Once a popular route used since prehistoric times by shepherds and merchants, today The Ridgeway National Trail is traversed by hikers, families and their furry friends – and Londoners. With only a 40-minute train ride between the trail and London Euston station, this 87-mile route features some calf-burning hills, panoramic countryside scenery, and plenty of stops for ice cream and pints – enough to make city dwellers satisfied they have left the Big Smoke.
The Ridgeway is primarily situated between the Chilterns AONB and the North Wessex Downs AONB, and promises hikers sights of standing stones, castles and a giant white horse carved into the hillside along the route. We didn’t see any of those things, but we did spot a llama farm first thing that morning, which is the next best thing in my opinion.
Our path snaked between farmland, where red kites flew in search of their meal, and up into the Aldbury Nowers Nature Reserve. This stretch of meadow and woodland is home to a myriad of birdlife and wildflowers, making it a perfect stop to rest and watch the world go by.
The final portion of The Ridgeway trail is also the most dramatic, whereupon from leaving the shaded green tunnels of the nature reserve you abruptly arrive at the beginning of a ridge with multiple inclines to make you really work for your lunch.
Closely wooded fields open up onto large swathes of plains, and soon you’re hit with big skies and miles upon miles of rolling green fields. The area is still working farmland, and so we ended up sharing the remainder of our hike with grazing sheep and cows.
The last hill on the route is steep enough to induce leg wobbliness and frequent breaks, but with blackberries in season it also offers the perfect excuse to stop and practice your foraging skills.
The finishing line of The Ridgeway trail is Ivinghoe Beacon, which sits at the top of a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, and more intriguing, the remains of an Iron Age hillfort for those with a keen eye.
The Ridgeway National Trail is well-connected to public transport and close enough to London that it is possible to complete the entirety of the route in weekend segments for those weekend adventurers.
You can take a 40-minute train journey from London Euston station and disembark at Cheddington, Tring or Berkhamsted to gain access on the route. Return tickets cost £ 25-30 in advance (not including any railcards) and there is generally one train every hour.