The story so far.....share your thoughts and stories about wayfarers, wanderers and pilgrims to help us create a community Top 50!

Wayfaring stories of the many famous and ordinary people who have walked The Ridgeway can inspire others to discover the various joys of walking and, if the miles get tough, their stories motivate us to reach the end! From the modern day archaeologist-broadcaster Mary-Ann Ochota to the first nature-writer Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), there is a Ridgeway wanderer to beckon every one of us out onto the Trail. Read on below to find out more…..

Thanks for contributions to this Top 50 from M Tebje, O Freeman and C Reardon.


Bill Bailey, a well-known comedian, has walked The Ridgeway several times to raise awareness and money for charity. Bill enjoys long distance walking because ‘there’s no doubt your senses become more attuned, smells are more acute’ and it helps him sort through his ‘snowstorm of ideas’. One of his Ridgeway companions has been Robert MacFarlane; author of numerous books including award-winning The Old Ways which has been summarised as a ‘meditation on pathways [which] always leads back to the human heart’.

One of MacFarlane’s inspirations was another wanderer-writer Edward Thomas (1878–1917) who wrote about his experiences of The Ridgeway in The Icknield Way (published 1916). Thomas was a person who had endurance to cover miles and miles; he would wake at 5 – 6 am to walk 30–40 miles (48–64 km) a day! In a matter-of-fact tone he wrote, “I rose up and knew I was tired and I continued my journey”.

Whilst some enjoy short walks and a focus on pleasure, others like to test their endurance and completing the full length of a National Trail is an achievement to be celebrated, as shown in The Ridgeway’s Hall of Fame. Bill Bailey was the first to enter the Hall of Fame, followed by Dirk Withnail who is currently the youngest person to complete all 87 miles; he was 10 years old at the time! It is hoped that the Hall of Fame will build over time to reflect a great diversity of people who enjoy long distance walking, running, cycling and horse riding.

Walking hasn’t always been a popular pursuit. Rebecca Solnit, in her 2001 book Wanderlust – a history of walking, thinks walking in the countryside became appealing and fashionable with the romantic poems of William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850). Wordsworth was a life-long walker and described the road as ‘a guide into eternity, at least to things unknown and without bound’. Before this, people avoided walking because of negative associations with poverty, toil and the threat of ambush by highwaymen and ‘footpads’ (highwaymen on foot rather than horse). Those who could afford it went by horse or by coach, carriage or wagon.

Scottish author Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) was one of the first people to make connections between mental health issues and the restorative power of engaging with nature. He reputedly named his book Ivanhoe after the village of Ivinghoe, Bucks, at the northern end of The Ridgeway. Scott had a great interest in history and folklore and is regarded as having created the ‘historical novel’.

Another Scotsman Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 –1894), who wrote classics such as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, made a special train journey to the Chilterns for a hike along the ridge near Wendover, Bucks. He described the ‘wonderful carolling of larks’ that followed him along the way and the views across the vales ‘exposed before me like a map’.  For Stevenson, walking created the opportunity for ‘pleasure trips into the Land of Thought’. He referred to a ‘fine intoxication that comes from much motion in the open air, that begins in a sort of dazzle and sluggishness in the brain, and ends in a peace that passes comprehension”.

More recently, Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame (1859 – 1932) enjoyed wandering on The Ridgeway, often on his own or with ‘friends the hares and plovers’. Whilst living in London, Grahame would travel out to the Thames Valley for weekend rambles in tweed breeches to enjoy the ‘treasures of hedge and ditch; the rapt surprise of the first lords-and-ladies, the rustle of a field-mouse, the splash of a frog’. In Romance of the Road, Grahame affectionately calls The Ridgeway ‘The Rudge’ which he once lived near to in Blewbury (Oxon) and Streatley (Berks). He imagined coming across people from the past along this historic routeway:

Join it at Streatley, the point where it crosses the Thames; at once it strikes you out and away from the habitable world in a splendid, purposeful manner, running along the highest ridge of the Downs a broad green ribbon of turf….. Out on that almost trackless expanse of billowy Downs such a track is in some sort humanly companionable: it really seems to lead you by the hand….. The “Rudge” is of course an exceptional instance….the Roman, sore beset, may have gazed down this very road for relief, praying for night or the succouring legion. This child that swings on a gate and peeps at you from under her sun-bonnet — so may some girl-ancestress of hers have watched with beating heart the Wessex levies hurry along to clash with the heathen and break them on the down where the ash trees grew. And yonder, where the road swings round under gloomy overgrowth of drooping boughs — is that gleam of water or glitter of lurking spears? …. A road of promises, of hinted surprises…

Grahame led a troubled personal life and sought solace in nature; ‘alone with the southwest wind and the blue sky’. Some would argue that long distance walking is a means to find solitude which is also a path to greater creativity. During 2023, several people got in touch with us to describe how walking along The Ridgeway gave them ‘headspace’ and this included Mr Freeman whose hike from Avebury to Wantage led him to decide to change career by enrolling at Falmouth Art School and later moving home to live near Avebury!

Walking can also be a spiritual or divine experience and there are places associated with pilgrims along The Ridgeway. Churn Knob, Oxfordshire, is a round barrow where Saint Birinus (c 600 – 649/650 BCE) preached and there is a pilgrimage route linking it to the old abbey at Dorchester-on-Thames where Birinus was bishop. Birinus is venerated for his conversion of the Kingdom of Wessex to Christianity and establishing churches. Churches along the pilgrimage route would stamp pilgrim’s passports enroute, including the church in Blewbury, Oxfordshire.

Aptly for The Ridgeway, St Botolph’s Church at Swycombe, Oxfordshire, sits adjacent to The Ridgeway and it is named after the patron saint of wayfarers. St Botolph died in 680AD in East Anglia but later, to keep his remains away from Viking invaders, his relics were divided and moved from place to place. It is said that this gave rise to him being associated with people on the move and churches named after him are believed to provide places for incoming travellers to give thanks for their safe arrival and for outgoing travellers to pray for a safe journey. In this spirit, St Botolph’s offers refreshments to passing Ridgeway wayfarers, including their locally renowned ‘Snowdrop teas’ early in the year as this video with Timmy Mallet shows!

Note: Further information about The Ridgeway’s famous writers, churches, spirituality and religion is available in other Top 50 entries (note that new Top 50 entries are being published each week through 2023 and the full 50 will be available from 1st January 2024).

Return to Ridgeway Top 50 homepage.

Share your photos and stories to create a community Top 50! #Ridgeway50