2nd April 2020
Cyclists and horse riders will be pleased to hear a new 3 year project will improve off-road cycling and horse riding opportunities around Wendover. The focus of the project is making The Ridgeway National Trail better cater for riders.
Footpath stretches of the Trail, such as the Trail footpath over Bacombe Hill near Wendover, are open only to walkers so the Ridgeway Partnership has secured a grant to enable the introduction of a riding route to run parallel to the Trail’s footpaths. The grant has been awarded by the Chilterns AONB Review Panel set up under the HS2 project.
Riding in the countryside is great for physical and mental health. Cycling appeals to people in all age groups and the Wendover area is already attractive to cyclists thanks to Wendover Woods and Aston Hill. There are also a number of horse stables in the area. Both cyclists and horse riders are looking for off-road routes to avoid roads busy with traffic and the countryside offers something different to more formal recreational settings such as Wendover Woods.
The Ridgeway Riding Route project will create a good quality off-road route that riders can follow confidently from Pulpit Hill near Princes Risborough to Wendover, and then on to Wendover Woods and further north to Chivery, near Tring. The Ridgeway Riding Route will offer more off-road riding miles, better quality surfaces and clear signage for riders. Local businesses around Wendover should benefit from visitors drawn into the area by the new riding opportunities.
This route will also link in with the cycle route network managed by Sustrans and, in future, will link to proposed riding routes extending further along The Ridgeway National Trail. It is an aspiration of the Ridgeway Partnership that riders will be able to ride off-road from Avebury in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire, just as walkers can do currently. They are inviting the public to provide information and views to shape this project through an online survey. Businesses in the area who are interested in catering for cyclists and horse riders are also invited to get in touch with the Ridgeway Officer.
The first phase, planned for early 2020 but subject to change as a result of Covid19 pandemic, is to improve the surfaces of rights of way at the bottom of Bacombe Hill, near Wendover. On these steep, chalk slopes, rain has eroded the bridleway to create a v-shaped gulley that is difficult to walk or ride along, and the chalk and clay surface becomes slippery when wet. Signs will be displayed at Bacombe Hill to keep the public informed.
Footnote: This project is one of the Additional Mitigation Projects funded by the AONB Review Panel set up under the HS2 project.
2nd April 2020
Covid19 has brought dramatic changes to how we can use and manage The Ridgeway
Government advice about going outdoors
At the time of writing this article, government advice requires us to stay at home to minimise the spread of the virus and help the NHS. On 27th March, the government released specific advice about how to stay safe when going outdoors to keep physically and mentally healthy www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-guidance-on-access-to-green-spaces:
We can expect further impacts and changes as the pandemic progresses – check government advice before going out to The Ridgeway: www.gov.uk/coronavirus.
Specific information about The Ridgeway
Before going out to the Trail, please note:
In these circumstances, many people’s routine visits to The Ridgeway are curtailed, whilst day trippers and holidaymakers are seeking to cancel their visits. Events along The Ridgeway have been cancelled or postponed, much to the disappointment of event participants raising money for charity and investing time and effort into training for their event. Some regular visitors who would usually drive to the Trail can no longer visit because non-essential travel is not permitted. Some dogs and their owners are missing their twice-a-day walks.
Positive outcomes for The Ridgeway
This situation is difficult and, unfortunately, sad. But there could be a silver lining; it may be that some of the changes forced upon us will prove positive in the longterm.
Having to minimise how much driving we do is making us reduce our carbon footprint and find what we need in the local area. People who might otherwise drive to The Ridgeway are walking or riding to The Ridgeway and benefiting from the exercise. People living locally to the Trail may be using the Trail more often or even be visiting The Ridgeway for the first time, including young people and families. With the closure of gyms, runners are discovering what the Trail has to offer and everyone is more generally linking The Ridgeway to keeping fit and feeling calmed. The onset of the restrictions coincided with spring, bringing nature into focus with blossom, spring flowers and birdsong along the Trail. The quietness of a society stuck indoors will enhance tranquillity too, perhaps making it easier to see and hear wildlife and worry less about traffic on the road crossings. This situation also makes us appreciate how we are one large community and understand the positive difference a friendly greeting on the Trail can make to someone feeling low. All this enhances our connection with nature and each other, and creates memories on the Trail. It makes us all realise we need to look after our environment and The Ridgeway specifically because it looks after us.
