THE Friends of The Ridgeway formed in 1983 to fight what members saw as a rising tide of four-by-four drivers and motorbikes churning up the green and ancient track.
After years of campaigning, the Government intervened in 2000, making most of the Ridgeway, which runs from Avebury in Wiltshire to near Dunstable, Bedfordshire, a restricted byway, protected from development and damaging activity.
The Friends now boasts 450 members. That includes 230 in Oxfordshire, most of whom live in the Vale of White Horse, which is named after the Ridgeway’s iconic White Horse Hill.
But now, the Friends say the younger generation need to take the torch to help preserve their heritage.
Friends secretary Jeff Goddard said: “The people who campaigned to save the Ridgeway when it was under threat in the ‘80s are getting older and now that it is not under threat, it is more difficult to persuade people to join us.
“There is a danger that it will be forgotten.
“National Trails make a huge contribution to community welfare – they are recreational facilities, and they generate tourism income.
Walkers on the Ridgeway can enjoy beautiful views across the Thames Valley and Oxfordshire
“We get inquiries from visitors overseas all the time who say they want to walk the Ridgeway, particularly long-distance walkers from the continent.”
Since the Government designated the Ridgeway, which is a National Trail, it has given Natural England a grant of about £65,000 a year towards the upkeep and promotion.
That is topped up to £80,000 a year by local highways authorities, which in Oxfordshire is the county council. However, Mr Goddard said Natural England has announced it wants to devolve responsibility to a Ridgeway partnership between interested groups.
Mr Goddard said: “They have asked us to come with a new structure which will more extensively engage with and involved stakeholders.”
Those stakeholders include local landowners, the two Areas Of Natural Beauty – the Chilterns Conservation Board and the North Wessex Downs – and the Ramblers’ Association.
Decisions on how to spend government money on managing the Ridgeway would be taken by the new partnership.
As a result, The Friends are trying to get as much support for their group to help them with the new task.
Wayland’s Smithy near White Horse Hill
The group is hoping to recruit new members and supporters at its Ridgeway Open Day, at the Court Hill centre near Wantage, on May 10. Visitors can enjoy the panoramic views across the Vale of the White Horse, day trips to White Horse Hill, Segsbury Castle Iron Age hill fort, and Weyland Smithy burial mound.
There will be nature trails, the chance to spot red kites, and meet owls and hawks on display.
Volunteers from The Friends of the Ridgeway – and some of the other organisations that care for the trail and the countryside – will be at The Court Hill Centre from 10.30am to 4pm.
The Barn Cafe at the centre provides light lunches and home-made cakes.
The new partnership scheme is still under discussion, and the Friends of the Ridgeway are expecting to hear the recommendations of a government consultation on the proposal in June.
- To get to Court Hill centre from Wantage, take the A338 south for two miles. Turn right into the centre just before the crest of Court Hill, signed for Letcombe Regis.
- For more information about the Friends, contact Mr Goddard on 0118 9478556 or email ridgeway firstname.lastname@example.org
TRACK THROUGH ANCIENT HISTORY
THE Ridgeway National Trail runs for 85 miles through Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire and is the central section of the ancient Ridgeway track which stretched across England from Dorset to Norfolk, also incorporating The Icknield Way.
The 4,000-year-old trade route was used by the builders of Avebury and Stonehenge stone circles to transport huge obelisks.
In prehistoric times, the chalk uplands offered easier and safer passage than the dense woodland of the vales and river valleys, particularly in winter.
It passes hill forts, like Segsbury Castle, burial barrows such as Wayland’s Smithy, near Wantage, and hill-figures like Uffington’s White Horse. Today it is believed that the hill forts were not primarily used for defensive purposes, but were community centres at which Iron Age tribes or clans gathered for worship, feasting and to trade livestock.
The Ridgeway is itself a scheduled ancient monument, England’s oldest surviving road and a much-loved National Trail Last year, Thames Valley Police launched Country Watch, a scheme to tackle a rising tide of rural criminality, including hare coursing popular in the Vale of White Horse.
In the last three years TVP has reduced overall offences, but rural crimes, including hare coursing and poaching, have increased.