Exploring the Trail
What can I do on the Trail?
People enjoy all sorts of activities along The Ridgeway – walk, run, cycle, horse ride, picnic, birdwatch, paint, fly a kite and more. All 87 miles of The Ridgeway is open to walkers but parts of the Trail that follow public footpaths between Goring-on-Thames and Ivinghoe Beacon are not promoted to cyclists and horseriders.
A good place to start is the official overview leaflet for The Ridgeway which sets out where you can enjoy the various activities, confident that you are complying with the law and respecting local communities. This leaflet is free to download from this website. The interactive online map of the Trail also provides mapping of the sections promoted to cyclists and horse riders.
Signs along the Trail inform visitors whether they are on a footpath, bridleway, restricted byway or byway open to all traffic. There are also metal highway signs in some areas to indicate that the public cannot drive cars or motorbikes on the Trail. The Trail also passes through Open Access Land and nature reserves.
Can I cycle or horse ride on the Trail?
Cyclists and horse riders are welcome along much of The Ridgeway. The western half of The Ridgeway, from Overton Hill to Streatley-on-Thames, is a marvelous off-road route for horse riders and mountain bikers through scenic and tranquil countryside (those using touring bikes might struggle on some surface types).
The interactive online map shows what parts of the Trail are open to cyclists and horse riders, as well as alternative routes such as the Swan’s Way. Other information for riders such as bike shops, accommodation with stables, secure bike storage etc is also provided. When using the map, click on the menu bar to the left of the map and select ‘Cycling info’ or ‘Equestrian info’.
Tips for cyclists, from beginner to technical and for family groups, are provided on this dedicated webpage for cyclists.
Carriage drivers can also enjoy all of the western half of The Ridgeway, except for a recommended diversion to avoid Barbury Castle and a necessary to detour to bypass the one-mile bridleway section over Liddington Hill. Along the Chilterns half of the Trail, the status of the rights of way means carriage drivers can only use the 5 mile (8 km) restricted byway stretch from Britwell Hill to the A40.
Can I drive a car or motorbike on the Trail?
There are limited locations and times when the public can legally ride a motorbike or drive a 4×4 or other motorized vehicle on The Ridgeway. There are signs and notices along The Ridgeway clearly indicating where and when it is legal to drive on the Trail and this website provides information for drivers to plan their outings before setting off.
The public can legally drive on stretches of the Trail which are ‘byways open to all traffic’ (byways) but only as long as a restriction under a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) doesn’t apply. Ridgeway byway stretches are signed ‘Byway’ and those byways where permanent Traffic Regulation Orders apply have metal circular road signs on display. Places where temporary or emergency TROs are in force are indicated with laminated notices.
There is no public right to drive on the Trail where it follows a public footpath, bridleway or restricted byway. The police carry out patrols on the Trail and have powers to confiscate vehicles involved in illegal activities on The Ridgeway etc.
These public rights of access are different to the private access rights that farmers or others may have along The Ridgeway.
We ask all drivers to be considerate of others on the Trail and to avoid using the Trail when the surface is vulnerable to damage, for example when the ground is wet.
Drivers are encouraged to research their routes and check ground conditions before setting out. All Traffic Regulation Orders relating to The Ridgeway are detailed on this website, with notifications of temporary and emergency Traffic Regulation Orders provided on the news webpages and on social media. A guide about driving on The Ridgeway will be available to download from this website soon. Please contact the Ridgeway Officer if you need more information.
How long does it take to complete the Trail?
There is satisfaction in covering the full distance of a National Trail, with many claiming a certificate of completion to celebrate!
The Trail is 87 miles (139 Km) long. As a guide, using roughly 15 miles (24 Km) a day as an average daily walking distance, the Trail can be completed in 6 days so it’s perfect week’s break. Mountain bikers complete the 43 miles (69km) between Avebury and Goring-on-Thames over 2 days on average.
If long distance routes are new to you or you are not sure of your fitness, it usually makes sense to start gently so that it is enjoyable rather than a slog. Plan just half a day’s walk or ride for the first day and a short day in the middle to give you some slack.
Allowing time for exploring is also worthwhile, with so many appealing diversions off the Trail. The interactive online map of The Ridgeway displays numerous attractions just off the Trail, including nature reserves, museums, pubs and historic sites.
You may choose to complete The Ridgeway in one visit or you can split the route over several weekends, for example.
How hard is it?
Apart from the few stretches of tarmac road, the off-road sections have a hard stone surface or retain a natural surface, ie. chalk, earth, grass. This means the surface can get a little wet and muddy during and after wet weather, and in places wheel ruts caused by vehicles will be encountered.
The Trail passes over high points crowned with prehistoric hillforts and descends into river valleys but the climbs and descents are gentle compared to the mountainous regions of England or elsewhere. A leaflet is available to download which illustrates the gradient profile of the Trail.
Walkers are advised to wear sturdy footwear.
To most mountain bikers, the route presents a fair endurance challenge. Most of The Ridgeway would be graded a Blue route in mountain biking terms. This is a route which requires riders to be in good health with basic off-road riding skills and a basic mountain bike.
To celebrate and record the achievement of completing a National Trail, there are certificates and merchandise available from the online shop!
Are there any major diversions on the route?
There will be a diversion of the Trail starting early 2021 near Wendover in Buckinghamshire. Ellesborough Road will be diverted as part of the High Speed 2 railway engineering works. The Ridgeway will follow an alternative road between Wendover train station and entry to Bacombe Hill entrance off Ellesborough Road.
