Walking Britain’s Oldest Road
The Ridgeway has been walked on for at least 5000 years and this ancient track once used by traders, villagers and travellers is rich in history dotted with Bronze and Iron Age Hill Forts, small burial mounds and Long Barrows along the way.
You will see many burial mounds, also called Tumuli along the way, these oblong raised grassy mounds are approximately 4000 years old and are often fenced off or have trees planted around them making them easy to spot should you see evidence of this in an open field.
It is often referred to as Britain’s oldest road and was once used as a route by the invading Danish Viking armies back in the dark ages.
The Enclosures Acts were passed by Parliament which ordered the open land to be divided into privately owned fields which were hedged off thus keeping the passing livestock contained on track and therefore protecting the surrounding local fields. This served to shape the Ridgeway as a singular track which became more and more worn over the years.
The Ridgeway was seen as an important long distance walking route from 1947 and the Ramblers Association became involved acknowledging the route in the 1950s until it finally became recognised as a National Trail in 1973 by the National Trust and these days is enjoyed by walkers from near and far.
The Ridgeway crosses five Counties for the 87 miles and I decided to walk it in the direction starting from Ivanhoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, then going through Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and ending up at Avebury in Wiltshire.
It is generally suggested that you walk the route starting at Overton Hill in Avebury and ending at Ivinghoe Beacon in Aylesbury, the main reason for this is that the wind will be behind you, however I chose to walk it the opposite way round and finish at Overton Hill so that I could then head to the Red Lion pub at Avebury and enjoy the view of the stones.
I planned this walk in memory of my boyfriend James Wyse, who died in 2011 as he was so knowledgeable and interested in the history of the Ridgeway, which is Britain’s oldest road, the walk was for charity to raise money for Sobell House Hospice.
Rather than do it in the advised 6 days, I would do it in 4 days instead for a challenge and camp along the route.
After some careful thought I also decided that it would be much better to have company along the route, so I put posters up around the local pubs in my home town and invited friends who knew James to take part in the walk, either in its entirety or in sections and also for any volunteers who may like to get involved.
Planning something like this is often not always as easy as it may seem, people will often change their minds and drop out at the last minute, as is human nature and it can be tempting to go it alone. However, in this case, the support from all involved was outstanding from the walkers to those who voluntarily looked after us, this walk could not have happened without their continued support and I have made some lovely friends through this experience.
Jinny was particularly instrumental in organising and helping to make it happen.
This is an account of how it all went with a little history along the way.
Day 1 – 7th June 2012
Ivinghoe Beacon to Chinnor road 21 miles – 9 hours walking
This route starts at Ivinghoe Beacon and passes through: Incombe Hole, Pitsone Hill, Tring station, Tring park, Pavis Wood, Hale wood, Wendover, Coombe Hill and Chequers, Whiteleaf Hill, Princes Risborough, Lodge Hill and Chinnor.
The day of the walk at last, after some weeks of planning, I had all my things packed ready, tent, warm sleeping bag and waterproofs (it is UK summer after all), face cream for the wind, good walking boots, camera and route map. I also packed a small hot water bottle which was a real comfort at night-time and a silver hip flask for a nip of Brandy.
I was picked up at 6am by Ginger Ian who volunteered to drive myself and two other walkers, Paul and Julie, to the start of the walk in Aylesbury at Ivinghoe Beacon.
I felt hungry on the journey over and ate a cheese roll and some chocolate, once there we met up with the other walkers, Aaron, Beth, Jinny and Gus who were driven by Codge, a real rough diamond of a character who swears like a navvy, but a diamond in every sense; this guy supported us from start to finish.
Ginger Ian took some photos of us as a team and then we started walking up the hill across to Ivinghoe Beacon which is the start of the Ridgeway 87 mile walk
The views from the hill were fantastic with the Whipsnade chalk Lion opposite us, the Lion was created in 1933 by Mr. Brooke-Greaves to highlight the Whipsnade Wildlife Park which is situated just above it. During the War the Lion was covered up and disguised with netting, turf and paint and on special occasions, such as the Zoos 50th Anniversary it is lit up.
After a few minutes of enjoying the spectacular scenery we set off on the walk which led us across a road and then into beautiful green woods. This area felt so peaceful and the vibrant greens of the trees were magnificent, the area was a real pleasure to walk through and I found myself stopping to take picture after picture of the beauty of the woods.
