The Ridgeway

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The Ridgeway is a ridgeway or ancient trackway described as Britain's oldest road. The section clearly identified as an ancient trackway extends from Wiltshire along the chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs to the River Thames at the Goring Gap, part of the Icknield Way which ran, not always on the ridge, from Salisbury Plain to East Anglia.[1] The route was adapted and extended as a National Trail, created in 1972. The Ridgeway National Trail follows the ancient Ridgeway from Overton Hill, near Avebury, to Streatley, then follows footpaths and parts of the ancient Icknield Way through the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. The National Trail is 87 miles (139km) long.

Contents

History

For at least 5000 years travellers have used the Ridgeway. Originally connected to the Dorset coast, the Ridgeway provided a reliable trading route to The Wash in Norfolk. The high dry ground made travel easy and provided a measure of protection by giving traders a commanding view, warning against potential attacks.

The Bronze Age saw the development of the White Horse along with the stone circle at Avebury. During the Iron Age, inhabitants took advantage of the high ground by building hill forts along the Ridgeway to help defend the trading route. Following the collapse of Roman authority in Western Europe, Saxon and Viking invasions of Great Britain saw the Ridgeway used as a road for moving armies. In medieval times and later, the Ridgeway found use by drovers, moving their livestock from the West Country and Wales to markets in the Home Counties and London. Prior to the Enclosure Acts of 1750, the Ridgeway existed as an informal series of tracks across the chalk downs, chosen by travellers based on path conditions. Once enclosures started, the current path developed through the building of earth banks and the planting of hedges.

National Trail

The idea for a long-distance path along the line of the Wessex Downs and Chilterns goes back to the Hobhouse Committee in 1947. The present route was designated by the Government in 1972, and opened as a National Trail in 1973.[2]

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