If this situation inspires you to help us care for The Ridgeway, it is simple to do so. Join the charity Friends of the Ridgeway for only £8 a year www.ridgewayfriends.org.uk/join-us/ and/or donate to one of our current projects such as a new bench: www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ridgeway/news/show-you-care-ridgeway
Keep well and enjoy your next visit to The Ridgeway, whenever that might be.
18th November 2019
To help us develop our Ridgeway Riding Route project, the Ridgeway Officer has opened an online survey inviting people to share their ideas.
There are 14 questions to gather information about what sorts of improvements could encourage people to enjoy more cycling and horse riding in the Ridgeway area and about people’s current use of the Trail. Views from landowners are also important since some may be able to offer to create connecting routes or upgrade footpaths to bridleways. Businesses may be interested in proposing new services for cyclists and horse riders, such as accommodation, cycle repair, refreshments, etc.
Particularly welcome are ideas as to how we can cater for riders where the Trail follows footpaths through the Chilterns, and this is addressed by the last question in the survey. Do you know any great riding routes in the following areas?
1. Stretch of Ridgeway along Grim’s Ditch and through Ewelme Park and Swyncombe Park (near Wallingford, Oxfordshire).
2. Lodge Hill stretch near Bledlow and Saunderton (near Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire).
3. Whiteleaf to Wendover stretch (near Princes Risborough and Wendover, Buckinghamshire).
4. Short footpath stretch past Chivery (near St Leonards, Buckinghamshire).
5. Stretch from Tring Park to Ivinghoe Beacon / Ashridge estate (near Tring, Hertfordshire).
The more people who take part in the survey, the more information we will have to help us shape a project that has lots of benefits for lots of people. Please spread the word about the survey! Thank you.
18th September 2019
Cyclists can enjoy riding the Trail from Avebury to Goring-on-Thames but, from Goring to Ivinghoe through the Chilterns, there are footpath stretches which are not legally open to cyclists.
Occasional Chilterns stretches of The Ridgeway offer pleasant off-road cycling and riding events for mountain bikes and XC bikes. Cycling off-road is a great way to escape road traffic and discover more miles of the countryside. Cycling events using The Ridgeway can also give you the ideas and confidence to try different routes, learning from the pros. Considerate cyclists are very welcome to enjoy The Ridgeway and we are working with Cycling UK to promote the ‘Be Nice, Say Hi’ campaign.
Around The Ridgeway there are some great routes and mountain bike centres, as illustrated by the list below. In addition, cyclists can look forward to improved provision in future years as the Ridgeway Riding Route is rolled out in the Chilterns, offering a signed route for cyclists to follow for over 40 miles between Goring and Ivinghoe.
However, The Ridgeway is not suitable for every type of cyclist and alternative places better suited to these cyclists are listed below. Trails through the countryside are shared spaces so everyone needs to ‘Be Nice, Say Hi’ and be considerate of others including walkers, horse riders, livestock etc as per the Countryside Code and Cycling UK’s code of practice, for example. (Did you know that cyclists are legally obliged to give way to walkers and horse riders on bridleways?). If you are a mountain biker after technical challenges such as fast downhills and lots of twists and turns, The Ridgeway will feel tame. Places dedicated to mountain biking are better than the Trail for racing, jumping and shouting because there is not the risk of conflict with livestock, dogs and other people using The Ridgeway. The surface of the Trail is also not suitable for road bikes and it is not appropriate to tarmac the Trail to make it so. Family groups and less fit cyclists may also find the surface difficult to manage and may be better to focus on off-road National Cycle Network routes managed by Sustrans, especially those following old railway lines like the Phoenix Trail near Princes Risborough.
Here are some tips to make the most of your outings on your bicycle:
Take part in a guided bike ride or challenge event along The Ridgeway to discover the best (and legal!) riding routes around the Trail. OTEC, TrailBreak and Evans Cycles organise events in the Chilterns, whilst other parts of the Trail outside the Chilterns are used by Swindon MTB club and Evans Cycles. There is even the Wallingford Festival of Cycling every summer! As the Ridgeway Riding Route gets rolled out, there is bound to be more bike events in the Chilterns. Check out the Trail’s event calendar and let us know of any off-road cycling events we can promote.