Paul was there just for the first day to map read and help us stay on track as this part of the route can be tricky, unlike the images often shown, the Ridgeway is not just one continuous chalk path, from Aylesbury to Goring it goes through woods and drops into villages and along roads twisting and turning along the way. Looking for the Ridgeway route signs with the Acorns on is key, but in this area in particular we quickly realised the importance of a proper route map.
We got lost, taking a wrong turn somewhere, but luckily thanks to Paul who was the one who realised due to a gut feeling he had that the path was not right, got us back on track rapidly and little time was lost. We walked on past Tring station along the road and then back up and through Tring park, which was beautiful with dramatic lightening trees, buttercups, wild cowslip flowers and rabbits on the land.
Along the way if there was any road access Codge would be there with his car parked up and the boot open offering hot coffee and a snack such as chocolate or a cheese roll, these quickly became known as ‘Codge stops’ and were a very welcome support.
Codge was also extremely good to us in getting ahead to find a camp and setting up the tents for us, buying us hot food in the day to warm us up, such support is so rare, what a gem of a guy he is and Ginger Ian also, both of them drove around ensuring that the walk went smoothly.
Beth who had walked continuously at a very rapid pace up to this point was suddenly shattered and Codge told her to get in the car and rest up to the next point, she was so tired that she fell asleep almost instantly when in the vehicle and slept there curled up until we finished the walk for the day. She was a determined, resilient walker who continued to do really well for the rest of the journey and impressed us all.
The rest of us continued on with the walk across the Chilterns and typically for June in the UK the sky opened up and it rained heavily down on us, it poured in fact and we were walking in thick mud in areas.
The rain even seeped through our waterproofs as they could only resist it for some time.
We met a group of four people who we also walking the whole of the route, they were doing it from the opposite direction and said it had taken them 6 days to get three-quarters of the way, they must have been doing it in much smaller sections. We also met a group of four cyclists who were cycling the whole route and we overtook them twice, they were having long rests between each section, whereas we walkers were pressing on, they said they had also had a couple of falls.
We walked up a very long, steep grassy track full of giant snails and buttercups which led to Coombe Hill Monument from the Second Boer War. Situated at the top of Coombe Hill, not far from Wendover, the Monument built in 1904 is in memory of the 148 men of Buckinghamshire who gave their lives in the South Africa War 1899-1902. The striking monument, once part of the Chequers estate is now owned by the Council and Coombe Hill is owned by the National Trust.
We trudged on following the twisty track until we came to another road and passed through Chequers estate area, a 16th Century mansion where the current British Prime Minister takes up residence. There are trees on the land called the ‘Wild Service Tree’ (Sorbus torminalis) which produces berries called Chequers, so some say the estate was named after these berries.
A more likely explanation of the name probably emerged from the 12th century because Elias Ostiarius (or de Scaccario), who was acquiring land in the Ellesborough area at the time may have built it and lived there. The name “Ostiarius” meant an usher of the Court of the Exchequer. Elias Ostiarius’ coat of arms included the chequer board of the Exchequer, so it would have made sense that he named his estate after his arms and position at court.
When walking through this area you are not allowed to take pictures and are required instead to walk on through as quickly as possible, since the weather was not good, we were more than happy to pass through the area without stopping and walked across the Chequers road and then through a field and off up a grassy hill.
We passed through White Leaf hill and walked through the centre of the 9 hole Whiteleaf Golf Club, it seemed strange walking past through this area, but on we went disappearing into the woods. It is in the wooded area here that Aaron found me a piece of wood that I used as a staff, he had been finding these for each of us and I instantly took to mine, it became like an old friend aiding me on the walk and remained with me for the entire journey and sits in my room now as a souvenir.
Eventually we came to another welcome Codge stop, he pointed out a long wooden bench and ‘lean to’ at the back of a pub yard in Cadsten which was sheltered where we could all have a quick rest and hot drink, it was a relief to stop there, though we would only ever rest for 10 minutes, never any longer as we soon learnt that it is better to keep going.
The pub in fact was The Plough at Cadsten where David Cameron famously recently left his daughter behind, though we did not go into the pub, neither did we know this news at the time, it was in the papers at the beginning of the week when we returned.
