The UK has 15 National Trails plus the yet to be completed English Coast Path! Scattered all over the country from the south coast to the border with Scotland, the National Trails cover coastal walks, following The Thames from source to sea, walking the backbone of England or across chalk fields. The National Trails website is a plethora of information for straight through walks or day walks on the trails. But how accessible are these trails? Is it possible to do the linear walks without using a car at each end? I'm sure each train is different with some better served by public transport than others.
I live in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire. The Ridgeway passes through the local market town, so I have set myself a challenge of walking the length of the Ridgeway on a series of day walks using public transport. I think the walking may be the easy part!
The route is an 87-mile route that has been used for 5,000 years, hence being known as 'Britain's Oldest Road. This high route through chalk fields and woodland was a drier alternative to the valleys below in years gone by. Some might say I am doing the Ridgeway backwards as I am starting at Ivinghoe Beacon and heading to Avebury. Still, in the time of the drovers and traders, the traffic flowed in both directions!
Walk 1: Ivinghoe Beacon - Tring
The Ridgeway's start (or end!) is a mere 13 miles as the crow flies from my house. I could walk it in 4 hours. Instead, t I take a train to Aylesbury and then a bus to the village of Ivinghoe via Tring. I've arranged to meet a friend in Tring. She travels by train from Lonon, discovers there are no buses from the train station to Tring town centre, gets a taxi, and manages to get on the bus I am already on. It's unclear where the bus goes after Ivinghoe village, so we alight the bus and walk to the Beacon along a busy A-road. Turns out, the bus went down this road, so we've added over a mile on before we started! Either way, the day starts with a scramble up to Ivinghoe Beacon and trig point. Of course, I get on the trig - too much of a temptation!
Today's walk stretches out in front of us, and we can clearly see the route that contours the chalk ridge towards Tring. The clear white tracks of the well-trodden way make it easy to follow, and as with all National Trails, it's easy to navigate as the routes are marked with white acorns.
We enter hilltop woodlands that are prevalent in the Chilterns. These ancient woodlands survived land clearing for farming as it's so chalky and dry that it is impossible to use this land for agriculture. We have the ice age to thank for this. As the ice melted, it took the decent soil into the valleys below, leaving bare hills and lots of steep gullies. We soon discovered this reasonably flat route has a few steep sections through these gullies - thankfully, in places, there are now steps in place to save the knees!
Although not as close to Tring as the name suggests, we passed Tring station! This section in my Cicerone guidebook ends in Wigginton near the station, but we push on to Tring and pass through Tring Park. Once owned by the Rothschild family, Walter Rothschild had his home here and collected exotic animals. He grazed Zebra in the park and even used them in place of horses to pull his carriage. This does not sit well with me, but times were different then. Now the Natural History Museum is the custodian of his taxidermy collection. Just outside the entrance to the park is NHM Tring, which is well worth a visit, even if a little macabre!
We ended our walk back in Tring town centre, where I hopped on a bus back to Aylesbury, and my friend walked back to the train station. From Aylesbury, a bus connects the town with High Wycombe, which stops in my village. So rather than returning by train, I sat on the top deck of the bus and watched the Chilterns through the window and was dropped 5 minutes walk from my door.
Time on public transport: 1 hour 50 minutes
Cost of public transport: £12
Distance walked: 6 miles
Time on feet: 3 hours