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From a 64 foot obelisk to a small stone tucked behind a gateway, the lives of a variety of people with a connection to The Ridgeway are remembered with memorials….read on below to find out more.

Coombe Hill monument near Wendover in Buckinghamshire is said to be the country’s first and largest war memorial to remember people who died at war; in this case the Boer War (1899-1902). Unlike previous memorials celebrating victories, this monument honoured the names of ‘ordinary’ men from Buckinghamshire and it was funded through public subscription. Built on the hill above the county town of Aylesbury, it was fitting that the monument could be seen for miles around. For the formal opening ceremony in 1904, special trains were organised to nearby Wendover station to help the crowds attend, alongside soldiers in military dress. Since then, it has been rebuilt following a lightening strike in 1938 and two forgotten names added.

An earlier war story is told by the monument near Wantage in Oxfordshire which remembers the first chairman and co-founder of the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded – what is now the British Red Cross. Robert Loyd-Lindsay (1832-1901) knew war as a soldier of the Crimean War (1853-1856) and was one of the first to receive the Victoria Cross medal. His memorial cross overlooks Wantage where a marble statue of King Alfred – paid for by Loyd-Lindsay – stands in the market place.

The suffering of soldiers is also recognised in the work of First World War poets, a key one being Charles Sorley (1895-1915) who was killed in action and has no known grave. His memorial near Ogbourne St George in Wiltshire recalls his earlier years studying at Marlborough College and his favourite pursuit of cross-country running. His poems feature Barbury Castle, rain (!) and the signpost beside his memorial stone: ‘I think it like that signpost in my land, Hoary and tall which pointed me to go, Upward into the Hills’.

Another hardy Ridgeway writer with a Ridgeway memorial is Penelope Betjeman (nee Chetwode), wife of the famous poet John Betjeman. Her love of the outdoors began in India where, at age 21, her mother took her on a 140 mile pony trek which reached elevations as high as 10,500 feet above sea level. Her passion for horses and horse riding continued into adulthood when she lived near The Ridgeway and her small memorial stone reads ‘In memory of Penelope Betjeman who loved The Ridgeway 1910-1986’. Besides her published books, an unfinished work titled ‘Memoirs of an Undistinguished Horsewoman’ sits in the British Library.

Two other writers – Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) and Alfred Williams (1877-1930) – share memorials to reflect a love they both had of the countryside around Swindon. Liddington Hill was a ‘thinking-place’ for Jefferies and where he first had a ‘soul experience’. For Williams, it was a place of escape which inspired him to write of ‘the friendship of a hill I know’. Further along the Trail, their other memorial known as the Burderop Stone near Barbury Castle displays words from Jefferies: ‘It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine.’ Jefferies is increasingly regarded as the first-ever nature writer and his home, not far from The Ridgeway, is now a museum celebrating his work.

Note: More details about Ridgeway writers, wayfarers and nature conservationists are provided in other Top 50 entries published throughout 2023.

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