We left the temporary shelter of the yard and continued on, the walk was long and we were tired from the continuous rain and wind of the day, Codge was looking ahead for us for a good place to set up our camp for the night. First of all we thought to camp in some woods at the side of the track which we were fine with, however Codge looked ahead further and found a pub with a car park and grassy area at the back, he suggested that as an alternative.
We walked on through Chinnor down into Bledlow Village and found the pub which was called the Lions of Bledlow and after 9 hours of walking in all that rain it was a fantastic sight, we must have looked very scruffy, soaked to the skin and covered in mud, yet we were welcomed and told by the Landlady that we could camp in the back car park where the grassy area was. Not only that we were allowed to use the tumble dryer outside at the back of the pub to dry out wet clothes, this was a real bonus as by now we were all shivering from wearing the wet clothes and I had been dreading putting them back on wet the next day.
After a drink, Paul and Gus left the group and went home, Paul had only been available for one day and Gus could walk this day and would return to finish it with us on the last day due to other commitments. So now there were five of us left.
The landlady was very kind as not only did she sponsor us for the cause, she also brought us out a packet of digestive biscuits and left them by our camp in the morning, a very nice touch.
Fantastic superhero Codge had already been outside and set up our tents, what a star, it was just a case of stamping in the tent pegs to secure mine, which I quickly did and then blowing up my air bed and getting my dry night clothes out ready to wear. The rain at last stopped for a short while and so I ran across to the back of the pub and slung my wet clothes into the tumble dryer, as did the others.
Our lovely friend H turned up in her car and brought us a hot meal cooked for us by another volunteer and this hot food was a great comfort helping to warm us up, I borrowed an extra blanket off H, as I still felt very cold and shivery from the days rain.
Bless her heart H not only brought us the hot food, she also gave us walkers a welcome foot rub too, which was blissful at the end of that long, rainy day 🙂 Thank you muchly H.
Then went to bed, the night was fraught with strong winds and continuous heavy rain but it was great to be in my tent and quite good to hear the weather still raging outside, I had a nip of Brandy from my hipflask to keep the cold out.
Day 2 – 8th June 2012
Chinnor to South Stoke 20 miles – 9 hours walking
This section starts from Chinnor and passes through: Hill Road, Chinnor, a Minor Road, Lewknor Hill, Minor road, Watlington Hill, Minor road, Britwell Hill, Nuffield and North Stoke.
We started from Bledow village as we had camped at the back of the pub.
We rose around 06:30ish, broke down camp, had a breakfast and collected our now dry clothes from the tumble room outside at the back of the pub. Then with our day bags ready and the rest packed into Codges car, we walked up the steep hill out of Bledlow Village towards Princes Risborough.
On we went, walking through woods and fields with rape seed foliage that was shoulder high, these twisty plants tripped us up with the stubborn, overgrown stems that caught on tired boots as they walked by.
Jinny and Julie had been walking with leg injuries and muscle strains that needed to be rested so they missed a little of this day out riding instead with Codge to each stop.
It was then just Aaron, Beth and myself walking, I was tired but had no injuries so kept going, the wind got up and began to get severe, Beth walked rapidly ahead today and Aaron and I followed as quickly as we could.
We reached an area that I was particularly intrigued by called Grims Ditch, a wooded area that stretched for a few miles with the long ditch running alongside it, there were many trees down in this area and the wind continued to blow the trees with a relentless ferocity, so we ran where we could to get safely through it.
According to the Ridgeway National companion Grims Ditch was constructed by the use of antler picks as tools and Wikipedia states that: “Grim’s Ditch” is Old English in origin, and originates from Grim, one of the many names for the Anglo-Saxon god Woden (called Odin by the Norse) and meaning “the masked one”. Among Woden’s many roles is that of a god of war, and it may be that the Anglo-Saxons perceived the earthworks as military in function and therefore ascribed them to him. There is much to learn of these fascinating areas and it was so interesting to pass sections such as this.
The trail seemed long today and a struggle against the wind, Jinny and Julie rejoined us while Aaron rested, the others walked ahead and Julie and I walked together telling stories to each other which helped greatly to pass the long walking time.
It is a fantastic moment when you first get a view of the Thames River, I suddenly felt refreshed at seeing this and Julie and I picked up pace across this area, the bridge at Moulsford was also most impressive with its clay coloured ironwork.
