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Following Roman roads across England — hiking the Greater Ridgeway

weesam2010 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Following Roman roads across England — hiking the Greater Ridgeway

Hiking Collection by Kit P

24-55

days

3-6 h

/ day

382 mi

24,450 ft

24,225 ft

From the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site at Lyme Regis, through England’s varied countryside all the way to the North Sea at Hunstanton, the Greater Ridgeway is expansive and endlessly fascinating. At 362 miles (583 km) long, it’s no small undertaking but is a magnificent adventure.

Comprising four named trails — the Wessex Ridgeway, the National Ridgeway, the Icknield Way and the Peddars Way — I’ve broken the Greater Ridgeway into 33 stages. I’ve also added in interesting and worthy nearby highlights, extending the itinerary to 383 miles (616 km). Of course, you can not only undertake this adventure in the opposite direction, but also tackle it in more manageable chunks.

The hike starts at Lyme Regis, a stunning beachside town famous for the fossils embedded into its rocks and cliffs. This is the last time you can dip your toes in the sea until you reach the finish on Norfolk’s coast and there’s something particularly special about starting and ending by the sea.

The trail heads north into Dorset’s quaint and serene countryside, passing hillfort after hillfort and working its way to Avebury’s Neolithic stone circle. You skirt the North Wessex Downs, see the prehistoric chalk horse at Uffington and wend your way into the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

This first half of the Greater Ridgeway is undulating and sometimes outright hilly, providing gorgeous views of Southern England’s vibrant pastoral landscapes, woodlands and river valleys. As you hike north, the topography levels off in Suffolk and Norfolk. Sprawling waterways, old mills and intriguing birdlife give this region a new flavour.

The final stretch, from Thetford to Hunstanton, mostly travels in a straight line thanks to following the exact route of a Roman road. Here, you find heathland, plantations, ancient burial mounds and historic towns.

Reaching Hunstanton is a huge achievement and this Victorian seaside resort is a stunning location for a finale. On the edge of the North Sea, this lovely town lies on Norfolk’s phenomenal coastline and has a sandy beach, perfect for kicking off those hiking boots and going for a paddle.

While this is a significant expedition if you choose to do the entirety in one go, the landscape itself presents no real challenges. Hilly in places, the trail sticks largely to charming rural scenes, stopping by villages and towns. History is abundant on the trail, with Iron Age hillforts, burial mounds (tumuli), ancient earthworks, castles, mills and more churches than you can shake a walking pole at, every stage brings glimpses of England’s past.

You can hike any part of this path throughout the year, although some flatter sections in East Anglia can flood during winter. To get the most out of the wonderful countryside, I recommend hiking between late spring to early autumn.

Most stages start and end close to accommodation options and places where you can source dinner. However, some are more rural and might require deviating from the route or catching a bus to reach an suitable overnight stop. Additionally, the stages take around four to five hours of walking each, so you can continue on into the next stage if you’d prefer a longer day.

Lyme Regis is most easily reached by a combination of trains and buses. Take the train to Axminster (on the London Waterloo to Exeter line) and catch the X51 bus to Lyme Regis (15 minutes). At Hunstanton, take the number 34 or 35 bus to King’s Lynn (1 hour), and use the train station to reach Cambridge, London and further afield.

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Greater Ridgeway

369 mi

23,925 ft

23,900 ft

Last updated: November 16, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Lyme Regis to Thorncombe — Greater Ridgeway

    Intermediate
    04:33
    9.88 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,450 ft
    950 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This first stage begins on the coast at Lyme Regis, a bustling town known for its incredible amount of fossils. Hike up through the beautiful streets alongside the River Lim and head into the lovely countryside to the north east. Footpaths across fields lead you for much of this route before rising to

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:25
    9.61 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,125 ft
    1,300 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This undulating stage leaves Thorncombe to climb Blackdown Hill and Pilsdon Pen. The Pen is the second-highest point in Dorset and, like so many of the county’s high points, has an Iron Age hillfort at the top.

    

    Using field paths and tracks, the trail winds around the hilly landscape, skirting Lewesdon

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:15
    11.6 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,050 ft
    925 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Sure-footedness, sturdy shoes and alpine experience required.

    This stage leaves Beaminster via a northbound lane and ascends to Beaminster Down. After an initial ascent during the first 2 miles (3 km), this route maintains high ground throughout on an undulating journey, ending in Maiden Newton. As a result, there are plenty of opportunities for some sweeping farmland

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:04
    13.3 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,600 ft
    1,325 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    There are four significant hills on this hike with some steep sections and lots of wonderful vistas. Entirely rural, you ramble across Dorset’s rolling downs, find tiny historic villages tucked into valleys and hike along some excellent sections of ridgeline.

