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.
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 two neighbouring hillforts: Coney and Lambert’s.
Enjoy the views from the summits of the forts before meandering across undulating fields to the village of Thorncombe. Airbnb is your best bet for accommodation in this tranquil village and there’s a small but wonderful community-run village shop in the centre.
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 Hill and the site of the Waddon Hill Roman fort; this area is rife with ancient history. Descend Gerard’s Hill into the pretty market town of Beaminster. The town has a good choice of accommodation options as well as pubs, takeaways and a couple of small supermarkets.
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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 views.
There are a couple of small villages on this hike but it’s mainly rural so take food with you for the duration. A final hill provides more far reaching views before you descend into Maiden Newton. This little town has pubs, small shops, accommodation options and a train station.
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 because it’s off the route, if you have time, I recommend a detour into Cerne Abbas to not only see its gorgeous buildings but also to marvel at the chalk Giant that’s carved into the hillside. Alternatively, you can hike south from the trail as it passes over the Giant’s head.
This stage finishes in Folly but if you want to stay overnight, hike south west to Plush for a pub and a hotel.
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 m) where you can enjoy lovely views.
Follow the trail across the ridge of Bulbarrow Hill to Woolland Hill viewpoint, with no elevation loss in between. The lane and then a track takes you north along the top of Bell Hill and into Blandford Forest. Descend through pretty mixed woodland to reach Shillingstone, where this stage ends. There’s a pub here and a range of private accommodation options. Alternatively, find more at Okeford Fitzpaine or Child Okeford.
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 begins at Hanford Farm and leads you steeply up to the hill’s Neolithic camp.
Admire the pastoral views and hike down to the east, into the village of Shroton to cross the River Iwerne. This is the only elevation truly lost, as you ascend to Preston Hill and stay up high. Spend half your time crossing fields and half your time rambling through coppices before passing through Ashmore and arriving in pretty Tollard Royal. The King John Inn lies in this charming village, offering delicious food and cosy rooms.
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 ramble.
Hike north from Tollard Royal and ascend to Berwick Down and the magnificent Win Hill; the highest point in the area and a fantastic viewpoint. Hike to Ludwell, which has a pub, and continue on tracks to Donhead St Andrew, another pub spot. Pretty copses give way to ponds and estate grounds around the Wardour Castles, both ruined and new.
This stage finishes at Newtown but if you’re looking to spend the night, hike east to Tisbury for plenty of accommodation and food options.
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 can enjoy pretty views on this route.
Leave Hindon and hike north into Great Ridge, a sprawling mixed woodland with a Roman road cutting through the centre. Forestry tracks and trails lead you out to the north onto Corton Down, to a trig point at 614 feet (187 m). Descend to the lovely Wylye Valley to reach Heytesbury, right on the riverside.
There’s a small selection of accommodation options here and a couple of pubs. For more options, catch the D1 into nearby Warminster.
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’s the word, and before you know it, you reach Scratchbury Hill, the site of a fort.
Hike past medieval strip lynchets (farming earthworks) and around Middle Hill before reaching Battlesbury, another hillfort. The trail leads you politely around the back of a training camp and up to Arn Hill Down. Continue along the range perimeter, admiring the sweeping views from hilltops, to reach the edge of Westbury where this stage ends.
Westbury is well served by shops, supermarkets and a few pubs. Accommodation is plentiful and there’s a mainline train station as well.
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 Heritage, before continuing on along the ridge above Bratton.
This hike stays relatively high, curving with the landscape and hugging the edge of the plateau. You mostly use tracks and empty lanes, eventually descending to West Lavington where this stage ends. Between this village and neighbouring Market Lavington, it’s not hard to find pubs, stores and accommodation.
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 of the flatter landscapes to the west. You pass a little plantation and descend north to Urchfont, a sweet village with a nature reserve and a pub.
The trail winds north past the village of Stert and around the base of Etchilhampton Hill, a conical, isolated summit. Hike onwards, into the heart of Devizes, a thriving Wiltshire town with plenty to explore. Accommodation, restaurants, pubs and supermarkets are all easy to find.
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 1999.
A track takes you over Roundway Hill and along a Roman Road before branching north to Oldbury hillfort. Admire the views then hike east towards Beckhampton, striking north just before and walking to the Adam and Eve stones, standing isolated in a field. Just past these lies Avebury stone circle, an extraordinary piece of ancient history.
Avebury itself is small and pretty, half residing within the ancient stones. Find a pub, stores and a variety of accommodation options in the immediate area.
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 Victoria.
Follow the ridgeline up to Barbury hillfort, enjoying the sweeping views all the way. The trail here is wide and pretty although exposed, so open to wind and rain. The fort is massive and well worth rambling about. A country park, it also has toilet facilities and a car park. Hike east, along Smeathe’s Ridge to finish the stage at Ogbourne St George. There are several accommodation choices here including an inn.
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 with visible ramparts.
This expedition stays relatively high throughout with little in the way of ascent or descent. The stage ends at the road into Ashbury, which you can reach easily and find the Rose & Crown Inn for food and accommodation.
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 in time.
Continue on, to Uffington Castle and the Uffington White Horse. Unlike the previous two white horses on the Greater Ridgeway, this one is prehistoric, dating back thousands of years. Hike to Rams Hill fort and then Segsbury fort. The stage ends at the road to Wantage, where you can find food and accommodation with ease.
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. Scutchamer Knob, an ancient meeting place, is another lovely site to visit with its intriguing earthworks. Tracks and lanes take you to Streatley and Goring-on-Thames, where this stage finishes. A lovely town, it’s not hard to find food and accommodation here.
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’s Ditch, a prehistoric bank, uphill to the east.
Head across Nuffield Common, where there’s a handily placed pub, and continue across undulating fields and through woodlands to Swyncombe. Accommodation is extremely sparse in this area so if you’re looking to overnight, plan in advance and look for options in Britwell Salome, Nuffield or Nettlebed.
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 the route as it loops south east to Lodge Hill and then north, into Princes Risborough. This Buckinghamshire market town is an excellent place to stop for the night with lots of accommodation options, pubs, restaurants and supermarkets.
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 Chequers estate; the 16th-century country home of the Prime Minister.
After admiring the driveway, hike north through rich woodland to Coombe Hill and its excellent viewpoint. Venture east through the vibrant Bacombe Hill nature reserve into Wendover and take Hale Lane due east. Wander through the gorgeous Tring Park to finish just outside the town. Stay in Wigginton or Tring itself and find pubs and restaurants in both.
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 this land for millennia.
The route leads you to Ivinghoe Beacon, where the Ridgeway part of this mammoth route ends and the Icknield Way takes over the show. The views from the beacon are exceptional in clear weather. Hike to Dagnall, which has a pub, and continue across fields around the perimeter of Whipsnade Zoo. Hike along the top of the wooded Dunstable Downs ridge and finish at Tring Road.
Wander into Dunstable proper to find plenty of food and accommodation options.