On we walked though fields with the Thames on our right hand side to keep us company, there were swans, ducks and moorhens in the water and the occasional Dragonfly flew past us, the track had many colourful snails on which we tried our best not to step on.
It was so refreshing to walk by the water and the reflections in it were beautiful, the sound of the wind in the reeds was soothing and even though it was very windy the walk along this stretch felt calm and relaxed.
We had been walking for many hours that day and I had expected another hour or so of walking along the Thames path when suddenly we came to a gate and I saw Ginger Ian and the others there with our tents set up, it was a fantastic feeling to see them and our tents as it was so unexpected at that particular point and I was so, so tired. Great to stop and rest for the night here at this place, our camp was set at Stoke by the Thames waterside and we were joined by a few opportunistic ducks who padded about camp looking for food.
At the end of the days walk, either before or after food, we would get into our tents and check feet for blisters, getting fresh, dry socks ready to wear for the morning as this made a real difference, walking in damp socks is never good.
I slept much better this night through tiredness and extra warmth of the small hot water bottle that I had brought along, it was fantastic to lay in my tent listening to the others chatting happily to one another, I thought how lucky I was to be with such special people, we walked for 9 hours again this day.
Day 3 – 9th June 2012
South Stoke near Streatley to Wayland Smithy 24 miles – 10 hours walking
This section starts at Stoke and passes through: Goring gap and Streatley River Thames, Roden Down, Bury Down, Wantage Monument, Segsbury Castle, The Devils punchbowl and Sparsholt Firs, White Horse Hill and the Manger along to Waylands Smithy.
I woke early again to the sounds of the camp stirring, it was a beautiful morning for James’ birthday and I felt optimistic about the walk as today we would be heading to Waylands Smithy, which is his resting place and on local home territory.
We packed up our things hastily to get going and ate a quick breakfast, I ate mine on the go and off we walked up the road to get on track for the day ahead.
I walked with Aaron this morning and enjoyed his company, he is a very genuine person and interesting to talk to, as also were Jinny, Beth and Julie who were walking ahead of us.
There were a couple of Codge stops and Aaron, Jinny and Julie rested as they were all suffering with blisters and tiredness, so it was just myself and Beth who continued on.
Something in me made me want to get ahead away on my own on the long, now familiar chalk track and I did so and sang songs out loud over the land not caring if strangers passed by and heard, the one song that seemed to stay with me was ‘Hitler has only got one ball’ which I sang over and over again for a good hour or so, before getting bored and switching to some Annie Lenox songs that I knew the words of.
The wind was strong but the sun shone on, this day felt great and I walked on as fast as I could, knowing the road ahead today was the furthest that we would have to go.
After about 7 hours of walking the tiredness kicked in and my left ankle hurt a great deal as I had twisted it in a narrow mud ridge on the track and hurt the tendon, I had to keep walking on it nevertheless so took some pain killers with a nip of Brandy.
Codge stops were fewer on this walk as there were fewer places for him to get to, I has been walking for two or three hours when I got to the top of a hill with a horse track on the left and sat on a bale of hay for 5 minutes to rest my ankle, which was really hurting by now. Codge appeared in his car which was a welcome sight and gave me a handful of Rhubarb and custard flavoured sweets to keep me going, I took them and set off again, not wanting to sit for longer than 5 minutes for fear I would not get up again.
Beth caught up with me and we walked together chatting along the Wantage section of the route which was deeply rutted and where more ankles could easily get twisted, the trick here is to walk on the widest section you can find and stick to it. We continued on past Beech Trees until we reached the Wantage Monument to Robert Loyd-Lindsay, Baron Wantage of Lockinge. Loyd-Lindsay was the first man to win a VC in the Crimean War and was the founder of the English Red Cross.
The monument sits above Wantage on the Ridgeway chalk track with a perfect view of Didcot Power Station in the background, oddly it has always been bright sunshine whenever I have been up to on this monument, not once has it rained here for me.
The chalk is made up of thousands of tiny fossils called Coccoliths which were sea creatures from the Cretacious era as much of Britain was under the sea in those times. It is estimated that it would have taken around 30 years to form just 1mm of chalk as each fossil is only a few thousandths of a millimetre in diameter.
