Careful surface repairs to conserve archaeology

9th September 2019

History permeates The Ridgeway and this history is what a lot of people value most about the Trail. In some areas, The Ridgeway is an 'archaeo-reserve' because archaeology in adjacent fields has been damaged or lost through ploughing or development. The highlight of the Trail's history is the World Heritage Site at the end of The Ridgeway near Avebury in Wiltshire - this landscape is internationally important for its archaeology.

As an historic routeway, work to repair or improve the surface of the Trail needs to take into account the archaeological interest. Some surfacing techniques which involve digging and levelling, for example, would damage or obscure archaeological features and artefacts at the surface and below the surface.

In the World Heritage Site, the Trail needs to be repaired because people are complaining that ruts caused by modern vehicles driving along the byway are making it difficult to walk, cycle or horse ride along The Ridgeway. A video has been made to show the damage along the Trail - click here to see the video.

Along The Ridgeway byway passing through the World Heritage Site, archaeologists have carried out surveys to confirm the locations of features such as Bronze Age field boundaries within the Trail corridor itself. A number of features cross the track and are not confined to the grass verge. This means repair work to address the ruts caused by modern vehicles driving along the Trail in the World Heritage Site must be done carefully, to ensure archaeology is conserved.

During September 2019, Wiltshire Council is managing a contractor to trial surface repair techniques in 4 trial areas along The Ridgeway in the World Heritage Site. With agreement from landowners, machinery will be taken along the edge of the fields adjacent to the Trail and a 'long arm' will reach over the Trail to deposit chalk precisely into the ruts created by modern vehicles. In-filling the ruts will create a surface that is easier for the public to pass along but retain the 'lumps and bumps' of historic field boundaries, pits, enclosures and ridge and furrow. The trial areas will be cordoned off, with notices on display to ask the public  to pass around the trial areas to allow the material to settle into the ruts and grass to establish. There should also be no vehicles to damage the repair work since there is a Traffic Regulation Order in force which makes it illegal for the public to drive 4 wheel vehicles or motorbikes along The Ridgeway in this area - click here for details in a related news article.

These trials will inform future work to repair ruts created by modern vehicles in a way which does not have a detrimental impact on archaeology. This future work includes repairs to the full extent of severe ruts in the World Heritage Site. The Friends of the Ridgeway welcome donations of any amount towards this important project - click here.

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