From 1st April a new organisation, The Ridgeway Partnership, will be responsible for the future management, development and promotion of The Ridgeway National Trail. This new body will involve a wide range of organisations representing users and other stakeholders alongside Natural England and the local authorities that manage The Ridgeway at present.
Ian Ritchie, Chair of The Friends of the Ridgeway (FoR), said “The Partnership represents a great opportunity to bring the delights of the UK’s oldest path to a much greater number of people, pursuing a wide range of activities. It is a wonderful asset so close to large centres of population. The Ridgeway has some spectacular scenery and unparalleled prehistoric sites such as the Uffington White Horse and the series of Iron Age hill forts along its length. We aim to encourage more people to get out to walk, cycle, and ride or drive horses along it, and we want to introduce it to young people and make it accessible for the less mobile and those with disabilities.”
“We shall enhance the visitors’ experience by improving the approach paths to The Ridgeway,” said Dave Cavanagh of the Ramblers, a Partnership member, “with the help of volunteers from Ramblers and the Chiltern Society. This will encourage some people to park in villages or use public transport, enjoy many circular routes that take in sections of The Ridgeway, accessing it at more points, and to enjoy local pubs and tea shops on their return.”
The Ridgeway Partnership comprises Oxfordshire Country Council (OCC) as the Lead Partner – the body accountable to Natural England – , the other local authorities for the areas through which the Trail passes, Natural England, North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Chilterns Conservation Board and organisations that between them represent many of those who use The Ridgeway and its wider corridor, including archaeologists, cyclists, families, equestrians, landowners, naturalists, runners, tourists and associated businesses, as well as walkers.
To further this inclusivity, a Ridgeway Forum will be established, open to all community, business and individual stakeholders for communicating information and ideas, answering queries and receiving feedback and opinion.
The Partnership has been created in response to the decision by Natural England, which will continue to provide much of the finance for National Trails, that local partnerships should assume collective responsibility for management and delivery of their respective Trails. “The introduction of a full range of stakeholder and community interests as active participants in running The Ridgeway may be expected to unleash a new energy and new ideas for its enhancement and enjoyment by new users,” said FoR’s Jeff Goddard, who has been involved in drafting the Partnership’s formation documents.
The Partnership is in the process of engaging a Ridgeway Officer (RO) who will be the single point of contact for the Ridgeway. The RO will attract investment, lead on development issues, co-ordinate maintenance, liaise with stakeholders and respond to public enquiries. He will also work with the Partners, including the AONBs, Chiltern Society, National Trust, WHS and others to promote the Trail in conjunction with all the other attractions along the route. Maintenance of The Ridgeway will continue to rely heavily on the Eynsham-based National Trails Team and its volunteers, who also maintain the Thames Path Trail, and on other volunteer schemes organised by various Partners.