The Ridgeway

After mulling over which long-distance path to walk for my 2017 hiking holiday, I decided to revisit my first love, The Ridgeway.

The Ridgeway Path Sean Jennett (1)

HMSO The Ridgeway Path, Seán Jennett 1980

I first attempted to walk all of this path in 1981, failed, but then succeeded the following year. And if, as a newbie, I had found both experiences challenging, it also hooked me on a strange new pastime – trekking for mile after mile, for day after day, whatever the weather, whatever the state of my feet, however achy my back; taking photos; sometimes finishing, sometimes not; and then going home.

The Ridgeway Path Sean Jennett

HMSO The Ridgeway Path, Seán Jennett 1980

The Ridgeway runs for 87 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon near Tring, Hertfordshire to Overton Hill, near Avebury in Wiltshire. It also runs in the opposite direction.

The path is of two quite distinct halves, through two distinct Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: east of the Thames, the wooded, sometimes meandering section through the Chilterns AONB; and west of the Thames, a generally broad and direct chalk track along the crest of the North Wessex Downs AONB.

As a teenager, I lived in Harpenden and The Ridgeway, just a bus ride or two away, was my local long-distance footpath. In June 1981, having just sat our A-Levels, my girlfriend Jackie and I set out from Tring and ill-prepared, ill-equipped, we headed off to Avebury. My brother had recently tramped the path and I had been intrigued by his tales of wild-camping on an ancient byway, passing through iron-age hillforts and past neolithic burial mounds. And, by Jove, if he could do it …

The Walking Gardener

Me resting on The Ridgeway, at ease with curiously patched jeans. Kodachrome, June 1981

Barely out of school and new to distance walking and wild camping, I had no gear of my own. If I owned denim enough, I had to borrow my brother’s rucksack, his tent and his boots. The boots didn’t fit and I nicely overloaded the rucksack so that its external metal frame nicely rubbed the skin from my hips.

The Ridgeway 1981

Showing Jackie a good time. Kodachrome slide, 1981

Jackie and I stumbled along for three hot days, erecting the tent only as it grew dark – for fear of attracting the scary people. By the time we reached the half-way point, we could walk no more. My overriding memory of that first attempt is of us collapsed by a field gate, laughing hysterically at how much pain we were in, how many blisters we had, how impressively our feet could bleed and how much fun we weren’t having. We caught the train home from Goring.

Saunders Jetpacker II Tent

John after a cramped night in a tiny, shared tent. Kodachrome, 1982

But I can’t have been so very deterred for, the following May, I set out again from Tring with my friend John. I’d bought myself good walking boots, an excellent Karrimor Jaguar rucksack and a lightweight, for its time, tent. For those of you who care, the tent was and still is a Saunders Jetpacker II.

The Ridgeway 1982 (1)

Me with shiny new boots and shiny new rucksack. Kodachrome, 1982

This time, I finished the path in 4½ days

The Ridgeway 1982

John on his last day of The Ridgeway. He has never again walked a long-distance footpath. Kodachrome, 1982

but poor John, suffering from new-boot-blisters, gave up at Goring.

The Ridgeway

Jim resting on The Ridgeway, 1999

Fast forward seventeen years and I walked the path again with my partner Jim and dog Hobbes. Over a year, we walked it in two halves: Ivinghoe to Goring and Marlborough (near Avebury) to Goring.

Goring on Thames 1982

Goring on Thames. Kodachrome, 1982

Goring, Goring, always Goring.

Fast forward another eighteen years and I thought it time to revisit the path. I’ve walked many other paths since my first attempt of The Ridgeway at 18 and I wondered how it would compare to my current favourites.

Walking The Ridgeway

March 2017

Forgoing the pubs and B&B’s I usually stay in, I decided to wild camp – just for, you know, old time’s sake. Big mistake. Huge.

Packing my ancient Saunders tent and light-weight camping equipment borrowed from my nephew, I set out one sunny March morning from Overton Hill. I was full of beans, full of hope, full of delusion. Lightweight equipment or not, I managed just two days before the weight of my rucksack and fear of irreparable damage to my hips and knees sent me home from Wantage.

I didn’t even reach bloody Goring.

The Ridgeway Path

The Ridgeway Path, 2017

This is the second incomplete walk on The Walking Gardener – along with The Norfolk Coast Path – and I hope the last. I wanted to go back and complete The Ridgeway before writing up this account but with a house move last year, and a new life in Gloucestershire to embrace this year, I haven’t yet had the time. When I do, I’ll add the remainder of the walk to this account. As I now live not so very far from Wantage, I’m hoping that the rematch will be soon.

Wayland Smithy

Wayland Smithy – The Ridgeway, 2017

In the meantime, I will be publishing an account of the first two days of my walk:

Day 1 – Overton Hill to Liddington (coming very soon)

Day 2 – Liddington to Wantage (coming very soon after that)

14 thoughts on “The Ridgeway

  1. I am so looking forward to reading your tales of returns to old haunts. I’ve walked a couple of short stretches of the Ridgeway at the Wiltshire end where – if I were to be picky – I’d say that it does go on a bit. Big no to camping from me, bring on the ready made bed and the H&C running water.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, I don’t think that is being picky actually. I have to say I agree with you. As for hot water and a bed – well, what on earth was I thinking? If I was thinking at all. Camping indeed! I’ll try to get the next section written up soon, D

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great read, thanks! I’d like to do the Ridgeway which would be my 6th long trail. I used to have that Saunders tent too in the early 80’s till someone vandalised it. BUT the knees and hips bit absolutely chimed with me! – for exactly that reason I’ve had to give up on the big rucksack and camping en route. The last walk (Yorks Wolds Way) when I used hostels/BnB’s I sent the main bag ahead and will have to do that in future. (For northern routes TrailMagic are fantastic and reasonably priced.).

    So keep it coming – looking forward to the next bits!

    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alison.

      I haven’t yet used a baggage transfer service but yep, I think the time is imminent. Sorry to hear about the vandalisation of your Saunders though I had such an awful night in mine on this trip, that I wanted to vandalise it myself.

      I’ll check out TrailMagic – not a company I’ve heard of. Ta.

      D

      Like

      • No you wouldn’t have heard of TrailMagic because until earlier this year they weren’t on the Internet – I found them by chance phoning round walking hol co’s looking for someone who wasn’t going to charge me £240 for a week who shall be nameless….one of those co’s subcontract to them and gave me their phone number. I told them to get themselves onto the National Trails website and now I see they are also seeking franchisees so they must be doing well!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great read thank you. I was born and lived in Harpenden until l was 16.
    Never walked the Ridgeway but spent a lot of leisure time around “Tring,
    Wing and Ivinghoe, three little villages in a row”!
    Have recently walked the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire enjoying Wayland’s
    Smithy and views if Uffington white horse.
    Enjoy your next trek.

    Liked by 1 person

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