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Shortly after the invention of the camera, Henry Taunt captured Victorian scenes from The Ridgeway and since then, many people have followed with their cameras… on below to find out more.

Banner image ‘The White Horse Uffington’ by Paul Nash, courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland.

When The Ridgeway became a National Trail in 1973, the need for a visitor guidebook naturally arose and Fay Godwin (1931 – 2005) was chosen to portray the route through her photographs. Her photograph ‘Avebury, Moonlight’ from ‘The Oldest Road: The Ridgeway’ (1975) now hangs on a wall in Downing Street and the author John Fowles, one of her admirers, wrote, “British photography has not had a more poetic interpreter of ancient landscape, of its lights and moods and forms, for many years.”

Fay Godwin was a keen walker before she became a renowned landscape photographer and environmentalist. In her twenties, she joined the Ramblers Association and then, once she had raised her family and her marriage broke down, she chose to return to walking but this time with a camera. Godwin was not a formally trained photographer and had started out taking portraits of her family and then major authors of the time whom she met through her husband’s work as a publisher. Her meeting with the poet Ted Hughes in 1970 was a turning point as Godwin apparently said she ‘got to know England’ through Hughes. They formed a creative partnership to publish ‘Remains of Elmet’ (1979) in which her black-and-white photos and his poems describe how the landscape and community of Hughes’ birthplace in Yorkshire changed over time and ‘the end has come’.

Years spent observing and documenting the countryside – often remote places that most people never visited – heightened Godwin’s awareness of change and rural issues. She played a leading role in campaigning for public access to the countryside as President of the Ramblers Association from 1987-90 and also published a book to illustrate her concerns ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (1990).

Looking back to the early days of photography, Henry Taunt (1842–1922) was one of the first commercial photographers during the Victorian period and he realised there was a business opportunity to be had in catering for visitors to Oxford and the surrounding area. Taunt produced huge numbers of photographs of the River Thames and also of popular visitor attractions along The Ridgeway. Several photos taken at White Horse Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire show how people enjoyed themselves in those days, with refreshments from a cart pulled up the hill with horses and young boys playing on the slopes with a toy cart!  Photographs were made into postcards for tourists to keep as souvenirs and share with friends.

Amongst the visitors taking a camera to White Horse Hill and Avebury was the artist Paul Nash (1889-1946). The banner image above is a close-up view of the Uffington chalk horse taken by Nash. This article describes how Nash’s Avebury photos influenced his paintings.

Today, the Swire Ridgeway Arts Prize encourages continued interest in photography along The Ridgeway. There are a variety of photographs to peruse on their online gallery and all photographers are welcome to enter future competitions!

Notes: More information about Paul Nash can be found in other Top 50 entries

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