There are more thrills and challenges at dedicated mountain bike centres where you can race, jump and shout without worrying about upsetting walkers, livestock, landowners and other users you can come across along The Ridgeway. These centres offer trails designed for beginners (green trails), intermediate riders (blue) and advanced riders (red).
Circular bike rides in the Chilterns
There are numerous books, online blogs, leaflets and magazine articles describing great circular bike rides in the Chilterns; below is a sample for the Ridgeway area. The Ridgeway Partnership is currently working on creating a set of good quality circular rides linked to the Trail and will be promoting these soon! Riding off-road is a great way to avoid traffic – some Chilterns A and B roads and even narrow country lanes can be busy and fast with traffic, especially during weekday rush hour and weekends in good weather.
Family-friendly, easy routes linking to The Ridgeway
9th September 2019
History permeates The Ridgeway and this history is what a lot of people value most about the Trail. In some areas, The Ridgeway is an ‘archaeo-reserve’ because archaeology in adjacent fields has been damaged or lost through ploughing or development. The highlight of the Trail’s history is the World Heritage Site at the end of The Ridgeway near Avebury in Wiltshire – this landscape is internationally important for its archaeology.
As an historic routeway, work to repair or improve the surface of the Trail needs to take into account the archaeological interest. Some surfacing techniques which involve digging and levelling, for example, would damage or obscure archaeological features and artefacts at the surface and below the surface.
In the World Heritage Site, the Trail needs to be repaired because people are complaining that ruts caused by modern vehicles driving along the byway are making it difficult to walk, cycle or horse ride along The Ridgeway. A video has been made to show the damage along the Trail – click here to see the video.
Along The Ridgeway byway passing through the World Heritage Site, archaeologists have carried out surveys to confirm the locations of features such as Bronze Age field boundaries within the Trail corridor itself. A number of features cross the track and are not confined to the grass verge. This means repair work to address the ruts caused by modern vehicles driving along the Trail in the World Heritage Site must be done carefully, to ensure archaeology is conserved.
During September 2019, Wiltshire Council is managing a contractor to trial surface repair techniques in 4 trial areas along The Ridgeway in the World Heritage Site. With agreement from landowners, machinery will be taken along the edge of the fields adjacent to the Trail and a ‘long arm’ will reach over the Trail to deposit chalk precisely into the ruts created by modern vehicles. In-filling the ruts will create a surface that is easier for the public to pass along but retain the ‘lumps and bumps’ of historic field boundaries, pits, enclosures and ridge and furrow. The trial areas will be cordoned off, with notices on display to ask the public to pass around the trial areas to allow the material to settle into the ruts and grass to establish. There should also be no vehicles to damage the repair work since there is a Traffic Regulation Order in force which makes it illegal for the public to drive 4 wheel vehicles or motorbikes along The Ridgeway in this area – click here for details in a related news article.
These trials will inform future work to repair ruts created by modern vehicles in a way which does not have a detrimental impact on archaeology. This future work includes repairs to the full extent of severe ruts in the World Heritage Site. The Friends of the Ridgeway welcome donations of any amount towards this important project – click here.
13th August 2019
Now, more than ever, is the time to show your support for The Ridgeway.
Unfortunately, the annual grant from central government to England’s National Trails was reduced by 5% this year and, with the current economic climate as it is, there is a risk of cuts in future. The Ridgeway grant this year is only £64,025*, making fundraising a critical activity for the Ridgeway Partnership and particularly for the delivery of large budget projects such as surface repairs in the World Heritage Site and the Ridgeway Riding Route in the Chilterns. We need tens of thousands of pounds simply to repair the surface of the Trail but we also aspire to manage the Trail for wildlife, provide information to visitors about the Ridgeway’s history and improve provision for cyclists and horse riders.
Each Trail needs to build local support amongst the public and local businesses. This compliments the work of the ‘family’ of National Trails to strengthen support amongst Westminster politicians and government departments.
You can make a difference by joining as a member of ‘Friends of the Ridgeway’, a charity established in 1982. It only costs £8 a year to be a member, it is easy to join online and the charity will campaign to preserve the National Trail on your behalf – see Friends of the Ridgeway website.
