For thousands of years, at least 5,000 and maybe many more, people, including drovers, traders and invaders, have walked or ridden The Ridgeway. As part of a prehistoric track, once stretching about 250 miles (400 km) from the Dorset coast to the Wash on the Norfolk coast, it provided a route over the high ground for travellers which was less wooded and drier than routes through the springline villages below.
New Stone Age men, the first farmers in Britain, left the earliest remains. Their long barrows can be found at a few places both west and east of the River Thames. It was Bronze Age people from later times, around 2,000 BC, however, who dragged the huge sarsen stones from the surrounding hills and formed the dramatic Avebury Circle. There are many of their round burial barrows along the length of the Trail.
Hill forts built during the Iron Age from about 500 BC until the Romans arrived in 43 AD are also found both sides of the Thames. These forts command the high ground and in several places they defended The Ridgeway against attack from the north.
In the Dark Ages The Ridgeway was a main route for the Saxons and Vikings who fought many battles during their advances into Wessex. In medieval times it was drovers driving livestock from Wales and the West Country to the Home Counties, not armies, who used The Ridgeway.
The Trail defined
Until the Enclosure Acts of 1750 The Ridgeway was a broad band of tracks along the crest of the downs where travellers chose the driest or most convenient path. During Enclosures the exact course and width of The Ridgeway was defined by the building of earth banks and the planting of thorn hedges to prevent livestock straying into the newly cultivated fields.
If you would like to see The Ridgeway and its surroundings as they were recorded in the past, re-projected and rescaled historical maps to match Ordnance Survey Landranger© are available from Timeline Historical Maps and include The Ridgeway as it was mapped in the 19th century. The maps offer a high quality reproduction of Ordnance Survey One-Inch ('Old Series') maps, Britain first national mapping series. These are usually available to buy online from Amazon.