The Ridgeway,


United Kingdom


- Princes Risborough to Wendover -


A walk past the British Prime Minister's country retreat and a British Anglo-Boer war Monument.

Second Bank Holiday weekend, Saturday 30th April, the day after the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. In 2003, having cycled 34 miles from Avebury to Wantage on a Saturday and a further 37 miles to Princess Risborough on a Sunday in June of 2003 with friends Andy and Nikke, the remaining 16 miles to Ivinghoe Beacon was covered on foot  a month or so later. Much of the detail has long since faded from memory, though I do recall certain sections of the route and the severe rutting of the chalk path brought on by its extensive usage. One incident I shall never forget occurred on the very first day, when Andy led us on a path which he believed to be a short cut, near Avebury. Before long, we were knee-deep in fields of nettles, for a distance of 3 miles or more, the sensation of which lasted for days thereafter. And so it was that I decided to revisit the Ridgeway or at least part of it, having consulted a Time Out book of 52 country walks within reach of London (by public transport). I still had a first edition copy, so I wouldn't have been surprised if some of the names of the pubs had altered, which was indeed the case. After mulling over the options open to me, I decided to drive down to Wendover in Buckinghamshire. Leaving my car at the railway station, I caught a train to Princes Risborough via Aylesbury on separate Chiltern Railways links running to and from London. Involving a number of detours en route, the walk back to Wendover covered all of 10 miles.



Setting off on the chalk path along Upper Icknield Way in Princes Risborough - fields of rape seed now in full bloom.


Now on the Ridgeway chalk path off Upper Icknield Way, approaching the Ridgeway summit.


View of the Whiteleaf Cross from the Ridgeway chalk path, approaching the Ridgeway summit.


View of Princes Risborough from the Ridgeway chalk path. The tree-lined avenue to the right is the continuation of Upper Icknield Way.


Views of Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire from Whiteleaf Hill, site a Neolithic Barrow over 5500 years old.

The Ridgeway is a ridgeway or ancient trackway described as Britain's oldest road. The section clearly identified as an ancient trackway extends from Wiltshire along the chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs to the River Thames at the Goring Gap, part of the Icknield Way which ran, not always on the ridge, from Salisbury Plain to East Anglia. The route was adapted and extended as a National Trail, created in 1972. The Ridgeway National Trail follows the ancient Ridgeway from Overton Hill, near Avebury, to Streatley, then follows footpaths and parts of the ancient Icknield Way through the Chilterns Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. The National Trail is 87 miles (139km) long. For at least 5000 years travellers have used the Ridgeway. Originally connected to the Dorset coast, the Ridgeway provided a reliable trading route to The Wash in Norfolk.

The high dry ground made travel easy and provided a measure of protection by giving traders a commanding view, warning against potential attacks. The Bronze Age saw the development of the White Horse along with the stone circle at Avebury. During the iron Age, inhabitants took advantage of the high ground by building hill forts along the Ridgeway to help defend the trading route. Following the collapse of Roman authority in Western Europe, Saxon and Viking invasions of Great Britain saw the Ridgeway used as a road for moving armies. In medieval times and later, the Ridgeway found use by drovers, moving their livestock from the West Country and Wales to markets in the Home Counties and London. 

The Ridgeway passes near many Neolithic, Iron Age, and Bronze Age sites including Avebury Circle, a stone circle similar to Stonehenge; Barbury Castle, Liddington Castle, Uffington Castle, Segsbury Castle, Pulpit Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon Hill, all Iron Age and Bronze Age hill forts; Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chieftain burial tomb; the Uffington White Horse, an ancient 400-foot (120 m) chalk horse carved into the hillside near Uffington Castle; and Grim’s Ditch, a 5-mile (8 km) section of earthwork near Mongewell created by Iron Age peoples as a possible demarcation line. Other points of interest include the Blowing Stone, and Victory Drive, the private drive of Chequers (the British Prime Minister's country retreat).

The Ridgeway's surface varies from chalk-rutted farm paths and green lanes (which have a propensity for becoming extremely muddy and pot-holed after rain) to small sections of metalled roads. Labelled a bridleway (shared with horses and bicycles) for much of its length, the Ridgeway also includes parts designated as byway which permits the use of motorised vehicles. Local restrictions along many byway sections limit the use of motorised vehicles to the summer months. 


The Plough pub in Lower Cadsden.



