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From St Birinus to Buckinghamshire Council, people have chosen outdoor places along The Ridgeway for significant meetings over the centuries. High points such as Scutchamer Knob and Coombe Hill have hosted high profile gatherings, whilst prehistoric monuments such as Avebury’s stone circle and Uffington’s chalk horse have a long history of attracting large groups of people to mark significant dates in the year. As a routeway, The Ridgeway will always be a place to travel along to meet friends, family and passers-by. Read on below….

Banner image: People gather on Coombe Hill to celebrate the opening of The Ridgeway as a National Trail. Credit: Sarah Wright.

Coombe Hill is a special place for public ceremony along The Ridgeway, with the hilltop specifically dedicated to the National Trust in the 1920s to facilitate people’s access to its viewpoint and monument. Hundreds of people had gathered on the hilltop in 1904 to see the unveiling of the Boer War monument – so large was the crowd that special trains were organised to nearby Wendover station to cater for the event! When public access to the hill was threatened just two years later, hundreds of people climbed the hill to protest (see image gallery above). With such a rich heritage associated with public access, Coombe Hill made a fitting place to formally open The Ridgeway as a National Trail in 1973. Fifty years later, people returned to the hilltop to celebrate the Trail’s anniversary in 2023.

The Ridgeway’s 50th anniversary was an opportunity for lots of people to meet on the Trail during 2023. In addition to the official ceremony on Coombe Hill, a group of Ridgeway supporters re-created the stone circle at The Sanctuary to launch the anniversary (see this video) and a replica of the Ivinghoe Sword was carried by Ridgeway volunteers to Ivinghoe Beacon to conclude the anniversary (see image gallery above).

Prehistoric barrows on high points also pull in the crowds, especially Scutchamer Knob, near East Hendred. The barrow was recognised as a special place by the Saxons and so they established a ‘shire moot’ there. A ‘moot’ was an outdoor place where local law and justice was determined by a council of local magnates. Criminals would be tried and sentenced in such places, and taxes for central government were also collected here. The use of the barrow evolved over time to involve a sheep fair, although the rise of nearby East Ilsley sheep market brought this to an end and now it is a quiet place hidden amongst trees.

Another quiet place that was once busy with people is Churn Knob, near Blewbury, where St Birinus is said to have preached Christianity to the pagan Saxons. This history has made the Bronze Age bell barrow a place of pilgrimage ever since. St Birinus is known for successfully converting King Cygnalis of the West Saxons and he was given land at Dorchester where he established the abbey.

On a larger scale, Avebury stone circle and other features of the ceremonial landscape around it have been drawing people since the Neolithic. Since the 19th century revival of paganism, Druids, Wiccans, neopagans and others have gathered at Avebury to mark particular events in the year such as the summer solstice. There are various rituals and ceremonies, with music and fire making it an atmospheric, if not spiritual, experience.

Festivities are also associated with Uffington’s chalk horse where the lord of the manor attracted people with fun activities in return for scouring the horse. Every seven years from at least 1677 until the late 19th century, people enjoyed a three-day celebratory feast within the nearby hillfort! More recently, re-chalking the horse has been revived by the National Trust as an opportunity for the public to volunteer to help conserve the landmark on bank holiday weekends.

With such an interesting selection of special places to choose from, where will you next meet friends and family along The Ridgeway….?

Notes: More information about highest hills, protests, barrows, sheep, chalk marks, pilgrims, the Ivinghoe Sword and paganism along The Ridgeway is available in other Top 50 entries.

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