Top tips for enjoying the Trail
How do I get to The Ridgeway?
Getting to The Ridgeway is easy as this part of England is well served by motorways, railways and bus routes. London’s airports are within easy reach.
The Ridgeway is by and large easily reached with a number of main rail stations near to the Trail. This is particularly true of the eastern side with stations like Goring & Streatley, Princes Risborough, Wendover and Tring near the finish. For the western end of The Ridgeway, Swindon is easily reached from London and from there you can take the bus to Avebury, near to the start of the Trail. For detailed rail information please see www.nationalrail.co.uk
There are many local bus services linking the towns and villages along the Trail. You can find up-to-date public transport information including a journey planner at www.traveline.info
The Ridgeway has excellent road links to the M4, M40, M25 and M1 providing easy access to and from London and the national motorway network.
Where can I stay on the Trail?
There is a good choice of accommodation close to the Trail and it can be viewed on the Interactive Map below or on the Create Your Own Trip page here.
Download and print a list of accommodation for each section of the Trail.
Many places fill up quickly, we recommend that you book in advance.
Can I camp along the Trail?
There are plenty of campsites along the Trail and they can be viewed on the Interactive Map. If you plan to camp please note it is not legal to wild camp in England or Wales – you will need to stay on official campsites.
The Ridgeway is privately owned and the Public Right of Way along it is for passage only, not for stopping and camping.
However, in practice, most landowners do not object if a tent is pitched on the Trail for a night and if it disappears the next morning – as long as no litter is left, no damage done, nor camp fires lit. Please do not camp in adjoining fields, woods or gallops without prior permission from the landowner.
Can I get my bags carried or my accommodation booked?
There are several companies that will arrange to move your bags for you, help you plan your trip, or arrange a full package.
View a list of these companies here.
What is the best time of year to walk on the Trail?
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.
Early May is 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.
Which direction should I walk it in?
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.
What should I take with me?
We recommend that you take a map and/or guidebook with you, or a copy of the walk leaflet if you are doing a shorter walk. You may also find a compass useful.
If you are walking solo you may want to tell someone where you are going as there can be mobile black spots along the Trail. Ensure your phone is fully charged before setting off.
Weather in the UK can be changeable so it’s wise to be prepared. You’ll need good footwear, waterproofs and warm layers. Take plenty of water and just in case, pack a few plasters for your feet. In the summer you may need sun cream.
Will I have mobile phone and internet access?
Mobile phone coverage in rural areas can be patchy. Mobile data is available in most places with mobile signal.
Many accommodation providers, pubs and cafes offer Wi-Fi.
Is there signage on The Ridgeway?
The UK is unique in having a network of paths that the public can use, this is the Public Rights of Way network. You can see these paths on Ordnance Survey maps.
National Trails are signed with an acorn symbol and/or the Trail name which you will see on stiles, gates and signposts. This is the symbol used by all the English and Welsh National Trails.
As you are walking along the Trail you will also see waymarkers pointing to other paths. You can use the public rights of way network to leave the Trail to explore places of interest, reach your accommodation and find places to eat and drink.
You will often find a coloured arrow on signs which indicates the status of that section of path. The most common are yellow arrows which are footpaths and blue which are bridleways.
What should I do if I encounter a problem on the Trail?
Contact the Ridgeway Officer to report a problem on the Trail. We welcome feedback to help us keep the Trail in good condition. You can use the contact page on this website; phone 01865 810224 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide information about the nature and exact location of the problem, plus the date you noticed the problem. It is very useful to email us photos of the problem too. Trail officers aim to resolve issues as quickly as possible, but we ask for your patience with problems that are not easy to solve or require fundraising.
Can I download a GPX file?
Leaflets, maps, guidebooks and merchandise
Are there any useful Trail leaflets?
What circular and linear walks and rides do you suggest?
There are some great circular walks and rides to sample parts of The Ridgeway and explore the surrounding area. Going further afield opens up opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of the history and nature of the area, and also support local pubs, museums and shops.
Most are suitable for a day visit, but a few others propose multi-day trips as an opportunity to dip into the attractive places to stay and eat in the area, perhaps as a weekend break.
There are also linear walks and rides to consider. Some are useful connecting or ‘link routes’ between the Trail and nearby train stations or major towns, e.g. National Cycle Network routes. Linear routes are also a great way to add distance so as to extend your holiday or build fitness, e.g. Icknield Way.
The Ridgeway Partnership works with partner organisations to promote a set of high quality, maintained circular and linear routes. These are detailed on our webpage for circular and linear walks and rides. Other routes can be found in guidebooks, online blogs, walking magazines etc.
Can I get a guidebook and map for the Trail?
The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the The Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise.
Which Ordnance Survey maps cover the Trail?
You can find a list of Ordnance Survey maps for the Trail here.
Can I get a certificate if I complete the Trail?
Walkers are welcome to claim a certificate of completion once they have covered all 87 miles of The Ridgeway. Cyclists and horse riders can claim a certificate for completing the Trail between Avebury and Goring-on-Thames.
To claim a certificate, we ask you to give us feedback about your visit. This helps the Ridgeway Officer improve the Trail and also work with others such as accommodation providers to ensure a high quality visitor experience.
Printed certificates are available to order from the The Trails Shop.