Long Distance Paths

The North Wessex Downs is home to a number of long-distance paths.

These provide great walking opportunities generally or you could challenge yourself for a day, a weekend, a week – or maybe even longer!

The Ridgeway National Trail

Starting from the World Heritage Site of Avebury, this ancient route follows a ridge of chalk hills in a north-easterly direction for 87 miles (139 km) to reach Ivinghoe Beacon, in the Chilterns, lying to the northwest of London.  Popularly known as ‘Britain’s oldest road’, The Ridgeway still follows the same route over the high ground used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers.  Today it is popular with walkers, runners, cyclists, horse riders and people using mobility scooters.

As it passes through the North Wessex Downs, The Ridgeway is a broad track and often quite a distance from villages or towns.  You’ll experience wide, open views of rolling chalk downland and find many archaeological monuments close to the Trail including Stone Age long barrows, Bronze Age round barrows, Iron Age forts and the figures of white horses cut into the chalk.

View on the National Trail site

The Thames Path National Trail

The Thames Path follows England’s best-known river for 184 miles (294 Km) as it meanders from its source in the Cotswolds through several rural counties and on into the heart of London.  It snakes its way along the north-eastern edge of the North Wessex Downs dipping in and out of neighbouring Chilterns AONB and easily accessible by public transport as the Great Western Rail line also takes a similar route.  It is a gentle Trail, able to be walked by people of all ages and abilities and very well way-marked.

The best months to visit are spring through to the end of autumn.  If you’re interested in wildlife, there are always a range of birds present on and around the river but they’re at their most active and visible during April and May whilst establishing territories and finding mates.  For wildflowers, visit from April to September; if insects such as butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies are the things you’d most like to see choose June to September.

View on the National Trail site

The White Horse Trail

This 90-mile route takes you through Pewsey, Marlborough, Broad Town, Cherhill, Devizes, Steeple Ashton, and Bratton providing great views of the eight white horses which are cut into the turf of the chalk hillsides of Wiltshire. Along the way the trail visits many other historic and prehistoric locations such as in and around Avebury. Why not do the walk in stages, ticking off the white horses one-by-one?

View on the LDWA site

The Lambourn Valley Way

Starting from the Berkshire Downs where The Ridgeway passes near the Uffington White Horse, the Way follows the valley of the River Lambourn for just over 20 miles to Newbury.  The route is well sign posted with waymark discs and fingerposts and takes in the picturesque villages of East Garston, Great Shefford and Boxford. Generally, this is an easy-going walk and well-connected by a bus route along much of it.

View on the LDWA site

Wayfarers Walk

This 70-mile, long-distance walking route is one of contrasts with a dramatic start, high on the chalk downs at Inkpen and finishing at sea-level at Emsworth Harbour. The route takes you over some of the finest chalk turf in Hampshire including Walbury Hill which, at 297m, is not only the highest chalk hill in the North Wessex Downs but also in England.

View on the Hampshire County Council site

The Test Way

Linking to the Wayfarers Walk, the Test Way also starts at the high point of Combe Gibbet and finishes at sea-level, this time at Eling on Southampton Water.  It follows the course of the River Test, Hampshire’s longest and finest chalk stream which is world-famous for trout fishing.

View on the Hampshire County Council site

Watership Down Trail

This 24-mile circular route explores the landscape immortalised in Richard Adams’ classic novel Watership Down.  Starting in Whitchurch, southern gateway to the North Wessex Downs, the trail takes you past ancient broad-leaf woodland, across wide sweeping downland and up to the high chalk ridge and the top of Watership Down itself.

View on Whitchurch.org

Pewsey Vale Circular Way

This 77-mile walking route takes in downland, woodland, farmland, country lanes, picturesque villages and the Kennet & Avon Canal. You will encounter ancient history and experience the wildness of the downland, some of which is a national nature reserve. Cyclists can also access this route.

There are some steep paths and the routes can be muddy (particularly in winter), but the Pewsey Vale Circular Way should suit most people who enjoy walking and the great British countryside.

More information on VisitPewseyVale.co.uk
Image credits: Thames Path at Streatley; White Horse Trail, Alton Barnes; Lambourn Valley Way Boxford; Wayfarers Walk at Ladle Hill, Ann Shepley; Test Way; Watership Down, Lord Carnarvon; The Wansdyke, Bluesky Images