Major roadworks ahead for Britain's oldest highway

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The Independent Online

A long-awaited repair job is about to be carried out on Britain's oldest road, but don't expect cones or a contraflow system.

A long-awaited repair job is about to be carried out on Britain's oldest road, but don't expect cones or a contraflow system.

It's not tarmac that's being put to rights on the Ridgeway, the ancient path along the top of the Berkshire Downs and the Chiltern Hills, but the prehistoric monuments that line the 5,000-year-old route.

The remnant of a much longer walkway that once stretched from the Dorset coast to the Wash, the 90-mile- long path, now a National Trail, is lined on either side with no fewer than 687 Stone Age burial barrows, Iron Age hill forts and other monuments.

An initial grant of £182,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to be followed by further funding from other agencies, will allow restoration work to be done over the next three years on 14 of the monuments that have been affected by erosion, visitor pressure or agricultural operations.

They include Liddington Castle, which dominates the views from the trail in Wiltshire, and Segsbury Camp in Oxfordshire. Running from near Avebury in Wiltshire with its spectacular stone circle, to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, the Ridgeway was used by prehistoric man as a route along the chalk ridge that was high, dry and open, and thus safer.

It joins two distinct landscapes, the open downland of Wiltshire and Berkshire, and the Chilterns with their thick beechwoods. The dividing point is Goring-on-Thames, where the path crosses the river.

In the past the Ridgeway was used by drovers, traders and invaders, but now more than 100,000 people walk along the path annually.

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