Walk Distance: 13 km
Walk Duration: 4 hours
OS Map: OS Landranger Newbury & Wantage 174, OS Explorer Abingdon, Wantage & Vale of White Horse 170
Suitable for: Baby carriers, older children (buggies and little legs would enjoy the first stretch on the Ridgeway)
Walk features: Ridgeway National Trail, Great views, Oxfordshire County Top, Historic monuments, tea shop, pubs, hill challenge.
The White Horse of Uffington Ridgeway Circular walk is a fantastic half day’s hiking taking in great variety of scenery and numerous historic sites of interest, including of course the famous White Horse itself. The whole route is quite long and has challenging elements – not least the final ascent back to the Ridgeway and car park which involves a steady uphill climb and there are numerous stiles in the last part of the route. If you are looking for easy walking or somewhere to take a buggy or walk with little legs, then the first stretch on the Ridgeway to the White horse provides all the views and historic sites for a fraction of the effort. If however you are walking with a baby carrier or older children and feeling up for the challenge of the whole White Horse of Uffington circuit, you will be well rewarded for your efforts.
The walk begins from the Ridgeway at the car park at the top of Ashbury Hill, located on the B400 1km south from the village of Ashbury. Parking is free and the car park is actually on the Ridgeway path itself saving you any climbing at the start of the walk. If you are travelling by public transport there are buses from Swindon to Ashbury (No.47) although at time of writing these were around every 2 hours. They pass the car park on the route but unfortunately there is no scheduled stop for the Ridgeway so you will need to hop off at the Rose and Crown stop in Ashbury and walk the remaining 1km uphill to join the Ridgeway.
From the car park join the Ridgeway going east. The rough path is pretty good even after rain, although can get narrow for pushchair and buggy users in places due to ruts in the central part where the many feet and bicycle wheels have eroded the surface. The Ridgeway path takes you past some lovely long ranging views across open fields rolling away from the hilltop and beyond, whilst still offering some shade on sunny days from the trees and hedges that line the footpath edge.
1.2km along the Ridgeway brings you to the English Heritage managed Wayland’s Smithy, which is clearly marked to the left-hand side of the path. Wayland’s Smithy is a Neolithic long barrow and tomb with the first structure, a stone and timber box, built on the site between 3590 and 3555 BC and used to house the remains of fourteen people. This was later covered by a mound of chalk and earth and a second, larger barrow with a stone chamber was built over it sometime between 3460 and 3400 BC. The site is well worth a detour form the Ridgeway and older children will enjoy exploring history first-hand with the entrance to the barrow accessible to the public. This is also a lovely sheltered glade to sit and enjoy a picnic.
Moving on from Wayland’s Smithy, the Ridgeway path crosses a small lane before beginning the climb to the top of Whitehorse Hill and the site of Uffington Castle and the famous White Horse of Uffington. The hill is perfectly manageable with an all-terrain pushchair or baby in the backpack but it will have you reaching to take off that extra layer as you scale the final heights.
On reaching the top it is immediately obvious why this site was chosen to build such a large and impressive iron age fort, with views stretching in every direction as far as the eye can see. Uffington Castle is an impressive example of a large Iron Age fort, with the fort’s sizeable footprint still very much in evidence, including a large ditch running around the outside making perfect lurking territory for little ones wanting to recreate an ambush!
Turn left off the Ridgeway path to explore the castle at closer quarters and to take a breather at the trig point. You are 262m high here and at the highest point in Oxfordshire, with the views to prove it. Heading over towards the ridge side you can catch a glimpse of the white horse of Uffington although the view is actually better from a distance or best of all from the air. Don’t be surprised therefore to see people paragliding above you for a birds eye view! The White Horse of Uffington is a bronze-age figure carved in chalk into the hillside. There are various theories as to why the White Horse of Uffington was constructed but nobody knows for sure, with most theories being related to the nearby fort and possibility of it being religious or perhaps a military symbol. You can read more about the White Horse of Uffington here.
Below the White Horse of Uffington lies Dragon Hill – an odd flat-topped shaped hill where legend has it the patron saint of England, St George slew the fiery dragon. The tale goes that the blood from the slain dragon soaked into the ground, leaving a white scar that would remain forever barren. Some even say that the nearby horse is not actually a horse but a depiction of the dragon itself -a great tale!
