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People have always been drawn to The Ridgeway for its far-reaching views, including famous writers and artists such as John Nash who described the view from Whiteleaf Hill in Bucks as ‘the finest view in the south of England’. There are numerous well-known viewpoints for the public to enjoy along the Trail, including the writer Richard Jefferies’ favourite place of Liddington Hill (Wilts) and other high points such as White Horse Hill (Oxon) and Coombe Hill (Bucks). Across the patchwork of fields, look out for leading centres for science, famous mansions, high-rise buildings, wind turbines and more. Read on below….

Banner image: Cherhill monument viewed on the skyline from The Ridgeway near Avebury, with the flat top of Silbury Hill just beneath.

Near to the twin hills known as Wittenham Clumps or Mother Dunch’s Buttocks in Oxfordshire, there was once the prominent landmark of Didcot power station’s six cooling towers (see image gallery above). This change to the view is a relatively recent example of how views from The Ridgeway are always changing as the nature of land use changes – in this case, how people generate energy. Power was first generated at Didcot in 1970, fuelled by coal and gas, and the industry created jobs for local people. Over time however, concerns were raised by environmentalists and others – in 2006 and 2009, protesters scaled the 200m high main chimney which was one of the tallest structures in the UK! Some years later, demolition of the 114m tall cooling towers attracted thousands of onlookers and concluded with the main chimney in 2020.

With the shift to renewable energy, numerous wind turbines are now visible in the distance as well as the largest solar farm in the UK at Wroughton in Wiltshire. Shimmering in the sunlight across a former World War II RAF airfield, 440 rows of photovoltaic arrays comprising 231,660 panels can be seen from viewpoints such as Barbury Castle. The solar farm has generated enough power for 15,054 domestic households a year since it opened in 2016. Nearby, the Science Museum have also constructed a 300m long building to store over 400,000 items including the world’s first hovercraft, early electric vehicles and de-activated nuclear missiles. The National Collections Centre will open to the public in 2024.

Another world-leading science and technology hotspot visible from The Ridgeway is the large science park at Harwell in Oxfordshire where nuclear energy was generated for the first time in Europe in 1947. The large circular building (see image gallery above) houses the Diamond Light Source which enables magnification of fossils, viruses and vaccines. The Central Laser Facility can recreate the conditions inside stars! Over 6,000 scientists, engineers and researchers are busy working here in energy, space, health and quantum computing.

Other prominent buildings visible from the Trail include the high-rise buildings of County Hall in Aylesbury, Bucks and the Brunel Tower in Swindon, Wilts (see image gallery above). Aylesbury residents call their Brutalist-style tower ‘Pooley’s Folly’ or ‘Fred’s Fort’ after the county architect Fred Pooley who commissioned it. It reaches 61m tall with 15 floors, but Swindon’s tower beats this at 83m tall with 21 floors.

At a smaller scale but still a distinctive feature of the skyline, the Cherhill monument can be seen near the Avebury end of The Ridgeway (see image gallery above). The 38m stone obelisk was erected in 1845 as an ‘eye-catcher’ for the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne to commemorate his ancestor Sir William Petty (1623-1687). Following the Wessex Ridgeway from Avebury, walkers and riders can pass by the monument and enjoy the spacious Cherhill Downs.

The wealthy also left their mark in the landscape near Coombe Hill in Bucks where the grand houses of both Chequers and Waddesdon can be seen (see image gallery above). Just below the hill, Chequers is a red-brick Elizabethan mansion that has been the Prime Minister’ country residence since 1921. Sir Arthur Lee donated the estate to the nation in the belief that ‘the better the health of our rulers the more sanely will they rule and the inducement to spend two days a week in the high and pure air of the Chiltern hills and woods will, it is hoped, benefit the nation as well as its chosen leaders.’ In contrast, Waddesdon hides amongst trees on a distant hill and is one of several mansions in the area built by the Rothschild family, with Halton House and Tring Park being two others along the Trail. It’s possible to visit Waddesdon and Tring Park whilst Halton House is closed to the public as part of an active RAF base.

To look for these landmarks and enjoy fine views across farmed countryside, visit The Ridgeway’s viewpoints including Barbury Castle (Wilts), Liddington Hill (Wilts), White Horse Hill (Oxon), Wantage Monument (Oxon), Lowbury Hill (Berks), Lough Down (Berks), Watlington Hill (Oxon), Lodge Hill (Bucks), Brush Hill and Whiteleaf Hill (Bucks), Coombe Hill (Bucks), Pitstone Hill (Bucks), Ivinghoe Beacon (Bucks).

Notes: More information about artists, writers, industrial heritage, wartime heritage, monuments and memorials, Lowbury Hill, hillforts, Chequers and Charles Rothschild is available in other Top 50 entries (not all Top 50 entries will be available until end of December 2023).

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