We were so pleased to be there, it really was a great feeling to be at this home point, although for the walk itself of course we still had a long way to go.
The inscription on the monument reads:
Robert Loyd Lindsay Baron Wantage
VC KCB 1901
Inkerman 1854 Alma 1854
This cross is raised in his memory by his wife
May help cometh from the Lord who made Heaven and Earth
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help
IN OBIT V PAX POST OBIT V M SAINS POST
TENEBRAS. LUX. IN LUCE SPES
It is an interesting and heartfelt inscription.
I badly needed a poo, sorry JJ, I know you would disapprove of sticky sticks on the ‘rudge’ but I was desperate, so had to go, just as I found a discreet little hedgerow area set well back off the path to let loose a couple came walking past and started waving at me. I grimaced at them in a very unfriendly manner and tried waving them on, but they continued grinning at me and waving, until I snarled at them to walk on by, the penny finally dropped and they moved on!
With regard to poos we had been using a trowel to dig poo holes around camp, etc. for anyone who is interested in such things, its always good to try and bury it if you can, Jinny brought along the poo trowel, below is an image of her with it:)
Beth and I continued on to the end of the track where the road crosses it, Kelly and Ross arrived to join us for this part of the walk across to Waylands Smithy, Ross brought his wolf dog called Mione along.
We had a quick Codge stop and another walker joined us, a friend of Jinnys called Hago,a truly, lovely gem of a bloke; I liked him instantly and walked with him for a while enjoying his company.
Agga had his hand bandaged up from an operation and unfortunately later in the walk he tripped and fell, bursting his stitches and had to have his hand re-stitched and bandaged up again.
The sun shone on, we stopped very briefly at a hut where a friend of ours, Andrew, lives up on the hill, literally next to the track, he gave me a beer to swill down more pain killers which i took gratefully but later gave the rest of it to Ross as I don’t really like beer that much and it was a super large can of the stuff, but it was good at the time.
I walked with Ross and Kelly for a bit and it was great to have some banter with them, Kelly had flown specially over from Inverness in Scotland to join us on the walk and it was great to see her. I later had to walk on ahead as I found that when tired its much easier to go at your own pace, if you try to walk faster or slower it will only make you feel more tired, your own pace is the best way to walk at any time of you can.
I walked past an area that the locals call The Devils Punch Bowl, a huge glacial dip with a small pocket of trees at the top far corner and a single track leading down past a farm to the small village of Letcombe Bassett. It was good to recognise little areas such as this and I knew I was nearing White Horse Hill.
James’ brother sent me a message to say he was coming to the party for James that night, which I was very pleased with and Doctor Simon and Smash, two people who I am very fond of and rarely get to see. The idea for this day was to camp at Wayland Smithy and have a party there to celebrate James’ birthday.
My ankle was giving me a lot of pain even with the pain killers and I was keen to get this part of the walk done so that I could rest for the evening, the chalk/mud path seemed to go on forever, mile after mile after mile, yet the views were so spectacular that it was a pleasure to walk it, even in pain.
I passed the side mound that is White Horse Hill, but did not stop to deviate up to the hill, but instead continued on along the Ridgeway path towards my destination of the Long Barrow Waylands Smithy.
I caught up with Jinny and Hago and we reached the sign for Wayland Smithy and walked down the track and into the woods opposite, there were our tents up and ready, thank you Codge and Ginger Ian, bless you both for doing that for I was dog tired at this point.
Hago had tripped and split the stitches in his hand open, it must have hurt like hell, yet he was there smiling with us the next day ready to continue on with the walk; impressive, steely determination I call it.
Wayland Smithy is a Neolithic Long Barrow built approximately 2800BC and was used by affluent families as a burial place. The name originated from a couple of thousand years after it was constructed and was named after the Saxon God of Smiths “Wayland” and legend has it that the Wayland Saxon Blacksmith made shoes for the Uffington White Horse and that his ghostly spirit will shoe your horse for you if you leave it overnight at the Sacred area with some coins.
Here is a piece that James posted in 2007 of an extract from ‘Berkshire’ by Harold Peake, concerning the first dig at Waylands:
‘… it was not until 1919 that any scientific exploration of it was undertaken. This exploration was conducted by Mr Reginald Smith and Mr C R Peers, with a number of Berkshire Colleagues, in July 1919 and June 1920. Among the interesting things that they found were two iron currency bars, dating from the Early Iron Age, dug up from the foot of the stone upon which it had been customary to place the groat.