When you have managed to drag little ones away from playing dragons and princesses or white horse warriors it’s time to rejoin the Ridgeway trail where you left it. Carry on the Ridgeway path, beginning a slow descent from the hilltop. Just before the ridge of trees there is a footpath marked turning off the main Ridgeway. Take this footpath and turn your back on the Ridgeway and head for the side of the hill, enjoying the views that open up in front of you. Follow the path through two sets of kissing gates before tackling the steep downhill section that leads you along the side of a field to the back of a house below. The path turns to the left and down some steps and there it joins the main road. Just next to where the path meets the road is Britchcombe Farm – home to both a campsite and, on weekends and bank holidays, a cream tea stop!
Cross over the road and take the footpath just opposite Britchcombe Farm, walking past the side of the campsite and into the field beyond. Look out for the bridge crossing the brook below on the left hand side, which you need to cross and turn right into the woods on the other side. Wander through the woods, keeping to the path (the sign says beware of adders – in honesty any snakes in the area are far more likely to have cleared off at the first vibration from footfall than waiting around to be stepped on). At the far end of the woods turn left and follow the well-trodden bridleway across the field, passing by the copse.You can just see Uffington away to your right and can hear the church bells ringing sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday.
Continue until you reach the small lane, which you cross over and pick up the footpath again on the other side. This whole second half of the White Horse walk is a delightful meander through lush fields and meadows of farmland and small homely villages – a complete contrast to the wide expanses of views and rugged terrain of the Ridgeway. One such village is Woolstone, which you will come to at the end of the footpath. When the path joins the road, turn left and wind your way into the village. Those in need of refreshment will welcome the sight of the charming White Horse Inn, which has been receiving guests since the 1500s. The White Horse Inn not only caters for the hungry and thirsty Ridgeway hikers but also the weary, offering six ensuite rooms for overnight walkers.
The White Horse of Uffington circular walk continues on past the pub and through the village on Marsh Way. As the road turns abrubtly round to the right you will see a small footpath leading straight on ahead of you at the bend. Take this path and continue onwards. The path leads onwards until coming to a stile. At the time of writing the landowner had several horses and a donkey in the field here, much to the delight of my daughter! This is also the point from which you begin to be able to see more of the illusive White Horse of Uffington on the hillside away to your left (or south). The path from here onwards continues on over a number of stiles to the small hamlet of Knighton, always with views of the White Horse to your left. Upon reaching the lane at the end of the path, cross over and rejoin the path on the other side. You are now on the D’Arcy Dalton Way – a long distance path named after Col. W.P.D’Arcy Dalton who worked tirelessly to campaign for rights of way in Oxfordshrie. The D’Arcy Dalton Way runs for 107 km joining four major paths that cross Oxfordshire: Oxford Canal Walk, Oxfordshire Way, Thames Path and the Ridgeway. Continue a small distance further, taking care on the stiles here as a couple of them were in poor condition at time of writing.
At the end of the track you will reach the outskirts of Compton Beauchamp, whose unusually flowery name is a legacy from the Beauchamp family who resided in the manor here in the 13th Century.. Turn right and slightly downhill on the road until you reach the impressive Beauchamp manor house. Just to the right hand side of the manor house is a pathway which is signposted to the church, which you should take. Continue on to the pretty little church, passing through the gate to the right of its entrance into the paddock beyond. This paddock was at time of writing home to yet more of the many horses that seem to be in residence in this part of the world, including a mare and foal, which caused more excitement for my baby who was at prime viewing height in her backpack! At the other end of the paddock the path leads you over another stile and then on through the fields beyond. The path on this section is clearly wayposted by discs on the end of long poles placed at each of the stiles on the route, which makes negotiating the otherwise lightly tracked grassy fields tricky.
Further along the scene changes again, with views opening up to the north. Continue on over the double stiled bridge and follow the hedgerow line on your lefthand side. The path brings you to the edge of a car park area on your left, whuch you should turn left into, following the signs for the D’Arcy Dalton Way. Wave goodbye to the level walking as the track now swings back towards the line of hills, at the top of which lies the Ridgeway, and gently begins the inevitable climb back uphill. The track leads you to the main road, where you should cross over. The official path lies to the right hand side and leads up through a leafy path through the hedges and undergrowth but was at the time of writing very overgrown and particularly difficult to negotiate with a baby in a rucksack on your back. The more sensible option if this is still the case, is to instead take the track to the left of the footpath which leads up on the side of the field but follows the same route. This is where the climb in earnest towards the Ridgeway begins although taken steadily it is not as steep as you are led to believe when looking up at the brow of the hill from the bottom.
Emerging from the line of hedges into fields yet again, turn around and enjoy the views which you have regained with your upwards climb. Keep on the track until it rejoins the Ridgeway path. Turn right onto the Ridgeway and enjoy the final stretch of path, retracing your earlier steps at the start if the walk on the short section back to the car park.
Map of Route:
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