The Ridgeway, July 13 Day 1, 10 miles
The Ridgeway, an 86 mile National Trail, wanders (as the name makes clear) along a ridge running between West Overton and Ivinghoe Beacon and is often called the “oldest trail” in England. Obviously any such designation is dubious at best, but it does focus any walker’s attention on what is clearly a deeply sedimented history (both textual and material). I commence this trek on a whim, finding myself in Oxford not long after finishing the Scottish National Trail and so, more or less, in good trekking condition (that remains to be seen after spending several weeks in Oxford more or less sitting on my ass). I’ve been teaching a seminar on walking literature, had made an adjustment to the syllabus that suddenly freed me of obligation from midday Wednesday until Sunday night. I doubt anyone would recommend walking the Ridgeway in 4 days (plus a little bit on first day) but, given the possibility of four 20 mile days (commonplace near the end of the SNT), I dove in— with virtually no planning or preparation.
The first bit of the Ridgeway is a celebration of ancient history, chalk, and flints. I took a train to Swindon and a bus to Avebury where I circled the stone circles circling the Red Lion pub. More like the standing stones on Orkney than Stonehenge, the stones set the tone for the weekend. I later found my way to West Overton, the official starting point of the national version of the Ridgeway. What struck me most was how apt the name is. I’ve hiked so many trails where my heart sinks if the path follows the top of the ridge. The ongoing up and down can be exhausting, and all the pathmakers need do is drop off the ridge a bit to level out. But the Wiltshire downs are slow, rolling hills where walking on the top is a joy. The surface is usually forgiving, the chalk crumbles though the flints do poke a bit.
My disorganization kept the question of accommodations open for the duration. I’ve brought my full kit, so I can wild camp if necessary, but for tonight I caught the bus at the village Ogbourne St. George down to Marlborough where I had a bunk room above a pub (The Bear) and a remarkable meal at Pino’s, a local Italian restaurant. A satisfying start to a new adventure.
T. Hugh Crawford