By Sophie Gordon
Friday, 29 November 2019
The Ridgeway National Trail follows an ancient route that runs for 87 miles through the Chilterns and the North Wessex Downs. Currently only the western half is open to cyclists, but change is in the pipeline, as Cycling UK’s off-road campaigns officer Sophie Gordon explains.
Steeped in history, the Ridgeway is often described as Britain’s oldest road, used by prehistoric travellers and herders. Crossing some of England’s finest chalk downland and grassland, hills and valleys, and woodlands. The trail passes by archaeological wonders such as Stone Age long barrows, Iron Age forts, and the famous white horses cut into the chalk hillsides.
The western half of the route, from Avebury to Goring-on-Thames, uses rights of way open to cyclists, so you can pedal freely along. Past Goring however, there are sections of footpath, which cyclists don’t have a right to use. This frustrates the dream for many of being able to ride the whole length of the National Trail.
We know there is a demand for long-distance off-road trails that can be ridden from end to end.
Cycling UK’s Rides of Way survey of over 11,000 off-road riders found that almost a fifth had ridden the South Downs Way and 14% had ridden the Pennine Bridleway, the two National Trails that are fully open to cyclists.
12% of respondents had ridden the available half of the Ridgeway, and a further 35% said they want to in future.
Recognising this demand, Cycling UK, alongside British Horse Society (BHS), has been working closely with the Ridgeway Partnership to begin the process of developing a Ridgeway Riding Route.
The project involves surveying routes around the footpath stretches of the National Trail in the Chilterns and talking to landowners along these routes. There are also plans to install cycle parking and horse hitching posts at resting points, and it some places there may be a need to look at options to create new routes or upgrade footpaths to bridleway or restricted byway status.
Over the past couple of years, Cycling UK and BHS (working with the Local Access Forum for the Ridgeway) have been identifying and mapping possible alternative routes and researching their historic status. We have written to local authorities and Highways England regarding safety improvements on road crossing sections.
Now the Ridgeway Partnership wants to hear from riders. Do you know any great riding routes around the Chilterns half of the Ridgeway? What would encourage you, or friends and family, to enjoy more cycling on and around the Ridgeway? Take the survey.