You may also be inspired to donate to some great Ridgeway projects listed below. There are more projects in the pipeline but these are our current projects. We rely on donations and project grants for these projects because our budget is so tight. Help make these projects happen by donating any amount to the Friends of the Ridgeway, stating your chosen project when you make the donation:
Donations do make a difference. This year’s improvements to the Trail surface near the Uffington White Horse were funded by donations raised by walking, running and cycling events held on The Ridgeway. Each year, events such as Dixons Carphone ‘Race to the Stones’ make a donation and demonstrate how people can enjoy the Trail and help the Trail at the same time.
Thank you to everyone who values and supports The Ridgeway – we need your support!
*Footnote: Much of the annual DEFRA grant covers salaries for the part-time Trail Officer, Volunteer Co-ordinator and Office Administrator. This means the tens of thousands of pounds required to repair the surface of the Trail in the World Heritage Site or to deliver the Ridgeway Riding Route project, for example, must be attracted through fundraising from various sources.
18th June 2019
This summer Bury Down is looking more colourful than previous years. There are blocks of flowers in the verges, including kidney vetch, ox-eye daisy and mignonette. Bees and other insects are visiting these flowers to enjoy their nectar.
These flower-rich blocks mark experimental plots set up last year by Chris Woodham, a PhD student from Oxford University. Chris is carrying out research into how linear routes open to the public can be managed for biodiversity. There are numerous plots in the verges and they are being managed differently to test different management scenarios. The most flower-rich plots are those where the grass and top layer of soil was removed and then sown with wildflower seeds.
Other plots were not sown with seeds but there is a greater diversity and increased number of flowering plants compared to the verge areas outside the experimental plots. Whilst it is early days, the research is suggesting that cutting and removing grass at Bury Down boosts biodiversity.
It is important that the plots are not disturbed and we hope the public (and their dogs) will not trample the plants or enter the plots. The plots are set back into the wide verges away from the wide, worn track so it is unlikely the public will disturb the experiment.
Over the next 2 years, Chris will be liaising with local farmers and landowners to explore how his findings could be applied in the wider landscape. This summer’s flowers have inspired The Ridgeway Partnership to look into how the Trail’s verges could be managed to create a buzzing, flower-rich strip extending along the length of the Trail like a colourful ribbon through the landscape.
Updates about the Oxford University research are detailed in the Ridgeway newsletter and regularly posted on Twitter under the hashtag #ConnectedRidgeway. Please contact the Ridgeway Officer or Chris Woodham if you would like to volunteer to help manage or survey the plots, donate money towards managing The Ridgeway’s verges or own/farm land along The Ridgeway.
12th June 2019
Walkers, cyclists and horse riders can now look forward to using The Ridgeway near the famous Uffington White Horse thanks to repairs carried out to the surface in March. These repairs were funded by Oxfordshire County Council and by donations from several organised events held along The Ridgeway in 2017 and 2018, including Dixons Carphone Warehouse ‘Race to the Stones’.
With years of erosion, the track was bare of grass and the exposed chalk bedrock was being washed smooth, making it very slippery when wet. The steep slope meant that water flowing downhill had cut channels into the surface. Chalk is particularly prone to water erosion because it is relatively soft and soluble and the different heights between the verge and the track in this location shows how much material can be lost over the years! A lot of people were diverting onto the verge to avoid the worn track, putting chalk grassland flowers such as common spotted orchid at risk of being trampled.
Limestone was brought in from quarries in Oxfordshire to fill in the gullied track and create a level surface. Contractors Aztec carried out the work, taking 5 days to complete and leaving the verge untouched. With kind weather and no vehicles passing over, the material is bedding down for the longterm. The before and after photos to the right show the improvements.
Thank you to the events donating towards this project – SENSE Ridgewalk, Ridgeway Rhino, Ridgeway Relay (Marlborough Running Club), CRUK Ridgeway Walk, Dixons Carphone Warehouse Race to the Stones, TRA Ridgeway Challenge 86, Wessex TREC, XNRG Druid’s Challenge, Centurion Autumn 100, Centurion Chiltern Wonderland, Cycle-tec MTB Marathon Wantage, Cycle Classics White Road Classic.
