A Ridgeway Journey: an exhibition by landscape artist Anna Dillon
"These exhibitions represent one person’s ambition to capture the spirit of this beautiful, quintessentially English countryside in a series of 24 paintings inspired by the topography of that most ancient of tracks, The Ridgeway, steeped in history, fought over, threatened by population, housing, traffic, erosion, climate and agriculture; ever ch... continues...
Laura Barton, writing in the Guardian yesterday, reports on the route of the high-speed rail link that -
"At stake, too, is the preservation of the Ridgeway, Britain's oldest road — a pathway followed since prehistoric times by herdsmen, travellers and soldiers, running from Wiltshire, along the chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs... continues...
"BARRIERS installed along Britain's oldest road have helped cut poaching and hare-coursing, according to police.
"Oxfordshire County Council installed the temporary barriers between Hill Road, Lewknor and Hill Road, Watlington, on the Ridegway National Trail. And they have already seen results with a drop in crime... continues...
A newly renovated bunkhouse set in a converted skittle alley and attached
to a real ale pub has been leaving guests 'bowled over' in Wiltshire.
Recently opened YHA Clyffe Pypard is conveniently located right next to the Goddard Arms and has already welcomed a steady stream of visitors from all over the world.
Yesterday I walked the section of the Ridgeway between Hackpen Hill and Avebury (to the Polisher stone). Overcast and very windy, it felt very autumnal; was wonderful to be up there overlooking the Wiltshire downs. The hedgerows were laden with berries of many varieties which reinforced the autumnal feel.
Last time I was up here was in the winter and the surrounding fields were covered in mist so I missed the intriguing large sarsen stone that stands alone in the middle of a field to your left, walking towards Avebury. Not possible to get closer without climbing wire fencing so just had to look from a distance.
Was concerned to see part of the track heavily rutted and, coming back, three vechicles passed - one was towing some sort of people carrier that had people in it (they didn't look like farm workers).
Love this ancient trackway so much; it is always different according to the time of year and weather conditions - and always an intense experience.
Stretching for 85 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon in the north east to Overton Hill in the south west, the Ridgeway's midsection cuts a dashing white swathe through my patch: Oxfordshire. A particularly fine short section from the Uffington White Horse to Waylands Smithy allows the walker/cyclist/rider to experience the drama of Uffington Castle enroute to the great long barrow just a mile and a half away to the south west. The views over the big wide fields and patches of woodland of Uffington Down are breathtaking. Park at the 'official' car park for the White Horse and follow the signs to Waylands Smithy for a real treat....
Knowing that this is the oldest trackway in Europe in continuous use, when I walk on it, I love the sense of my feet echoing back down the track for millenia.
If you're into birding, this short section never fails to disappoint. Keep 'em peeled to see buzzard, brambling, greenfinch, yellowhammer, titmice (lots), kestrel, lark, plovers, thrushes, woodpeckers.
When wild west winds sweep o'er these Downlands free
And sway ripe cornfields 'neath a changing sky
They lash to dancing ev'ry storm-tossed tree
And shout and sing of ages long gone by -
We walk the Ridge, as did those skin-clad men
Who chipped the flint and worshipped each new day,
The Sun, Deliverer from night's terrors then,
Ere Roman legions tramped that windy way.
Where now wave toadflax and the scabious blue,
Where Pasque flowers nestle, as the heights begin
Of rounded hills lit with a rainbow hue: -
Once ran the hares before the battle's din.
Time was, when as the startled larks took wing,
The blowing-stone went sounding far and near,
As Saxon warriors rallied round a King,
Who saved his land, yet held Christ's Faith more dear.
Men saw his valour on the Field of Fame,
His great forgiving of a captive foe,
To whom, baptised into Christ's saving Name,
Was granted freedom, and a new life to know.
Men knew his zeal for learning and for law,
Culture and music, love of kith and kin,
But God alone his nightly vigils saw: -
Those prayers in suff'ring that Heaven's strength could win.
'Field of Fame' = Ethandune
'captive foe' = Guthrum and the Danish Leaders
All the hills are watching,
Awed and still:
Retreats the faint-heart Vale.
An angry, mighty sky
Piled all triumphant to the setting sun -
Lit mad in changing chaos:
Silver backed, then gilded.
Mottle-splashed with crimson...
Darkened depths, part broken,
By shafts of sunlight questing -
Molten vistas glistening
And portals passioned low
In ranks of terraced fire.
They drift, they fade..
New forms take shape -
With opal half-light intermingle...
Glare reflects a lustre
On the pale, dry headland mass
Of White Horse Hill.
A strange, tense calm -
Impending dusk alight with radiance:
A wild serenity.
In slow, rough accent:
"That ther' brings some weather, sna..."
A shepherd stays his sheep
Before the blaze.
June, at evening, on the White Horse Hills!
O, joy is overflowing, hope fulfilled,
For summer lures long days to lavish pride.
Lush her rising cornfields - rich the downs
That trail, deep rounded, far to failing east.
Hedgerows riot thick and countless starred;
Green slopes are swathed with blush of clover pink.
Beneath, past weighing elms, in soundless rest
A village clusters down its ancient street.
Distance silver, amber, stretches over;
Wide the Vale and far the furthest view.
