The Ridgeway is Britain’s oldest road, previously used by Iron Age traders, invading Viking armies and livestock drovers. Nowadays it’s a popular long distance walking trail. With its closest point just a few miles from Didcot it also offers great off road cycling potential.
We cycled from Didcot to Court Hill cafe, near Wantage. Serious cyclists, apologies! Ours was a leisurely ride with photo and cafe stops. And a spot of walking. Read on to follow our route.
Didcot to Chilton
The first couple of miles are along the old Railway Line from Didcot to Upton. This railway line once ran all the way to Southampton but following its closure in the 1960s parts of it have been sold off or, luckily for us, turned into a cycle route.
After leaving the railway bank we cycled through Upton to the main road and then took the bridleway, also known as Lynch Way, which starts to the left of the George and Dragon pub.
This track provided the first uphill challenge of the day. Less than fit cyclists, ahem me, might like to walk a few steps up the steepest part. Once we’d gained height we carried on following the track until a crossroad. There’s a footpath to the left which disappears off over a hill, but we turned right and cycled towards Chilton village.
In Chilton we turned left at the first road junction and headed towards the church. The road beside the church leads to a park and footpath (not a cycle track) which meet the road that runs parallel to the A34. We crossed the A34 via the underpass and somehow ended up in Chilton Garden Centre cafe for elevenses. How did that happen?
Chilton to the Ridgeway
Once refreshed, we followed the long straight road beside Chilton Primary School that, eventually, brings you on to the Ridgeway. At the end of the tarmac there’s an uphill chalky section that can be quite slippy after rain. At least that’s my excuse for getting off and pushing! In summer I’m always amazed how many small blue butterflies live along this stretch. That’s another of my excuses for getting off and walking…
Along the Ridgeway
Upon reaching the Ridgeway we turned right. The route is easy to navigate but the rutted tracks can catch you unaware so do take care. On the left, shortly after the East Hendred car park, there’s Scutchamer Knob, an Iron Age round barrow. This is worth a short detour, although it can get quite overgrown in summer.
After another mile or so, on the right hand side there’s a ‘hidden’ monument to Penelope Betjeman, wife of the poet John Betjeman. It’s a weathered engraving on a sarsen stone, just inside a field beside a metal gate and footpath sign (see photos above and below).
Further on there’s a large cross, a monument to Robert Loyd Lindsay, AKA Lord Wantage which was erected by his wife. Lord Wantage, a local wealthy landowner, was awarded the Victoria Cross in the Crimean War and was one of the founders of the Red Cross. I always stop here for a snack when I’m up on the Ridgeway. There’s a great view back to Didcot to remind you how far you’ve come!
At the next car park the road crossing demands careful attention as cars come round the bend very quickly. Then it’s another mile or so to where the route splits and it’s decision time.
The Ridgeway is signposted left. Instead we continued straight on along the bridleway to come out directly opposite the turning for Court Hill cafe. This shortcut gets overgrown with brambles in summer but if you take the official Ridgeway route you’ll end up cycling along the fast Wantage to Hungerford road for a short stretch. Either way, the signs for Court Hill cafe soon appear and mark the turning point for our route.
Lunch at Court Hill Centre
Court Hill Centre was originally a YHA hostel but is now run independently. In addition to accommodation it has a great little cafe with fabulous flapjacks and a variety of light lunch options. It’s definitely worth breaking your ride here; you can sit outside on a sunny day or leave your bikes in the courtyard and retreat inside in inclement weather.
The cafe marks the closest point to Wantage on this route. If you want to visit the town follow the main road downhill. Beware, it is steep and traffic travels fast. If you are visiting Wantage I’d suggest returning to Didcot along Sustrans route 44. This saves you cycling back up the very steep hill to the Ridgeway. Unless you enjoy hills of course.
We didn’t go to Wantage so Court Hill marked the end of our outward journey. Instead we turned around and retraced our steps (or should that be tyres?) as far as the East Hendred car park. We turned left here and cycled along the road towards the village. It’s a lovely long downhill stretch and you hardly have to pedal. However, do be aware this road is used by Ridgeway traffic – and watch out for the huge potholes!
East Hendred to Didcot
We turned right along signposted Sustrans route 44 just before East Hendred and followed this to the back of Harwell Campus. The route is currently diverted whilst work is carried out so signposts direct cyclists onto the campus and out past the shops. After crossing the A4185 at the traffic lights, we turned left and then right down the Winnaway. This comes out in Harwell, opposite the recreation ground. You could cycle direct through the centre of Harwell towards Didcot but we took the back route through the village and past the church (you’ll need to walk along the footpaths).
From Harwell we followed the road to Didcot, partly on cycle path, partly on the road. We turned right at the UTC traffic lights and attempted to negotiate our way through the new Great Western housing estate. However we got rather lost so you you might want to stick to the main roads through Didcot instead. Either way, you’re now back in Didcot and you can finish wherever you like!
Start and end point: beginning of old Railway Line Sustrans route (through alleyway off of Green Close, Didcot).
Distance: Approximately 35 km, 21.5 miles.
Terrain: well marked bridleways, Ridgeway and generally quiet roads, busier in Harwell. Ridgeway likely to be muddy after rain. Hybrid or mountain bike required.
Refreshments: cafe at Chilton Garden Centre, cafe at Court Hill Centre. Pubs in Upton, Chilton (off route) and East Hendred (off route).