12th June 2019
It took 8 years but finally Bela Hatvany, aged 80, reached Overton Hill in April this year. Starting on Ivinghoe Beacon in October 2011, it has proven to be a test of commitment to complete the Trail’s 87 miles.
Most significantly, Bela was struck by pneumonia in 2018 and very nearly died. ‘It was a real victory to make it through to the finish line in his 80th year, with a 25km walk on the last 2 days!’, said his son, Sandor.
It was also an international effort because Bela now lives in France and his sons in the US. Why travel so far to go for a walk? Sandor replies, ‘My father was born in England so we like to come back but also the walking is much more open and unrestricted in the UK compared to the US. Years ago, as my father and I were walking in California and accidentally went astray, we were accosted by a helicopter and a loudspeaker telling us we were on private property and to get off immediately! Pretty sure nothing like that would happen on the Ridgeway… but the route is so incredibly well marked, it would be hard to stray too far.’
The Ridgeway also seemed an ideal choice for Bela because the terrain is relatively level and the hillforts and other historic features add interest. ‘You really feel the centuries connect as you walk’, said Sandor. ‘There were also stunning views stretching as far as the eye could see’.
Bela completed The Ridgeway over seven visits, with friends and family keeping him company. He explained, ‘All my life I have enjoyed walking with family and friends along the footpaths. Usually we take a train to a little station, walk, stop at a pub or eat a sandwich, walk, camp or stay at a B&B, walk etc. All the time we are enjoying each other’s company, talking and rejoicing in the extraordinary privilege of using this amazing network.’
12th June 2019
Cycling and horse riding is a great way to explore the countryside and get some exercise. However, cyclists and horse riders cannot use the full length of The Ridgeway National Trail because it follows 22 miles of footpath in the Chilterns. The Ridgeway Partnership wants to address this by creating a Ridgeway Riding Route in the Chilterns, following the example of the South Downs Way National Trail.
The public do not have a legal right to ride on public footpaths – it is trespass to do so without landowner permission. Our online map of the Trail shows the parts of the Trail where cyclists and horse riders can ride – click on the Cycling and Equestrian tabs. However, we have been aware for many years that cyclists are using the Trail’s footpaths and this is a sign there is demand for off-road cycling in the area, particularly where roads are busy.
The National Travel Survey carried out by the Department for Transport suggests that around 42% of the population owns a bicycle – that’s millions of people! British Cycling’s State of Cycling 2019 report discovered that two thirds of their 15,000 members were concerned about their safety on roads. Cycling UK and Open MTB carried out a survey in 2016 asking their supporters about off-road cycling and, of the 11,482 respondents, 52% said they ride on footpaths to avoid traffic danger. This survey also revealed 66% of rides were local (i.e. from home) and around 35% were interested in riding The Ridgeway specifically in future.
We are also seeing an increased interest in horse riding. The British Equestrian Trade Association’s National Equestrian Survey 2019 has revealed an increase in horse riding over the past five years. Rider numbers are at 3 million and there has been an increase in those regularly riding at least once a month.
In response to these observations, The Ridgeway Partnership has been working with the British Horse Society and Cycling UK to develop a ‘Ridgeway Riding Route’. The Ridgeway Partnership has an ambition to make it possible for cyclists and horseriders to enjoy a good quality route from Overton Hill near Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon near Tring, just as walkers do.
The Ridgeway Riding Route project will involve surveying routes around the footpath stretches of the National Trail in the Chilterns and talking to landowners along these routes. We will also talk to relevant businesses along the routes about how we can provide services to cyclists and horse riders and support the local economy, including cycle shops, riding stables and B&Bs. We will ensure the route connects up with existing off-road riding routes such as the Phoenix Trail (an off-road riding route between Princes Risborough and Thame) and the Grand Union Canal at Wendover and Tring. In some cases it will be straight-forward to install signage along connecting bridleways and provide cycle stands and hitching posts at resting places, but in other areas there may be a need to repair or upgrade surfaces and explore options to create new routes or upgrade footpaths to bridleway or restricted byway status. And we will need to fundraise too of course!
