For much of its route, The Ridgeway National Trail follows part of an ancient track, the Great Ridgeway, which once ran from Dorset to Norfolk and which has been dubbed ‘the oldest road’ in Britain. The route of the trail initially follows the northern edge of the North Wessex Downs and finishes on paths through the rolling and wooded Chiltern AONB. These two contrasting landscapes are divided by the River Thames, which cuts through the chalk hills at Goring, and the differences are further emphasized by the route following the banks of the river for some miles before climbing back into the hills. This section sees The Ridgeway continuing its course along the edge of the Chiltern Hills, skirting around the market town of Princes Risborough to end at another, Wendover. Those wishing to do the walk over two days can spend the night at The Red Lion in Whiteleaf or, slightly less economically, at The Plough in nearby Cadsden.
Leaving the road, The Ridgeway begins to ascend gradually beneath the wooded slopes of Wain Hill, at the same time taking the opportunity to show its cunning by contouring around the heads of the steep-sided combes which cut into the northern slopes.
For the last 10 miles (16km) the path has followed the course of the Upper Icknield Way, but at the edge of Thickthorne Wood there is a parting of the ways as the ancient route plunges straight across the valley towards Princes Risborough, leaving The Ridgeway to seek out a more interesting line across fields and to climb the grassy slopes of Lodge Hill. The view from the summit of the hill is far-reaching; on a clear day it is possible to make out the white triangle of Whiteleaf Cross in the distance.
Nearer at hand is Lacey Green with its 17th-century windmill, which is believed to be the oldest surviving smock mill in Britain. The ridge from Lacey Green continues southwards towards Hughenden Manor and High Wycombe.
The Ridgeway itself swings northwards to cross the High Wycombe–Princes Risborough railway line and join the Upper Icknield Way once more.
The route then follows the A4010northwards for 0.5 miles (800m) to reach a track on the right.
Despite its size, Princes Risborough is passed by almost unnoticed on this track, before The Ridgeway bears right, away from the Icknield Way, to begin the ascent to Whiteleaf Cross through Brush Hill Nature Reserve. This is one of the steepest climbs on the route but the effort of the climb is well rewarded by the wonderful view from the grassy clearing above the cross. Looking out westwards, it is possible to trace your route across the valley all the way from Chinnor, while in the distance the
line of the North Wessex Downs is visible behind.
Directly below where you stand are the deeply carved arms of Whiteleaf Cross itself. First recorded in 1742, the cross may have been the work of monks in the 15th or 16th centuries. It is the oldest of the Chiltern hill figures but its purpose is uncertain. One can speculate whether it was scoured as a landmark for travellers or perhaps to obscure a more obviously pagan figure which may previously have occupied the site.
If you are spending the night at The Red Lion in Whiteleaf, come off The Ridgeway here to walk down the path to the village.
Leaving the cross, the path now descends steeply to The Plough public house at Lower Cadsden (which also offers accommodation), before entering the nature reserve of Grangelands and Pulpit Hill, which contains fine areas of chalk grassland.
The Ridgeway leaves the reserve by climbing up steps over Chequers Knap and enters the grounds of Chequers, where it goes on to cross the drive of the house. There are good views of Chequers from the path, and in the background rises Coombe Hill, with its golden-topped monument, which The Ridgeway goes on to climb, through an area of attractive beech woodland.
The open grassland around the Coombe Hill monument – dedicated to those who died in the Boer War – is popular with local residents and The Ridgeway then follows a footpath down Bacombe Hill to the attractive little town of Wendover.
Dirt footpaths, grassy paths, some road
Sweeping vistas over downs and vales, woods, Chequers parkland
With very little roadway or livestock to negotiate this route is very dog-friendly
OS Explorer 171, 181
By the edge of the track at start
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.