Droop of sundown, musing, dwells the listless
Prospect lightly. Sheltered farms, half hid,
Yet lie outspread, and meadows lonely; woods
Apparelled darkly - straying byways lost
In gathered trees, and low-set fields struck gold
By myriad buttercups. Afloat the plain
Late scented breaths are stirred, and fitful murmurs.
Hint of tedded hay pervades the heights'
Rare potpourri. The listening air goes filled
With trilling, winged of larks, from all the hills;
In random field light-footed rabbits play
And cattle gaze in deep unthoughtfulness.
The Ridgeway Long Distance Footpath was officially opened at Coombe Hill, near Wendover on 27th September, 1973. It runs for 85 miles from Overton Hill in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, crossing the Thames at Goring Gap, and is marked along the way by sturdy oak signposts, low stone plinths and white painted 'acorn' waymarks. The trackways it follows were old before the Romans came, having been in continuous use since man first travelled across the face of Britain. Indeed, the Ridgeway is thought to be the oldest prehistoric track in the country.
Excerpt from the introduction of 'Walks Along the Ridgeway' by Elizabeth Cull and published in 1975.
The Vale was once a gem:
Far years speak beauty - make us long to know
Their ways - to treasure, prize,
As not the present, Can they be relived?
No, hardly now. And yet
Their joys survive - made yours, within these pages.
Come, let's seek them. Backward
Glance, and prove
What gracious days then shone.
This book recalls, alive, time past, sublime -
The massing of great elms,
Their shaded fields; deep thatch, men one with nature.
Roam with us these pages...
Find rich lands unspoilt - their paradise
Till now not sung, not known.
The Vale, seen still superb, awaits you here:
Oh, come with hope -
To all those, of every generation,
who made the Vale the gem it once was -
shared and tended by the men who lived there;
who worked it, loved it, and kept it unspoilt:
till modern change struck, and not caring,
betrayed its charm.
Long thousand years fly lost
Since Alfred gazed the Vale in moods as these -
Ago when wildboar ranged the marshy plain
Ere forest yielded: when, cut hoar, the Horse
Saw Saxon truce with Dane. Yet no more rapt
Hung vesper magic then than pauses now
In beauty hallowed timeless, unbetrayed:
For, God -
All ages waken when there falls
Of evening, spell-bound, so enchanted calm
The best example I know of.. [an] excellent sort of vitality in roads is the Ridgeway of the North Berkshire Downs. Join it at Streatley, the point where it crosses the Thames; at once it strikes you out and away from the habitable world in a splendid, purposeful manner, running along the highest ridge of the Downs a broad green ribbon of turf, with but a shade of difference from the neighbouring grass, yet distinct for all that.
No villages nor homesteads tempt it aside or modify its course for a yard; should you lose the track where it is blent with the bordering turf or merged in and obliterated by criss-cross paths, you have only to walk straight on, taking heed of no alternative to right or left; and in a minute 'tis with you again -- arisen out of the earth as it were. Or, if still not quite assured, lift you your eyes, and there it runs over the brow of the fronting hill. Where a railway crosses it, it disappears indeed -- hiding Alpheus-like, from the ignominy of rubble and brick-work; but a little way on it takes up the running again with the same quiet persistence.
Out on that almost trackless expanse of billowy Downs such a track is in some sort humanly companionable: it really seems to lead you by the hand.
A mere one thousand years ago,
King Alfred marched this crest of chalk
To fight the Danish foe,
And strained to see that very lark.
In this same Saxon blue.
Just two thousand years ago,
The feet of Rome stamped here and here
Upon this bouncing turf,
And glittering, ravenous conqueror’s eyes
Devoured these seemly, gentle hills.
From here, four thousand years ago,
The men of Bronze surveyed their works
Through eyes as wide as mine,
As wondrous Silbury, virgin white,
Bedazzled in it’s prime.
And here, six thousand years ago
Gazed Neolithic eyes
On wonders older still:
On tombs of Kennet, Avebury Henge
And ancient, ancient Windmill Hill.
Now they are gone, those mighty men,
Those Lords of all they saw,
And only I am left to walk
This high and winding lonely lane,
Whilst all around, on deep-etched hills,
Their proud, immortal marks remain.
What voice commands, what power compels
That such as they should go?
It is the same insistent call
As whispers in my ear:
There is a time for mortal men,
You may not linger here.
Perhaps, like mine, their spirits soared,
Above this magic land,
Perhaps they both rejoiced and cried
At beauty unconfined,
Perhaps this final earthly view
Blazed in dying eyes.
Perhaps that spark has never died,
And essences remain.
For see that joyous soaring lark
And hear it’s blissful cries.
It could not be more free than I,
Nor joyful nor fulfilled:
Perhaps no power, no time, no death
Can take me from these hills.
like a friend
I hated you at times
the paces you put me through
each time I go further and faster
so I always know how the pilgrims felt on their way
and the stones of Avebury and
These are stuck in the middle of a field south east of Alton Barnes and you wouldn't look twice at them normally. But the fact remains that these are the southernmost visible traces of this ancient route.
All you can see is some raised ridges in a field.
Just to the north you can actually join the Ridgeway for the first time (unless you feel like hopping into the field!) while walking through Alton Priors, at SU110622, though the official beginning of the Southern Ridgeway is signposted just north of the village, at the start of the climb up to Adam's Grave (SU110623).
This post appears as part of the blog post "Pilgrimage"