Beyond Stonehenge

Ridgeway Path

Avebury marks the western terminus of the Ridgeway Path, a broad 80-mile trail along the chalk ridges at the edge of Salisbury Plain. In continuous use for at least 5000 years, it was probably established on higher ground than roads in England are today so that prehistoric travelers could steer clear of forests where bears and wolves roamed freely. Today, the surrounding countryside is vast and open, with only a few small stands of beech breaking the sweep of the well-tilled fields.

The best-known landmark along the route is undoubtedly the White Horse of Uffington, a 374-foot chalk figure gracefully cut into the turf at the top of Whitehorse Hill in Oxfordshire. Legends claiming to explain where the horse came from and why it's there are plentiful. One of the most consistently popular stories is that it represents the horse of St. George, patron saint of England, or possibly the dragon he famously slew. Recent studies, however, show evidence that the horse was cut in the late Bronze Age. Perhaps most perplexing is that the only way to get a good view of the entire White Horse is to see it from the air.

Nearby Wayland's Smithy is one of the Ridgeway's best-preserved Neolithic monuments, a long barrow originally constructed in 3700 BCE. The 21-foot stone tomb covered by earth is guarded at its southern end by four massive standing stones.

Access: The Ridgeway Path begins on Overton Hill at the end of the West Kennet Avenue stone rows in Avebury. To reach the White Horse of Uffington without walking the path, go to the National Trust's White Horse of Uffington parking lot, south off B4507 near Wantage. For more information on walking the Ridgeway Trail, contact the trail's managers.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 2 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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