Another broad and ancient trading route between the southwest and Norfolk, the Icknield Way is thought to be not quite as old as the route The Ridgeway follows west of the Thames. Instead of keeping to the highest and driest ground it travels along the springline near the base of the scarp face of the downs and the Chilterns.
West of the Thames the Icknield Way is now mostly tarmac and its name is not included on maps, although in Wantage a road which now runs on it is still named after it. From Streatley to Ivinghoe, however, a careful look at maps enables you to trace much of it, a considerable amount having been incorporated into the modern road network. You'll discover there are two parallel routes, the Upper and Lower Ways. The Upper Icknield Way keeps to the lower chalk shelf with the Lower Way probably being a more recent, possibly Roman, route on the clay.
The Icknield Way, the modern recreational long distance regional route, starts at the end of The Ridgeway on Ivinghoe Beacon and travels on to Thetford in Suffolk for 100 miles (160km) where it joins with the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail.
Watlington White Mark
This curious triangular mark cut out of the turf to expose the white chalk beneath on the hills south of Watlington has an interesting tale. It was supposedly created by Edward Horne, the vicar of Watlington, in 1764, who was somewhat ashamed of his spireless church. By cutting this shape in the hills, when he looked from his upstairs vicarage window over the church towards the Chilterns, the tower by all appearances was topped by a spire. It mattered not that it was just a chalk illusion!
Further east along The Ridgeway is Bledlow Cross above the path at Wainhill on the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border which was probably created in the late 18th or early 19th century. A few miles further east still you'll walk over the top of the Whiteleaf Cross if you continue on The Ridgeway beyond Princes Risborough. This figure was first mentioned in 1742 and may have been cut by monks in the 15th or 16th century.
West of the Thames it is horses that adorn the slopes of the chalk downs. The Uffington White Horse, next to The Ridgeway, is the most famous and of the earliest origins.
The Ridgeway actually crosses Victory Drive, the private drive of this famous country house, which is lined with beech trees planted by Winston Churchill in the 1960s.
The footpath on which the Trail runs was originally much closer to the house but was presumably moved further away for security reasons. However there are still great views of the house particularly if you walk along the Trail from the west.
Chequers was given to the nation in 1917 to provide an official country residence for the Prime Minister. Built in the 16th century, Lady Mary Keys a great grand-daughter of Henry VII and sister to Lady Jane Grey was at one time imprisoned there by Elizabeth I. Her crime? A potential claim to Elizabeth's throne.
If you'ld like to learn more, Norma Major, the wife of the last Conservative Prime Minister, wrote a book in 1996 called 'Chequers: The Prime Minister's Country House and its History". It's published by Harper Collins.