The chamber has always been known to consist of a central passage, with a square chamber on either side and one at the end. The end slab has every appearance of having been a roofing slab that has slipped down behind two side stones at the end of this chamber, but no steps have been taken to ascertain whether the passage continued beyond it. The most interesting discovery made was that the sides of the barrow had been supported by dry walling of large Sarsen stones set with a decided ramp. Remains of eight skeletons were found in the chambers, but in a bad state of preservation, while a burial in a crouched position was found just outside on the west. In spite of a careful search no grave furniture was found.’
People had already arrived and started setting up their tents for the party, it was about 18:30 and the sun streamed a beautiful orange through the trees, I slipped quietly away out of the woods and up the path to Waylands Smithy where I curled up on top of the Long Barrow and lay there in the sun alone with my thoughts.
James posted some of his thoughts and theories on the stones in 2003 here is a short extract:
Female and Male stones?
The huge Sarsens that guard the front of the tomb are four in number. Two other original large stones are missing. Are they in any particular shape? I have always looked at the lozenge (or diamond) shaped stones as female (think hips!) and the thinner more upright stones as male (think phallus!). This appears to be the case at Waylands Smithy (look at some of the piccies). I think the missing one on the left hand side was male and the missing one on the right hand side middle was female.
The avenue at Avebury sometimes leads me to a similar conclusion with male and female stones.
I felt peaceful here and enjoyed the sunshine streaming through the surrounding trees along with the sound of the leaves in the breeze, it was idyllic and I can see why James loved it here so much. Kelly came and sat with me, she knew where I would be and we were joined by Ross and later Jules and Scoops with his Mead and ancient long horn to drink it from, we drank much of it.
Mead is an ancient alcoholic brew of honey and water often referred to as honey Wine and is said to have been brewed since 7000BC, it is a very delicious and alluring drink and also a deceptively strong one!
Scoops says he has had the mead horn for 18 years and it has only ever been used for drinking mead from! The mead Horn is an ancient form of drinking vessel and much like the wassail cup is used for communal sharing of a celebration drink, the first and last drops are always shared with the goddess and the dead as a sign of respect.
Later more people arrived including Vicki, Roger, Liz, Tiff, James sister Geri, Mikey, etc. it was brilliant to see them all and after more meade and some spicy pasta with Simon and Mike, we lit the woods with tealights and some lanterns, then let off 10 fire lanterns into the sky, to mark the night.
I really should have gone to bed and rested, but with the alcohol my ankle felt better and so I stayed up by the camp fire listening to Paul Venners 80’s music vs Simons dreadful phone metal music and had a pointless ongoing drunken debate with Mike until 03:30am.
Day 4 – 10th June 2012
Wayland Smithy to Overton Hill, Avebury 22 miles – 9 hours walking
This last section started at Waylands Smithy and passed through: Ashbury Hill Road B4000, Charlbury Hill, Liddington Castle, Round Hill Downs, Ogbourne St. George, Smeathes Ridge, Barbury Castle, Hackpen Hill, Minor Road, Fyfield Down and then down to Overton Hill Sign the end of the Ridgeway or the beginning, depending on which way you decide to walk it.
Up at 05:30am……why??? I do not know! Tidied up camp, every bit of rubbish I could find was tidied away as James detested anyone leaving rubbish up there and rightly so.
It was nice that early morning, Ginger Ian was awake and up too, looking bleary eyed but only because we kept him and the others awake all night, I did feel a bit bad about that.
My ankle did not hurt at all, neither did the blisters, in fact considering I should have been really tired and hung over I felt remarkably good, so much so that I ran along a straight part of the woods and enjoyed the early morning sunshine before the rest of camp got up.
PJ, Kelsey, Jo Jo and Sue arrived that morning with breakfast for us, vegetarian sausages for me and meat ones for the others, how lovely that they did this for us, Codge then arrived like a Sergeant Major shouting “Wakey wakey you ‘orrible lot’ to those still in their tents and told us all to bugger off and get walking, which we duly did.
