The Ridgeway

SW England, SE England & London, 1 day, 1 week, 1-2 week

The Ridgeway – 85 miles – 7-8 days – Ivinghoe Beacon to Avebury. Ride the crest of the North Wessex Downs and the Chiltern Hills – two of Britain’s greatest chalk escarpments – by following this National Trail from end to end. The Ridgeway is one of Britain’s oldest roads, connecting the sacred river Thames to the vast ritual complex of henges and circles of stone and wood at Avebury. Pilgrims following this ancient route walk in the footsteps of our far ancestors; meeting hill forts, sacred springs, barrows, and Roman temples, that look over the pretty villages, woods, and fields in the valleys below. Make an offering of coin to the dark smith Wayland at his Smithy; discover the story of the White Horse and the Dragon at Uffington Castle; and gaze across the wide downs into Aylesbury Vale at Ivinghoe Beacon. Enchantment and adventure are woven into the fabric of this week-long route. For on the high chalk, Britain’s Otherworld is close at hand.

Uffington Day Pilgrimage – 6 miles – 1 day. This is prime Ridgeway landscape, and a centre of prehistoric ritual practice. On this day, you will start at a great hill fort of festivity, Uffington Castle; then visit the place where George killed the Dragon, Dragon Hill; the hidden forest wells that feed Woolstone village; the Norman church of All Saints, Woolstone in the time of All Saints/Samhain; and the quaint ‘Vale of the White Horse’ church at Compton Beauchamp. Ascend the Ridgeway once again to visit one of the most magnificent long barrows in Britain, Waylands Smithy, forged by the great blacksmith Wayland, where we will remember our ancestors, as has been done before us in this place, especially at this time of year. The final traverse of the Ridgeway takes you back to where you started, Uffington Castle.

Highlighted holy place: Dragon Hill – ​The mound near Uffington where St George killed the dragon. From here you look out to the curvy wave-like landform of the steep banks of the Manger, enclosing a valley where the dragon once swooped down to drink from the Woolstone springs, and where it might have munched on a few sheep too. Humans need to drink too and once the dragon was gone the village of Woolstone also sprang up here.

Highlighted holy place: Wayland’s Smithy – Aligned with the Ridgeway, 6000 years old and ritualistically mysterious, Wayland’s Smithy is a prehistoric long barrow where people were once buried as prominently as possible. Wayland is a mythological blacksmith from a time when smithing was a particularly valuable craft. He was hamstrung by an overly proprietorial king who didn’t want him to work for anyone and was consigned to being a master blacksmith in the bowels of the earth making magical weapons. Touch the stones and enter the bowels of this monument – there is a small chamber at the entrance. Light a candle there, but remember to blow it out before you go.

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