Top Trails: the Ridgeway

The Ridgeway is a trail runner's delight, spanning two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: the Chiltern Hills and the North Wessex Downs

Ridgeway Light
Undulating, serene and steeped in history, the Ridgeway is a gift from trail runners of old. Thought to be at least 5,000 years old, the 87-mile path navigates some of the most picturesque countryside in England.

Thought to have been an important trade route, the Ridgeway was, to prehistoric man, what the M1 is to us. Thankfully, though, the similarities end there. Car horns are replaced by bird song, pollution is the by-product of cows, and speeding vehicles take the form of fellow runners and – if you’re lucky – the odd badger.

Although some claim the original route stretched beyond Wiltshire to the Devon coast, the Ridgeway as we know it travels from Overton Hill, near Avebury, to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. Some of the historic and memorable place names en route include: Barbury, Liddington, Uffington, Segsbury, and Wayland’s Smithy.

Horsing around

The eastern half of the trail, within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), is characterised by luscious woodland and unique chalk streams. As it winds its way west, the leafy cover makes way to the wide open downland of the North Wessex Downs AONB, famous for the iconic Uffington White Horse, and burial grounds thought to date back to the Neolithic period.

The route is a favourite among walkers, but where’s the fun in that?! Walking will take you six days, whereas the quickest run – completed by Nathan Montague in 2014 – took a mere 12hrs 13mins. While you might not have such speedy aspirations, the point is that the smooth terrain and stunning Southern surroundings make the Ridgeway a trail runner’s delight. And, if you’re looking to push beyond previous mileage, it’s the perfect ultra training ground.

For those less keen on running its entirety, different stages of the trail can be targeted with regard to running ability. If you’re after a more challenging, leg-testing run, for instance, you could do worse than heading to Liddington Castle in Wiltshire. At 267m, it’s the highest point on what is an otherwise undulating, but by no means monstrous route. The section from the brilliantly named Ogbourne St. George, to Sparsholt Firs is also fairly steep as the track climbs out of the Og Valley.

Alternatively, the 15 miles from Streatley to Watlington is a relatively flat and quintessentially English mixture of water, woodland and picturesque villages.

Race to the Stones

To experience the beauty and historical fervour of Britain’s oldest path, Race to the Stones is a 100K race from Chinnor, a village beside the Chiltern Hills, to the iconic Stonehenge in Avebury. Completable in one or two days, the event takes place from 11th to 12th July and costs range from £49 to £184.

Isaac Williams

Written by Isaac Williams | 95 articles | View profile

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