This will be a project that takes years to complete and will be realised in phases. The stretches of Trail footpath dictate distinct project areas:
If you would like to indicate your support for the project, share ideas on what may or may not work, volunteer to help, donate money or sponsor all or part of the project, please contact the Ridgeway Officer. We will soon have a questionnaire online to gather useful information and feedback from the public. Updates about the project will be provided in the Ridgeway newsletter and on the Ridgeway’s news webpages.
24th May 2019
UPDATE: ONLINE BOOKINGS ARE NO LONGER BEING TAKEN. ON SATURDAY 29TH JUNE IT IS POSSIBLE TO TURN UP ON THE DAY AND LOOK ROUND THE EXHIBITION FOR FREE. IT MAY BE POSSIBLE TO BUY TICKETS ON THE DOOR FOR TALKS AND WORKSHOPS, BUT THIS IS DEPENDENT ON SPACES BEING AVAILABLE.
Follow in the footsteps of famous artists, writers and photographers including Robert Macfarlane, Richard Jefferies, Eric Ravilious and Fay Godwin, by joining us for a day of talks and workshops on Saturday 29th June 2019 at St Dunstan’s church in Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire.
Anna Dillon, landscape painter, and James Crowden, published poet, will share their experiences of The Ridgeway and show us theirs and others’ work inspired by walks along the Trail and visits to related landmarks and places. Mike Pringle, from the Richard Jefferies museum, will focus on the great nature writer Jefferies who enjoyed The Ridgeway in the 19th century. After a BBQ lunch, there will be afternoon workshops at the church and on Whiteleaf Hill offering you the opportunity to explore outdoor photography, art journalling and poetry. Paul Mitchell (photographer), Jo Beal (artist and maker), James Crowden (writer) and Chris Kirkham (local historian) will be leading the workshops.
The 11th century church of St Dunstan’s makes an ideal setting for creative inspiration, with it’s deep history and artwork including painted Penn tiles on its floor. Beyond the church, there is rich material for the outdoor workshops. Monks Risborough is a historic village with thatched cottages lying at the foot of the Chiltern Hills marked by the Whiteleaf Cross (a chalk mark). Whiteleaf Hill is a nature reserve on the hills above the village, offering panoramic views across the vales and chalk grassland flowers.
A free entry exhibition of artwork inspired by The Ridgeway will be on show in the church hall throughout the day, illustrating how today’s artists respond to the Trail. Artworks, books and cards will be on sale.
Tickets must be booked in advance by completing the booking form attached below and making a payment of £10 per person via our online donation page: www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ridgeway/donate.
An event flyer, programme and booking form can be downloaded below.
The Ridgeway Partnership is hosting this event to raise awareness of The Ridgeway National Trail and to encourage people to visit the Trail to enjoy it and get creative too! We are thankful to the congregation and Reverend of St Dunstan’s for hosting us and hope the event will prove a great start to this year’s Princes Risborough town festival which runs from 29th June to 6th July.
26th April 2019
The Ridgeway through the World Heritage Site near Avebury will NOT open to the public driving cars and motorbikes this summer – usually people can drive on this part of the Trail from 1st May to 30th September. Wiltshire Council have organised a closure of this stretch of Byway Open to All Traffic to allow surface repair work to be carried out.
The closure affects The Ridgeway from Hackpen Hill to just north of the parking area adjacent to the A4 at Overton Hill (the Trail between the A4 northwards to the connecting byway Avebury 5 will be open for public access as usual). Wiltshire Council has produced a map showing the extent of the affected stretch and this map can be downloaded from this webpage – two green dots on the map mark the extent of The Ridgeway closed to vehicles.
Walkers, cyclists, horse riders and horse and carriage drivers are not affected by the closure at all – they can continue to use the route at all times.
Over the years, the wheels of motor vehicles have rutted the byway surface to such an extent that the Trail is difficult to use and archaeological features have suffered damage. The Trail Team regularly receive complaints about the surface in the World Heritage Site and have been working with Wiltshire Council and others over the years to monitor the condition of the surface and identify suitable repair techniques.
Notices of the Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) are out on display along the affected stretch of The Ridgeway to inform the public of the closure, including a map showing what part of The Ridgeway is closed to vehicles. Cars and motorbikes seen driving along this section of The Ridgeway this summer should be reported to the police for them to deal with – please do not confront the drivers.
