Foundation of the Association:
The Friends of The Ridgeway Association was founded as a campaigning organisation to preserve the Ridgeway and other green lanes and to protect them from abuse. The phenomenon of off-road driving by motor vehicles and motor-bikes for recreational purposes during the 1960s led to wide-spread damage to unsurfaced tracks across the country, and the Ridgeway trail south of the Thames was particularly badly affected. Increasing numbers of local residents and users, shocked by the damage caused, determined to oppose the abuse. Denis Grant King, teacher, artist, and amateur Wiltshire archaeologist, led the struggle to return peace to The Ridgeway and other green lanes, and from 1972 convened the Ridgeway Conservation Conference (RCC), supported by many organisations and individuals. For ten years the RCC co-ordinated the opposition efforts, but it lacked a grass-roots organisation. The Friends of the Ridgeway (FoR) was formally constituted on 6th March, 1983, as its successor, with Patrick Cormack MP as President, and under the Chairmanship of Maurice Mendoza CVO, a former Director of Ancient Monuments. Nigel Forward, a retired senior Civil Servant, was Secretary.
The Off-Road Campaign:
The campaign against abuse of the Ridgeway by off-roaders dominated our activities for 23 years. FoR worked to build up its membership and other support, and to lobby for more effective legislative and regulatory protection for green lanes, particularly the Ridgeway National Trail. A new Chairman, Ian Ritchie, elected in 2001, working closely with the increasing numbers of other organisations concerned about the problem, brought a new impetus to the campaign, and new legislation in 2000 and 2006 enabled traffic on much of the Ridgeway to be controlled by application of the new Restricted Byway status to most of the Ridgeway south of the Thames. Most of The Ridgeway Trail sections in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire, previously classified as BOATs, have now been reclassified as Restricted Byways and therefore banned to motor vehicles. There are now only about 3 miles of the trail that are open to motor vehicles all the year round. A further section of 14 miles in Wiltshire is still the subject of a TRO and has motor vehicle rights for 5 months each summer. We will continue to campaign for a complete ban on all non-essential motor vehicles along the whole of The Ridgeway, but we are pleased with the progress made. More background on the Off-Road Campaign can be found here.
Our Charitable Objectives:
The Association was granted charitable status, Reg no 110926, under a Constitution originally adopted on 21st March, 2004. The relative success of the campaign to protect The Ridgeway National Trail enabled the Association to review its objectives and to adopt a wider vision and approach to the preservation of the ancient Ridgeways along the chalk downs of Southern England. The members of FoR agreed at its AGM on 22nd March, 2009, with the prior approval of the Charity Commission, to change its objects to make clear that its concerns extend to the ancient Ridgeway and its associated features as a whole, and that preservation means promoting enjoyment and use of the trail, not just control of vehicle damage.
The Great Stones Way: In accordance with these wider aims, we set out in 2008 to identify the Ancient Ridgeway track southwards from the present end of The Ridgeway National Trail, shown on Ordnance Survey maps as far as the Kennet and Avon canal. Believing that this track extended over Salisbury Plain and along the Avon valley, linking the Neolithic settlements around Avebury and Stonehenge, we looked for a route over existing rights of way as close as possible to that axis. We were amazed at the wealth of heritage sites along the way and encouraged to propose the track as a new recreational trail, under the name “The Great Stones Way”. After various adjustments, the route ran from Barbury Castle near Swindon along the Ridgeway to Old Sarum near Salisbury. Our ambition was to develop this route to the same standards as a National Trail, and to this end our members contributed substantial funding that enabled us to commission a professional feasibility study, and later two Environmental Impact studies, all with positive results. The conservation organisations and local authorities concerned were at first generally supportive but after budget cuts and some localised development funding opposition the authorities backed away from their original support, so that in 2012 we accepted that the development project could not proceed. The route accordingly remains un-improved and largely un-waymarked, but is of course available as rights of way for use by walkers. A Guide-book written by Steve Davison is, however, available from Cicerone Press, www.cicerone.co.uk. It remains an ambition of FoR to identify and preserve the whole of the ancient Ridgeway route between Norfolk and Dorset.
It was decided in 2009 that members might enjoy meeting socially for talks and other events in local groups, and a first such group, for the Vale of White Horse, was convened by Roger Griffin. This Group has continued to inform and entertain those attending its regular meetings, and it remains a hope that other local member groups will be formed.
The Ridgeway Partnership
The Ridgeway, like other National Trails, was managed under the supervision of Natural England (NE) by the local authorities concerned through a joint Management Group. In 200 9 and again in 2011, NE undertook Reviews, to which FoR contributed, of the management arrangements for Trails, with a view to involving other stakeholders. The New Deal adopted called for the formation of new National Trail Partnerships. FoR officers participated from early in 2013 in meetings of the Ridgeway Management Group, and played a significant role in the establishment of the new Partnership from March, 2015, that now manages the Ridgeway National Trail. Ian Ritchie, who stepped down as Chairman of FoR in April, 2015, became the first Chairman of the Partnership.