The Ridgeway #6: Wantage to Liddington Hill

Finally I had an opportunity to complete my walk along the Ridgeway, which had been on hiatus since March. I had about two day's walking left to do, and decided to do it in one burst - two days back to back, with an overnight stay in the middle.

I started roughly where I had left the Ridgeway on the previous walk, just south of Wantage. I got dropped off where the A338 crosses the Ridgeway, just after midday. As hopefully the above photo attests I was delighted to finally be back on the trail after four months largely stuck indoors.

That familiar chalky track lay out before me, and thanks to it being a Monday afternoon, for much of today I seemed to have it all to myself. A few cyclists passed, but only a couple of other walkers.

The scenery, as on much of the Ridgeway, was not always the most scintillating, but it was pleasant enough. Similarly today's weather was a bit mixed, but there were occasional patches of blue sky and sunshine, and it's probably for the best at this time of year that it wasn't hot and sunny. Pretty good walking conditions overall.

A fair amount of floral interest along the way, with much of the route lined with what I think is Meadow Cranesbill, which apparently likes road verges and chalky soils, so is very much at home alongside the Ridgeway.

More scenery along the way. Again it's difficult to put my finger on why the scenery from the Ridgeway is less awe inspiring than, say, the South Downs Way. I assume it's an issue of relative elevation - much of the Ridgeway is in the 200-250m range, a fairly similar altitude to much of the South Downs Way. However the gradients involved are a lot less steep. So looking out from the Ridgeway you get less of a sense of being on a hilltop, and more of being on a plain - the landscape just feels a lot flatter, and more agricultural. As I said before though, it is pleasant enough, and I was delighted to be in the great outdoors regardless.

By about 1:30 my stomach was rumbling, and when I got to the first drinking water point of the day, a little way beyond Sparsholt Firs, I decided it would be a good place to take a break and cook some lunch. Particularly as it meant I wouldn't need to use any of the water I was carrying. In an attempt to keep my backpack as light as possible, I had bought a few dehydrated meals, and tried the first one of these here.

This particular meal - a vegan orzo bolognese - needed something like 15 minutes to soak after adding the boiling water, so I took advantage of that time to walk a little further along the track, and found a more scenic spot to sit and eat. It was actually quite tasty, although I think that is helped by the satisfaction of "cooking" using just a campstove, and the added pleasure of eating in the great outdoors.

My hunger sated, I set off again and there followed a particularly pleasant stretch of track - the sun had come out (thus I had donned my tweed cap) and the scabious flowers lining the route were being enjoyed by a rabble of butterflies. Not just the usual small tortoiseshells - which feel like the ones I see most often - but also peacock butterflies, which feel somewhat rarer to me. I managed to get a photo of each.

Somewhere around Rams Hill, perhaps thanks to a little bit of a climb, there were some nicer views to be had. There was what looked like some sort of steam train in the distance, or possibly just heritage carriages pulled by a diesel locomotive (I couldn't see much steam), but it's a bit hard to make out in the above photo. Anyway, it added to the pleasing vista.

A little further along, at Whitehorse Hill / Uffington Castle I once again fell foul of the fact you can't see hill carvings when you're too close up - just like the time I planned a route around Wilmington Long Man. I suppose I could have taken a detour, perhaps gone down the hill a bit to get a proper view, but I started to feel the first few spots of rain, and aware I still had quite a few miles ahead of me was keen to press on. So instead I satisfied myself with a quick visit to the tastefully chalky white trig point and a brief exploration of the ramparts of the hill fort before continuing on my way.

The next landmark along the trail is Wayland's Smithy. Thankfully that first sign of rain hadn't amounted to more than a few spots, and I was able to enjoy a decent break here in this very atmospheric spot without feeling pressured to move on. I had it all to myself for most of my time here, and it was very peaceful.

Beyond Wayland's Smithy the rain started again, and with a little more conviction - so I thought it would be prudent to put the poncho on. Thus the ridiculous photo above. I'd got this for practical reasons - it weighed half as much as my usual raincoat, it would cover my backpack as well, and would double as a ground sheet.

There was another drinking water point atop Idstone Hill, by the farm there. I considered stopping to make a cup of tea (I thought it best to boil any water from these, just to be doubly safe) but in the end decided to press on. It was fortunate that I had plenty of water with me, as far as I remember I didn't see another drinking water tap for the remainder of the route.

A couple of scenic farm gates, as the Ridgeway passed near Bishopstone.

I made a short detour from the Ridgeway to go to the top of  Charlbury Hill, which intrigued me because the summit was marked on the map as a little piece of common access land in the middle of a field. There's a trig point there, and some nice views, but other than that I couldn't find out much about it on the web - I thought perhaps it might have had some historic significance or something. Sometimes a hill is just a hill I suppose.

A little further along, the Ridgeway crosses over the M40. To do so, the route follows a road for a while, and not even one with particularly good pavements. So this was probably the least pleasant stretch of the Ridgeway that I walked on this trip. Still, it had to be done, and after this I would not encounter any significant roads all the way to Avebury.

Today's walk ended in the vicinity of Liddington Hill. I didn't actually go right to the summit - and slightly regret that now as it would have been the highest point of this trip, at 277 metres. However my mind lay on other things - dinner, and a bed for the night.

Dinner was another dehydrated meal, with water boiled on my BCB Fire Dragon campstove. This time I opted for the macaroni cheese, which I was initially sceptical about (dehydrated cheese...?) but it actually seems to work surprisingly well - the resulting cheese sauce really did taste like, well, cheese sauce. All the more appreciated for being tired and hungry of course.

I think in the end I did about 15 miles today, which from past experience seems to be the limit of what I can comfortably walk in a day without starting to suffer, but carrying about 10 or 11 kilos of backpack added considerably to the burden.


  1. Absolutely magical ..... that is real wild walking ..
    How much I would like to have been there ..... but I think my feet, and knees and hips etc. would have given up long before yours ..
    So back to vicarious participation in long distance paths.
    Congratulations John
    What an achievement....

    Lots of love


    1. You were there in spirit Dad! I think my feet would probably have been fine if I'd had a day's rest between the two days of walking. Or perhaps if I'd had better socks! I have since invested in a pair of supposedly superior socks in fact and am heading to the South Downs as I write this for a (much shorter) walk to test them out.


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