I had started walking optimistically with no pain when no sooner had I gone a few yards up the track and the pain came flooding back into my ankle and feet again, it was a burden and held me back, slowing me down from the rest of the group.
Still I was not going to stop as I had to get to Overton Hill and finish the walk, there was a long section of the walk along the road and then over the motorway and I could see the others getting more ahead of me, separated by our differing speeds of walking.
Then it was through a gate and up a very steep hill, I caught up with Julie and we two walked together until our lovely Hago caught up with us and kept us going by telling stories and jokes, he could see we were both struggling, what a star. At the next Codge stop, both Codge and Aaron hugged Julie and I to keep us going and told us to walk on, we continued on, but by then the pain was bad for both of us.
The other walkers had headed to the Red Lion pub at Avebury and they had done extremely well walking at a great pace, I was stubbornly determined to get to Overton Hill even though the Red Lion is where many finish the walk as Overton Hill end is really just a sign by the roadside further on a couple of miles, but I wanted it.
The next section seemed very long and was again very hilly, we met some cyclists that we had seen the day before and overtaken twice, they must have had long stops, it had taken them 3 days also to get to the point that we had got to.
We walked the section through Barbury Castle, an ancient Iron age Hill Fort, I really liked this area and would like to go back and spend some time there, it had a very peaceful atmosphere to it with wild flowers decorating the area.
Barbury Castle is an 11 acre area surrounded by deep ditches and a huge dip where the entrance used to be, the Ridgeway path runs directly through the middle of it and it is a strange feeling to be walking through such an ancient place.
It was named Barbury after ‘Bera’ the Saxon chief who ruled the castle in approx AD550 and was originated from an old English name and many, many years later allied troops took up position there during the Second World War, as it formed a natural sheltered area for them.
On we walked, there were few people in this area, we must have only passed one person after Barbury Castle, the fields looked very pretty laced with wild poppies, buttercups and cowslips.
The track followed a hilly area, but it was gentler now and although there were the ridgey grooves to walk over, at the sides of the track were grass tracks and it is better to walk on these for the feet.
I calculated that we had been walking almost 10 hours this day, stopping only a couple of times for no longer than 5 minutes, so it had been quite an endurance.
Eventually we saw Codge walking up towards us as he had promised he would walk with Julie and I for the very last bit to Overton Hill, it was down hill from now on and to the right of us we could see the Neolithic Stone Henge village of Avebury.
There were also individual stones at the side of the track that we passed, we were almost there, my ankle hurt considerably now and felt as though it was going to ‘snap’ at any
Codge walked in the middle of Julie and I and held our hands saying that he was proud of his girls, which was really touching and encouraged us to walk with pride to the last sign, we were joined for the last 10 minutes of the walk by Nick and Nina, some friends of mine who had been trying to locate where we were to hook up with us.
The track here is scattered with flint stones, black/grey silica minerals that are rock hard and were once used by our ancestors as axes and arrow heads as well as stonework in the buildings for the surrounding villages and towns.
Down we walked past some new age travellers who were juggling fire sticks and who asked us to join them, had I not been so utterly shattered I most likely would have done as they looked like decent folk and it would have been interesting to spend some time hanging out with them.
We walked down to the signs and that was the end of the Ridgeway, or the beginning of it depending on which way you decide to walk it from, the Overton Hill sign was my personal goal to reach. Then at last got into Codges’ car and enjoyed the drive to Avebury village Red Lion pub where the others were, they all came out to greet us and hugged us, which was lovely and then we went in and drank to our hearts content, well we had just walked a bloody long way!
We raised just over £4,500 for Sobell House in memory of our lovely James who chose his friends wisely, wise man that he was and loved by all who knew him, oh so much.
Gaunt trees, scant shelter
For the grass covered barrow
On wind caressed downland
Overllooking the vale
The ancient chalk highway
A stone’s throw away
Lies vacant, brooding;
Acknowledges whispers, inaudible echoes
Vibrations from invisible feet
Weathered sarsen monoliths
Stand to attention
Lichen encrusted overseers
Of a strange uneasy place
The pulse quickens, reactive sensation
An incorporeal feeling;
The heart of past centuries
Although hidden, still beats.
Poem by David Pike
For anyone interested in doing this route, I suggest you look at the official National Trust Ridgeway website which has advice on for the trail, water points, accommodation, etc.