Ridgeway 40 – part 1
First things first: yes, I crossed one OS Landranger map from left to right plus a quarter of another in one day, and that’s without even considering the distance added in the north-south direction. It took 78284 steps and 40 miles:
The Ridgeway is a route that was considered ancient already by the Anglo-Saxons. It is part of a long distance path network connecting the south west of England with the north east. Today The Ridgeway is a National Trail, which for the most part follows the original Ridgeway. The Reading Outdoor Group has been organising a 40 mile walk, covering almost half of The Ridgeway, since 1962.
Ridgeway 40 is by now a perfectly organised event complete with checkpoints, water, fruit, rice pudding, ambulances, YHA accommodation and meals, and coaches provided. The coaches take the participants to the start and they walk or run back to the hostel. Which is fine, except for the demoralising hour or so on the coach, when you have enough time to think that you will have all this distance to walk back. I was consoling myself by thinking that the coach surely made a big circle, but that was of course just wishful thinking.
We set off at 8:15 from the official start of The Ridgeway at Overton Hill. The place is close to Avebury with its standing stones and legends. The path stays mostly on hilltops, which means great views most of the time. And at the beginning of the walk one is still able to take in the views… The first checkpoint came after 7 miles, at the Iron Age hillfort called Barbury Castle on Barbury Hill. It was overcast and the wind was so cold I put on a fleece hat, which I had packed despite feeling a bit wimpy about it. At Barbury Hill, that changed to feeling quite smug at being able to outsmart the English weather for once. (The score so far is about even, but the weather scored heavily at the last archery practice, when it brought out the coldest wind since Christmas, specially designed to freeze archers to the marrow.)
The last photo above shows a view back to checkpoints 1 and 2 (if you click on it, you’ll get a larger view on Flickr, which shows the location of the checkpoints when you move the mouse over it).
We climbed Whitefield Hill, the steepest hill on the route, with its ancient earthworks, and continued to Liddington Hill, which is one of the possible sites of the battle of Mons Badonicus.
After Liddington Hill The Ridgeway crosses the M4, which slightly spoils the illusion of timelesness, but that’s about the only reminder of civilisation along the way. There are no villages directly on The Ridgeway until Streatley, 40 miles from its start.
Around mile 20 we spotted a bicyclist. We considered asking him to give us a lift, but decided there would not be room for three on the bicycle. The obvious solution was that the two of us would ride away and leave the bike for the bicyclist to pick up when he came there (he would surely thank us for giving him the chance to walk and stretch his legs), but by the time we worked the plan out, he was already away.
Just before checkpoint 4 we came to Wayland’s Smithy, a neolithic long barrow and home of Wayland the Smith, who not only shoes your horse if you leave it at the smithy overnight with a sixpence as payment, but is also said to have shod the White Horse of Uffington.
To be continued…