For more information about this closure, see Wiltshire Council’s press release: www.wiltshire.gov.uk/news/articles/repair-works-to-ridgeway-national-trail
For more information about driving cars or motorbikes or other mechanically propelled vehicles on The Ridgeway within and beyond the World Heritage Site, please see news article dated 18th April 2019.
18th April 2019
Some people may remember the days, over ten years ago, when The Ridgeway was a popular place to drive a car or motorbike ‘off-road’ – so much so that the Trail was churned to mud across its full width in some places.
These days, a visit to The Ridgeway is very different, with far fewer vehicles and also far less mud! This article provides an overview for the general public as to how the driving of cars and other vehicles is currently managed and what to do if you think someone is driving illegally on the Trail. The history and legislation is complicated but understanding where and when you can drive a car or motorbike on The Ridgeway these days is fortunately much easier to grasp.
In summary, the public can drive a car or motorbike on The Ridgeway only if it is a Byway Open to All Traffic AND there is no Traffic Regulation Order restricting this public right. There is not a public right to drive cars or motorbikes along The Ridgeway where it follows public footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways. When out on The Ridgeway, the public can refer to signage along the full length of the Trail to check their public access rights.
One of the most dramatic changes to The Ridgeway took place in 2006 when a change in the law brought about the immediate reclassification of former ‘Roads Used as Public Paths’ (RUPPs) to ‘Restricted Byways’. Restricted Byways are open to walkers, cyclists, horse riders and horses with carriages but not mechanically propelled vehicles (MPVs) such as 4x4s and motorbikes. This change of status affected the many miles of RUPPs along The Ridgeway in Oxfordshire, thus removing public rights to drive cars, motorbikes and other MPVs along those stretches of Trail.
Whilst traffic has reduced, it is still possible to come across cars, tractors and other vehicles on The Ridgeway. Firstly, landowners have private rights which are separate from legislative arrangements for public rights. Farmers, for example, can drive their tractors along The Ridgeway and landowners can give permission for people to drive over their land. Disabled people using mobility scooters or trampers can also legally ‘drive’ their trampers on footpaths and other rights of way.
It is also legal for anyone to drive mechanically propelled vehicles along Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs), as long as there are no Traffic Regulation Orders in force. BOATs are open to walkers, cyclists, horse riders, horses with carriages and mechanically propelled vehicles (MPVs). In Wiltshire much of The Ridgeway follows stretches of BOATs. There are minor stretches of BOAT in West Berkshire, Swindon and Buckinghamshire too, all under 5 miles, and none in Hertfordshire or Oxfordshire. However, all of The Ridgeway’s BOATs except a short stretch in Swindon Borough are covered by Traffic Regulation Orders put in force by the councils in 2004/5. Traffic Regulation Orders restrict public rights and, for The Ridgeway TRO specifically, the order makes it an offence to drive mechanically propelled vehicles on the Trail in the winter months when the surface is prone to getting churned up. In Wiltshire, the 2004 order allows access for mechanically propelled vehicles only between 1st May and 30th September. To make the public aware of the TRO arrangements, there are signs on display along The Ridgeway’s BOATs. The police also patrol the Trail to apprehend people who are illegally driving on The Ridgeway.
Thames Valley and Wiltshire police continue to address isolated incidents – there have been vehicle confiscations linked to illegal driving of motor-vehicles on the Trail, as recently as 2019.
Members of the public witnessing illegal activity should:
In response to these restrictions and other opportunities, organisations have formed to protect and promote the interests of people who want to take their cars and other mechanically propelled vehicles onto BOATs and other rights of way. The Trail Riders Fellowship is an example and, in 2005/6, the TRF made an application under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 requiring Oxfordshire County Council to investigate whether the law allowed for the Restricted Byway stretches of The Ridgeway to be revised to the status of Byways Open to All Traffic. A BOAT is ‘a highway over which the public have a right of way for vehicular and all other kinds of traffic, but one used mainly for the purposes for which footpaths and bridleways are used…’. The council carried out consultation in 2018 to gather available evidence for their investigation. The Ridgeway Officer provided information about how the Trail has been promoted to walkers, cyclists and horse riders since it was designated by the Secretary of State in 1972. The Friends of the Ridgeway and other partners on the Ridgeway Partnership also responded to the consultation.
