:

Nearest Airports:

London Heathrow Airport (LHR): Situated approximately 65 miles (105 km) east of the Ridgeway Trail, London Heathrow is the largest and busiest airport in the UK. It offers numerous international and domestic flights.

London Gatwick Airport (LGW): Located around 90 miles (145 km) southeast of the trail, London Gatwick is another major airport serving numerous international and domestic destinations.

From the Airports to the Trail:

Heathrow Airport: From Heathrow, take a train or taxi to Paddington Station. From there, you can catch a train to Swindon (map) or Didcot (map), both of which provide passage to various points along the Trail. Note that, local buses or taxis can then be used to reach specific trailheads or starting points.

Gatwick Airport: From Gatwick, take a train or taxi to Victoria Station. From there, you can connect to trains heading toward Swindon or Didcot, which offer entry to different sections of the trail. Use local transportation options like buses or taxis to reach the desired trailhead.

Getting Around the Trail:

Public Transportation: Local buses and trains can be utilized to reach different parts of the Ridgeway Trail. The Swindon and Didcot railway stations serve as convenient hubs, providing connections to various trail sections.

Car Rental: Renting a car offers flexibility and ease of access to the trail and nearby attractions. Several car rental companies operate from airports and major cities in the area.

Taxi Services: Taxis are available in towns and villages near the trail, providing transportation to specific trailheads or accommodations.

Walking and Cycling: The Ridgeway Trail is primarily designed for walkers and cyclists, with footpaths and bridleways providing entry to different sections. Trekking or cycling along the trail allows for an immersive experience and the opportunity to explore beautiful surroundings.

Conclusion

The Ridgeway Trail is an incredible outdoor experience that should be on every hiking enthusiast’s bucket list. With its historical significance, incredible vistas, challenging terrain, and charming towns, it is an adventure that will undoubtedly stay with you for years.

Make the most of your experience by following our tips and tricks as you pack your boots and gear. Get ready to immerse yourself in the region’s rich culture, discover hidden gems, and escape into the beauty of nature.

For more posts like this, kindly visit our hikes & trails archives.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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