To the Ridgeway and beyond!
A few months ago new (then) member Mike Fry asked me if we ever drove The Ridgeway as he’d heard it was good and fancied giving it a go. As I’d already planned the next couple of trips I said I’d put it on the list for a future green road trip. It proved to be a great suggestion as I was able to plan a route starting at Barbury Castle, down The Ridgeway towards Avebury, around the north of Devizes towards Calne and then back towards Barbury again.
A few hours checking Wilts CC, Trailwise and Google Earth websites showed, with one exception, the route to be open for use by motorised vehicles, although the Ridgeway is subject to seasonal TRO from October to April.
As the planned day coincided with RIAT weekend I also thought about finding an alternative route to Barbury avoiding the A419 and, by chance, spotted a few Byways to try on the way there.
By the time our convoy of four (my 90, Mike Fry’s 90, Matt Hunt in RR Sport and new members Perry and Jasmine Perrott in their Freelander) left the RV traffic was already building up on the A419 with several miles of standing traffic so the alternative route payed off.
Our first green road was just south of Minety and ran for about 3.5km though woodland and farmland. Although slightly overgrown in places it had a generally firm surface with just a little mud and ruts in places. Nothing our little group couldn’t deal with and a nice warm-up for the main course.
The OS map, Wilts CC and Trailwise all show a byway about 1.5km long across farmland near the village of Brinkworth and I’d included this next on our route. The start of the track was easily found although there were 2 unlocked gates to be opened to get to the field. As we were passing through these the residents of the two adjacent cottages came out and politely explained in rural anglo-saxon that we “can’t go through there”. Taking them to just be ‘antis’ I was fully prepared to defend our lawful use of the road but with the words “you’ll soon be coming back” ringing in our ears we pushed on.
We should have listened! Indeed we “couldn’t go through there” as the track simply ran out after a few hundred metres, blocked by a narrow gate leading to dense scrubland with no sign a byway had ever existed. A serious error on maps and databases methinks! All we could do was make a quick turnabout and sheepish exit.
From here it was several miles on tarmac roads to our next target, climbing the first step up towards the downs at Clyffe Pypard (great name, like a Hollywood star of the 50s) to take a track into the village of Broad Hinton. This track started wide and firm surfaced but then narrowed with overhanging undergrowth, mud and shallow ruts in places. All of us got through without incident though.
Next on the list was a climb up the escarpment from Uffcott towards Barbury Castle, along the edge of Wroughton Airfield. The route shown on the ground is signposted as a byway but does vary from that shown on maps etc having been legitimately diverted to a parallel track. This road is, like the main Ridgeway, subject to a seasonal TRO. The climb, over chalky soil, was quite steep and heavily rutted in places, requiring careful thought on the route to take. Fortunately the ground was hard and dry so we all got up unscathed although Perry’s Freelander did bottom out a few times. It would not have been so easy if it was wet.
Pausing at the top we were able to admire the fantastic view, able to see for many miles, spoiled only by the massive solar panel farm on Wroughton Airfield. You have to question just how anyone got permission for such an eyesore in such a beautiful landscape. No doubt someone, somewhere has made a lot of dosh out of it, if you know what I mean.
From here it was onto The Ridgeway itself. Turning South our route took us about 5 miles towards Avebury, along a firm, dry gravel surface with some ruts along it in places. The views from up here are absolutely superb and its always popular with other users, including walkers and cyclists, so we had to pull over and stop several times.
A quick stop for lunch, just above Avebury, and then we dropped down to the village of East Kennet to try 2 short-ish lanes. Crossing the busy A4 we entered the first lane which proved to drop steeply downhill and was narrow and overgrown. I was a little concerned about Matt’s RRS here but I pushed through slowly and we all got through safely. The second of the two lanes was flat but also very narrow and overgrown with hidden ruts to watch out for.
Another short road section, passing ancient Silbury Hill, and we turned off onto a small network of lanes just North of Devizes. Again these lanes were mostly hard gravel and dry so presented no challenges. The first part of the network took us past another White Horse at Roundway and the site of the 1643 Civil War battle of Roundway Down. From here we continued onto The Wessex Ridgeway/White Horse Trail back towards Avebury and aiming to go up over Cherhill Down, site of yet another White Horse and also a prehistoric hill fort.
Turning off the Wessex Ridgeway I could see that the track climbed steeply and turned sharply before disappearing from view. After the first 100yds it became very badly rutted and washed out and it was obvious that neither the Freelander or RRS sport would be able to get up the hill at all. It would have been difficult for the 2 Defenders even in the dry but almost impossible if wet.
Fortunately there was a readily useable alternative route so a short detour soon saw us back on tracks around the village of Yatesbury. All the tracks here were level with good surfaces but did get overgrown in places. I had planned a ‘figure of 8’ route around the village but we came across another very badly rutted area that would have proved impossible for the Freelander so it was again time to find an alternative.
Instead of taking a green road from Avebury up to the Ridgeway and then reversing the route back north we decided to go on a metalled road and climb back up to it close to where we had started, leading to our final 2 lanes.
The first of these, dropping down into a valley towards Marlborough, proved to be hardly worth the effort as it was wide, clear and firm for about a half mile before reaching a metalled surface for the last 2 miles.
Our final track took us directly back north from the outskirts of Marlborough to Barbury Castle. There is a voluntary restraint on this track but as it had been dry for some time I judged it ok to use. We found the road again rutted and near the end there was a wet, muddy hollow that was Ok to get through in dry conditions but would have been difficult in very wet weather. Hence the VR!
Back at Barbury the four vehicles pulled up in the car park for the now traditional survivors photo, a little dirtier than when we started out but all safe, happy and intact.
Heading for home I decided at the last moment to throw in one final greenroad, taking us from the bottom of the hill at Barbury to meet the A346 at the edge of Chisledon. Nothing special about the lane but, it turned out, it took longer to drive the mile down the A346 to the M4 interchange than it did to drive the 3 mile greenroad!
Another successful and entertaining day out for all.