It was a calm, glorious though hazy summer's day and I set off along the chalk path along Upper Icknield Way in Princes Risborough. After crossing New Road near some sports fields, the Rideway path deviates to the right off the tree-lined Upper Icknield path and continues upwards towards the ridge. Whiteleaf Cross appears across a clearing to the left of the path and looking back, one is afforded a first view ofthe town from higher ground. Disappearing into a forest and reaching  and crossing Peter's Lane, the route continues through a car park and picnic spot towards Whiteleaf and Brush Hill Nature Reserve, with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Whiteleaf is also the site of a Neolithic barrow which had been excavated in the 1930's - a man had been buried there within a wooden mortuary house over 5500 years ago and covered by a mound of soil. Leaving the hill, the path drops steeply until one eventually reaches the Plough pub in Lower Cadsden, where a map on an erected signboard indicates one's precise location. Leaving the pub and crossing a road, the path continues through Grangelands and Pulpit Hill Nature Reserve. Reaching a crossroads, a detour down to Great Kimble was recommended by my guide book, backed up by a local couple I met en route. Within 800 metres I reached the A4010 Aylesbury Road. Turning right, I headed up the hill along the road a short distance, stopping off at the Bernard Arms pub for a cider. Brochures on display in the pub were advertising a South African Day 'braai' with live music on 14th May however, despite an infinity to the country of my birth, I left the pub a tad disappointed. The cider was flat! Just a bit further down the Aylesbury Road in Little Kimble lies the All Saints Church, with its medieval wall paintings, one of which depicts a knight in the Crusades bearing the St George's cross. The Church of England St Michaels church lies opposite the Bernard Arms in Great Kimble, displaying the most beautiful stained glass images.


Having emerged through the gate from Grangelands Nature Reserve (in picture), I detoured to the right to explore Great and Little Kimble.


The Bernard Arms pub in Great Kimble, apparently run by South Africans.


The Bernard Arms pub in Great Kimble - a South African connection?


The All Saints Church in Little Kimble.


Interior of the All Saints Church in Little Kimble.


13th and 14th Century medieval wall paintings within the All Saints Church in Little Kimble.


Great and Little Kimble is a civil parish in Wycombe district, Buckinghamshire, sitting at the foot of the Chiltern Hills. It is located to the south of Aylesbury. It incorporates the villages of Great Kimble, Little Kimble, Kimble Wick and Marsh and the hamlet of Smoky Row. One theory is that the name Kimble comes from Cymbeline (also known as Cunobelinus), who was King of the Catuvellauni, an ancient Celtic tribe of pre-Roman Britain. Earthworks found on Beacon Hill were the foundations of Cymbeline's Castle. Built during the reign of Cymbeline; coins bearing his name have been found in archaeological digs in the area. It is possibly this link that has led some authors to assume that the place is named after Cymbeline. Inside the medieval All Saints' Church in Little Kimble are many original wall paintings depicting scenes from the Bible and from English history. This is unusual for churches in this part of England, as these paintings were usually covered up during the Reformation. One image that has survived very clearly on the north wall of the nave is of a knight in the Crusades bearing the St George's cross.

One of the events that culminated in the outbreak of the English Civil War (1642-51) was reputed to have taken place in Saint Nicholas's church in Great Kimble. The manor of Great Kimble (along with manors at Kimble Wick and Marsh) had been possessions of the Hampden family since the 14th century. John Hampden is reported to have been in a parish meeting within the church itself when he refused to pay the ship tax that had been demanded of English parishes by King Charles I. The church is still in possession of a copy of the roll listing the freeholders who met there to affirm their opposition. However this claim is disputed as nearby Great Hampden has a stone cross erected on the spot where Hampden refused to pay the tax.


The Bernard Arms pub in Great Kimble.


St Nicholas Church (of England), Great Kimble.


Interior of St Nicholas Church (of England), Great Kimble.


Looking back on the return path from Great Kimble - the Ridgeway continues (right) through the the kissing gate towards Wendover.


On the Cradle footpath with views across Great Kimble Warren


On Whiteleaf Hill, which extends above the hamlet of Whiteleaf to the top of the scarp at 813 ft (248 m), is an oval Neolithic barrow (National Grid SP 822040), which was first excavated by Sir Lindsay Scott between 1934 and 1939, when the work was interrupted by the Second World War and the excavator died before he had had an opportunity to publish more than interim notes on his findings. A fuller report was published from his notes in 1954. The site was re-excavated from 2002 to 2006 by Oxford Archaeology (assisted by the Princes Risborough Countryside Group) and their report was published in 2007. There was a single burial within the barrow, a middle aged man between 5'6" and 5'9" in height, with a long and narrow skull (a type found in the Neolithic period), badly worn teeth and arthritic joints. The remains appeared to have been placed between two large vertical posts, 1.2 metres apart. Pottery shards and animal bones were found at the core of the mound and the excavators suggest that these came from ceremonial feasting when the mound was built. After the re-excavation the soil was replaced, following Sir Lindsay Scott's plans and drawings, so that the appearance of the barrow now corresponds with that existing at the start of excavations in 1934. Radio-carbon dating has shown that the death, the burial and the building of the mound probably all took place within the period 3,750-3,100 B.C., but at different times within that period. The ceremonial burial could have been 45–150 years after the death and the completion of the mound could be up to 200 years after that. Similar delays have been shown to have occurred at other sites. The status of the individual and the actual nature of the events are unknown, but he must have been a man of significance in local society.


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