    

    Although I haven’t included it as a Highlight

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:21
    9.54 mi
    2.2 mph
    950 ft
    1,375 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Dorset’s countryside is effortlessly charming and this hike takes in more of its undulating fields, well-appointed hillforts and vibrant woodlands. Hike east from Folly, crossing a mixture of fields, commons and forest patches. Meandering north east, you reach Rawlsbury Camp hillfort at 800 feet (244

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:11
    11.5 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,250 ft
    1,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This hike has lots of opportunities for views thanks to being consistently high for the second half and hiking the great Hambledon Hill at the beginning. First, head east away from Shillingstone and cross the majestic River Stour as it snakes through the verdant landscape. Your ascent of Hambledon Hill

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:57
    10.8 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,325 ft
    1,100 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage has you wandering through the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A sweeping chalk plateau, the Chase is rich in early human heritage and Neolithic sites are everywhere. You’ll pass cross-dykes, ancient settlement sites, earthworks and tumuli on this

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:22
    12.2 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    1,175 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Hills, woodlands, villages and streams combine to make this jaunt through the West Wiltshire Downs rather lovely. Hike north west from Newton across field paths before turning north and letting tracks take you to the village of Hindon. Undulating like much of this section of the Greater Ridgeway, you

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:31
    10.2 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,050 ft
    725 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    While skirting the Salisbury Plain military ranges, this hike takes you on an impressive tour of the local hillforts, proving that the MOD are only the latest in military presence here. Begin in Heytesbury and walk up Cotley Hill to join the Imber Range Perimeter Path. Tumuli proliferate here, if that

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:28
    10.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    500 ft
    875 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first thing you come to on this wonderful perimeter hike of Salisbury Plain is the Westbury White Horse. Southern England’s chalk downs have numerous examples of white figures, mostly horses, and this is one of the finest, although not the oldest. Hike right up to the horse, now protected by English

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:37
    10.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    775 ft
    600 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first section of this hike continues skirting the Salisbury Plain military ranges before sauntering off north, to the edge of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You leave West Lavington to the south, reascend the ridgeline and hike along the wide trail, catching glorious views

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:34
    12.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    825 ft
    750 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This is a tremendously beautiful stage thanks to the stunning landscape, far-reaching views and phenomenal history. Leave lovely Devizes via a track to Roundway Farm and hike up a lane to see the Devizes White Horse. Unlike most of the other chalk figures in England, this is recent; it was carved in

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:33
    10.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    700 ft
    650 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage leaves the Wessex Ridgeway and takes up the Ridgeway trail, Britain’s oldest road. Leaving the incredible Avebury stone circle behind, you hike north soon into the walk, up to the Hackpen White Horse. One of the region’s many chalk horses, this was cut in the 19th century in honour of Queen

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:30
    10.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    600 ft
    575 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Working its way through the top of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this hike spends its time on open tracks, taking in gorgeous views of patchwork farmland. This is ancient land and historic settlements and earthworks abound. Liddington Castle is the clearest example, a hillfort

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    03:50
    8.93 mi
    2.3 mph
    525 ft
    475 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Another fairly level stage with good height for views, it explores more ancient history. Leave Ashbury and seek out Wayland’s Smithy, an extraordinary, 5,000-year-old Neolithic burial chamber. Today under the management of English Heritage, you can explore the chamber, taking a rather large leap back

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:13
    14.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    450 ft
    1,000 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The ridgeline trail continues on the edge of the North Wessex Downs, curving around with the hills from Wantage to the River Thames. The path continues as a wide, open track with gorgeous views to the north across flatter, patchwork land.

    

    Visit the Lord Wantage monument, standing proudly on the hilltop

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:06
    11.9 mi
    2.3 mph
    850 ft
    475 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This hike leaves behind the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and enters the Chilterns AONB. In short, it’s all gloriously beautiful. Leave Goring and follow the pretty Thames upriver, luxuriating in the flat terrain. Leave the peace of the river at Mongewell and follow Grim

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:10
    14.2 mi
    2.3 mph
    925 ft
    1,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Exploring the edge of the Chilterns, this hike begins by winding around the edge of Watlington, Shirburn and Beacon hills. Follow the track between the lakes at Chinnor, leaving the town to the north and then ascending through woodlands to the south.

    

    Hike along the curving flanks of Wain Hill and follow

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:56
    13.3 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,375 ft
    1,000 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This is a hilly stage but has some fantastic viewpoints to make it worth the thigh ache. Leave Princes Risborough and ascend to Brush Hill and Whiteleaf Hill nature reserves. Both are lovely and have sweeping views north. The trail undulates with little woodlands, fields and farms en route to pass the

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:17
    14.3 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,050 ft
    1,225 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage is the last in the Chilterns and has plenty of hills to remind you of where you are. Head to Tring station, crossing the Grand Union Canal, and head north through Aldbury Nowers woodland. An ancient bank cuts through here too, another Grim’s Ditch, to remind you that humans have been using

    by Kit P

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    33
  • Distance
    382 mi
  • Duration
    165:25 h
  • Elevation
    24,450 ft24,225 ft

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Following Roman roads across England — hiking the Greater Ridgeway

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