The Ridgeway passes through two distinctive landscapes; the open downland of the west 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. A summary map of The Ridgeway can be downloaded below.
The open downlands
In the west The Ridgeway travels as a broad ancient track along the open and fairly isolated top of the chalk downland ridge, often several miles from the nearest village. Here, to the south is rolling downland and to the north, at the bottom of the steep scarp slope, the wide expanse of the Thames Valley.
The far-reaching views are dominated by the sky, the clouds and small clumps of beech woodland
The far-reaching views are dominated by the sky, the clouds and small clumps of beech woodland and all you may have for company is a solitary skylark singing overhead or a hare chasing across an adjacent field. In the past these downs were sheep grazed, but since the introduction of fertilisers last century many areas have been ploughed and planted with crops. However sheep grazing does continue in places and, in others, a characteristic sight is immaculately managed grass tracks, the gallops used for training racehorses. The excellent turf of the downs makes this prime horse country but you need to be up early to see the strings of racehorses exercising.
At Goring-on-Thames The Ridgeway crosses the River Thames entering more intimate and less open countryside. It follows the bank of this famous river along a lovely 5 miles (8km) rural stretch before heading eastwards into the Chiltern Hills. Mostly on narrower paths, the Trail passes through woodlands, many of them beech, over neatly cultivated fields and across chalk grassland nature reserves rich in wildflowers. In contrast to the western half, although it's usually peaceful here, you're never far from pleasant small towns or attractive villages.