In January 2019, Oxfordshire County Council’s Countryside Records Team and Legal Team determined that The Ridgeway in Oxfordshire is correctly recorded as a Restricted Byway. The council concluded that any public rights of way for MPVs were extinguished by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. The council’s report rejected a key point made in the TRF applications as follows: ‘In effect, NERCA [Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006] has drawn a line under the historic use of routes by horse drawn vehicles equating to mechanically propelled vehicles of today.’ For the public, this determination means it remains illegal to drive an MPV on the Trail in Oxfordshire unless you have a private right to do so. For more information about the decision, documents are available for inspection at the Council’s office at Countryside Records, County Hall, New Road, Oxford OX1 1ND – telephone 01865 810808 to make an appointment.
For anyone wanting to drive an MPV on The Ridgeway, it is important they make themselves familiar with how to do so legally. There are organisations offering advice and events, such as the Trail Riders Fellowship www.trf.org.uk for motorcyclists and GLASS www.glass-uk.org/ for 4×4 drivers.
Always plan ahead and think ‘Where and when?’ to ensure your use of The Ridgeway is legal. We will soon publish on this website a map showing the locations of BOAT stretches along the Trail, as well as details as to what dates any Traffic Regulation Orders apply to them. It is also important to check the Ridgeway’s news pages on this website as sometimes temporary or emergency closures are put in place and sometimes at short notice, e.g. wet ground conditions in May 2018 gave rise to an urgent closure order near Avebury. When out on the Trail, also check for signage on and around the Trail so you know you are driving in the right area.
Anybody legitimately using The Ridgeway in a mechanically propelled vehicle should be considerate of other users and adapt their driving style to suit the weather and surface conditions. There are ‘codes of conduct’ promoted in various locations across the country but a few key tips for driving on The Ridgeway where it is legal to do so include:
Past articles linked to this article are dated 1st March 2019 and 15th June 2018.
15th June 2018
The consultation closed on 20 March 2018 and Oxfordshire County Council will consider all the responses received to the consultation and whether the applications meet the first legal test: If motor vehicular rights were extinguished by the NERC Act 2006.
If OCC finds the rights were extinguished – they will reject the application. The applicants could appeal to the Secretary of State and the council’s decision could be overturned.
If OCC finds the rights were not extinguished – they would need to investigate a second test: If motor vehicular rights existed before 2006.
You can check the progress of an application by looking at the ‘Pending DMMO Case List’ which is updated monthly.
Note: Original article posted March 1st.
2nd May 2018
A byway section of The Ridgeway near Avebury is closed to cars and motorbikes until 21st May due to wet weather making the surface vulnerable to damage. Usually at this time of year, the public would be allowed to drive on The Ridgeway between Overton Hill and Hackpen Hill. The first day of May is when this stretch usually re-opens after being closed over the winter (1st October to 30th April) under a seasonal Traffic Regulation Order.
However, in the last week of April this year, there was mud and standing water still on the Trail. Along this stretch, the Trail is already difficult for walkers, cyclists and horse riders to use due to extensive wheel ruts, so the closure to vehicles protects against further damage. Protection of this stretch is also important for the earthworks and below-ground archaeology associated with the Trail where it passes through a World Heritage Site.
With the Trail in poor condition, Wiltshire Council have made it illegal for the public to drive cars or motorbikes along the stretch from Green Street to Hackpen Hill for the next three weeks. This initial closure may be extended by another 21 days if the council considers it necessary.
Notices and maps have been put up on The Ridgeway to inform the public about the closure and about an alternative route. Connecting byways have also been closed to vehicles so that drivers do not reach a dead-end at The Ridgeway. Emergency vehicles and landowners are allowed ‘essential’ access. Further details can be sought from Wiltshire Council: http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/news/articles/byway-closed-to-aid-ridgeway-recovery
Bridget Wayman, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for highways, said: “We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and would like to thank the public for their understanding and co-operation.”
Walkers, horse riders, cyclists and carriage drivers are not affected by this closure order and so can continue to use the Trail.