Walking Britain’s Oldest Road

Cows and a tree

Finding oneself at a loss for things to do on a Bank Holiday can provoke some weird thoughts to pop into one’s head – ‘Why don’t I go for a ten mile walk in Hertfordshire?’ for example. Not something I’d ever thought before, but hey, why not? Ten miles in four or five hours, accounting for getting lost, photographic meandering and stopping to admire the view, is perfectly achievable!

And that’s precisely what I did. After a quick Google of walks near London and opting not to go for a walk in my home stomping ground of Kent, but instead strike out for a part of the country I’ve not really been to before, let along walked in – Hertfordshire and the Chilterns.

Decision made, route selected and lunch packed along with some snacks, camera and various layers to account for the ever-changeable British weather it was time for a good night’s sleep and to set alarms for a not too anti-social hour the following morning.

A quick Google told me that the nearest town was Tring and so I headed for Euston. London Midlands get you there in an hour, either slightly over, or slightly under, depending on the route. You leave London behind pretty quickly and are out into the rolling countryside, surrounded by farms, small villages, church spires and the odd tree-topped hill. Sights, that on a day like the one I had, remind you how lucky we are to live here.

The Ridgeway is handily signposted from Tring station and I clearly wasn’t the only person who had decided to do this walk. Along the road from the station to the turning marked with the ubiquitous ‘Public Footpath’ there was a trail of people kitted out in walking gear either clomping along the road or balancing precariously on the tiny grass verge.

I should be clear at this point, I really had no idea what the route would be like, or indeed exactly where it went. I wasn’t banking on being able to use Google Maps, or indeed any other internet based service to navigate myself there, so was pretty much just heading for a landmark and hoping that the signposts would be clear, or that the landscape would lend itself to easy navigation. Foolish perhaps, but in a country as small and as densely populated as England, you’re unlikely to be far from a friendly face willing to point the way.

After a short climb up the side of the ridge along a well trodden, bramble fringed path, the route levels out just below the crest of the ridge and travels parallel with the top of the ridge through the middle of what, in May, was a beautiful, lush and pleasantly cool forest. Ivy coated the floor, new shoots grew from fallen trees and the foliage was so thick the sun barely broke through except where an older tree had fallen leaving a sunny clearing that could just be glimpsed from the path.

Gap in forest
A fallen tree lets light in

Leaving the forest, the ridge climbs up a bit towards Ivinghoe Beacon where your only company is the skylark and some cows.

Cows and a tree
Cows, totally unphased by strange walkers

The views from the highest point around aren’t too shabby. It also makes spotting the route much easier!

View from Ivinghoe Beacon
View from Ivinghoe Beacon towards the White Lion on the Dunstable Downs

From here the route circles back along the floor of the valley to the right and then winds its way through more beautiful countryside, woods rife with wild garlic and across plenty of bucolic English farmland. Gamboling lambs not necessarily included, but likely.

Wild garlic in the woods
Wild garlic in the woods

I confess, not long after this I got a bit lost, but did eventually find my way back onto the path I meant to follow, but the detour did mean I had the very pleasant chance to chat to these two beauties owners.

Mustang restored by its owner
Mustang restored by its owner
Old Chevrolet pace car
Old Chevrolet pace car

After all that I wound my way through a sparse, but well covered forest on the edge of a National Trust property, before finding myself walking through the lovely village of Aldbury and back to Tring to catch the train home. Provincial train services being what they are, I had an hour to kill, but with my legs starting to feel the effects of walking ten miles (potentially more, accounting for ‘detours’), the station benches were a welcome respite.

Bucolic scenes in Hertfordshire
Bucolic scenes in Hertfordshire

As it turns out, the Ridgeway is in fact considered to be Britain’s oldest road and has been in use for over 5,000 years. You can read more about that, on it’s very own Wikipedia page. I confess I didn’t know this before I set out, but now that I do, I’d quite like to walk a bit more of it and get back to our neolithic roots.

Should you find yourself wanting to repeat the walk I did, and I really can’t recommend it enough, you can find more details of it and other walks on the really excellent We Go Places. I’d recommend taking a proper map and not relying on Google Maps or the map they include though as it doesn’t show much in the way of contours, or detail on the route, which is what I’m blaming for my getting lost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *