Where is The Ridgeway National Trail & what can I expect to find when I get there?
The Ridgeway National Trail is found in a surprisingly remote part of southern central England and travels in a northeasterly direction for 87 miles (139km) from its start in the World Heritage Site of Avebury. As Britain’s oldest road The Ridgeway still follows the same route over the high ground used since prehistoric times by travelers, herdsmen and soldiers.
West of the River Thames, The Ridgeway is a broad track passing through the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is often quite a distance from villages or towns. Here you’ll experience wide, open views of rolling chalk downland and find many archaeological monuments close to the Trail including Stone Age long barrows, Bronze Age round barrows, Iron Age forts and the figures of white horses cut into the chalk. East of the Thames, The Ridgeway travels through the more-wooded and intimate hills and valleys of the Chilterns AONB where, as well as further archaeological treasures, there are several nature reserves rich in the wildlife found in chalk grassland habitats. In the Chilterns, The Ridgeway goes close to or through several villages and small towns where refreshments and other facilities are easily available.
Most walkers should be able to enjoy the whole length of The Ridgeway since, although there are several hills, it’s not too strenuous compared to some other National Trails. An added bonus is that there are no stiles on the western half of the Trail and only a couple east of the River Thames. Cyclist and horse riders can use the entire western half of the Trail as far as the River Thames, and some parts east of the river too. Please note that recreational vehicles are also legally allowed to use the western section, but mostly only during the summer months, and in reality they represent a small minority of users.
See our history pages for further information on what you can find.
When is the best time of year to visit The Ridgeway?
The Ridgeway can be enjoyed all year round, but spring through to autumn (March to November) probably provides the best views, the most wildlife and better surface conditions underfoot. Much of the surface of the Trail remains natural so that it can get a little wet and muddy during and after wet weather and in places some rutting will be encountered. Always come prepared for whatever time of the year you visit The Ridgeway (see below for advice on what you should bring with you).
From early spring, various plants and shrubs start to flower with early May being the best time to enjoy the bluebells that carpet many of the Chiltern woodlands, one of the treats for visitors to The Ridgeway. This time of year also sees the return of many migrant birds to England to breed such as warblers, cuckoos, swallows, etc. Bird song is at its best in the second half of April and May whilst birds are establishing territories and attracting mates; the song of the corn bunting, skylark and yellow hammer are still characteristic of The Ridgeway, despite a national decline in numbers.
The large number of chalk grassland wildflowers found in patches along the western half of the Trail, and in several nature reserves east of the River Thames, flower mostly from June to August and include several species of orchids. Chalk grassland is also rich in insects and a warm summer’s day can bring forth many colourful, and sometimes relatively rare, butterflies.
A walk in the Chilterns in November can be a memorable experience with the beech woods so typical of the area taking on a red/gold glow as their leaves change colour combined with the earthy autumnal smell of gently decomposing vegetation.
How will I know I’m on The Ridgeway?
As a National Trail, The Ridgeway is clearly signed and waymarked along its length using the distinctive National Trail acorn symbol alongside its name. Directional signs are also used in many locations to enable users to gauge where they are and in which direction a nearby village or settlement is.
Where can I get a more detailed map of The Ridgeway?
It is always a good idea to use a detailed map when walking, particularly in unfamiliar areas, such as those published by Ordnance Survey . The official National Trail Guide includes colour sections of all the appropriate 1:25 000 OS maps needed to follow The Ridgeway. Alternatively, for you to enjoy and interpret the wider landscape, you may wish to purchase your own maps. Details of which Ordnance Survey maps you’ll need are listed on our maps page.
There is also a dedicated waterproof map of The Ridgeway National Trail, produced by Harvey Maps, which covers the whole Trail. For details on how to purchase a copy, see our maps page.
Which direction is it best to walk?
There is no “best” direction - it all depends on what you’d like to experience! However the prevailing wind is from the southwest, so starting at Overton Hill near Avebury will usually mean any wind will be behind you, and the official National Trail Guide also begins here. Another consideration that may influence your decision is whether you want to start or finish your journey in the atmospheric and magical Avebury Stone Circle.
How long will it take me to walk The Ridgeway?
Since The Ridgeway is 87miles (139km) long, walkers enjoy it in a range of ways, dipping in for half or a full day’s walk or enjoying the Trail in sections – perhaps at weekends, or completing it all at once. As a guide, using roughly 15miles/24km a day as an average daily walking distance, the Trail can be completed in 7 days allowing for a day’s rest. However it’s important to walk at the pace that suits you, allowing time for exploring and relaxing, and there is no pressure to do it quickly – as a historic route The Ridgeway is there for you to enjoy, and doesn’t have to be a route march!
There is also an online distance chart which may be useful in planning your walk.
What do I need to take with me?
It is always advisable to carry water, whatever the distance you are planning to walk, and in hot summer weather carry extra. Additionally, wear appropriate clothing and protection. Given the English weather that provides such a ‘green and pleasant land’, it’s sensible almost all year round to carry waterproofs just in case of a shower, and in wetter weather, or if you’re planning to walk some distance, wear sturdy footwear. In hot weather wear a hat and use sunblock cream.
Can I take my dog with me?
Yes, you can, but do make sure it’s fit enough to do as much walking as you.
When on the Trail your dog must always be under close control to prevent it from disturbing livestock or wildlife. Below are a few Dos and Don'ts
Try not to get between cows and their calves
Be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead.
Always clean up after your dog and dispose of the mess responsibly.
Make sure your dog is wormed.
Carry enough water for the dog.
Hang onto your dog. If you are threatened by cattle - let it go as the cattle will chase the dog.
Put yourself at risk. Find another way round the cattle and rejoin the public right of way as soon as possible.
Panic or run! Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow just walk on quietly.
What about toilets and refreshments?
The Ridgeway National Trail Companion guide outlines what facilities can be found on or near to The Ridgeway but it is worth remembering that the western half of the Trail is often a considerable distance from them. The Companion includes the location and Ordnance Survey grid reference for toilets along the Trail and contains information on whether the toilet is accessible for users of wheelchairs.
The Companion also features information that walkers should find extremely useful and practical – whether a village (or “settlement”) has a pub where you can get a drink and a bite to eat; whether a take-away is available; if there is a Post Office or a bank ATM, etc. Opening hours are also included so that you’ll know what a village has to offer before venturing there! See the publications section on how to order a copy.
Where can I find out about accommodation near to the Trail?
Details of accommodation along The Ridgeway can be found in The Ridgeway National Trail Companion, a regularly updated guide which lists accommodation and facilities along the route. For further details on how to get hold of a copy, see our publications section (please note that we do not publish separate accommodation lists).
Our website also has an advanced search facility enabling you to search by name and location. See our accommodation section so that you can search through what’s on offer. If you are unable to find a place to stay in your chosen location then try the nearest Tourist Information Centre (link to relevant page with TIC contact details) or the Visit Britain website, or elsewhere on the internet.