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Default Roman Road To Ramsbury, Wednesday 8th August 2018

A couple of days ago I went on a ride along the Roman road from Venta Of The Belgae (Winchester) to Cunetio (Mildenhall), and on to Ramsbury in Wiltshire.

This Roman road is designated as 'Margery 43'. Ivan Margary was the authority on Roman roads in Britain. The road is shown on this map:



We tend to think of Roman roads as a succession of long straight sections, but, as you can see on the map, this road has a significant deviation from its otherwise straight (ish) course. This deviation went around the deep (about 200 feet) and steep sided Hippenscombe valley, around a semicircle of about 1 mile radius, before resuming the previous alignment about 2¾ miles further on. About ½ way around the semicircle is Scot's Poor; originally a scout, or lookout, point. For the Southern part of the deviation (South and East of Scot's Poor), the ground was built up as necessary for the new road, which is called Chute Causeway. The Northern part of the deviation used part of an existing Ancient British trackway: the Inkpen Ridgeway.

Much of the route can still be ridden; along main roads, country lanes, and some unsurfaced roads. Rideable sections are interspersed with bits that are just footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways (motorized vehicles not allowed), or occasionally there's no path at all.

In Andover the road crosses another Roman road: the Portway, from Calleva Of The Atrebates to Sorviodunum (Old Sarum). This road is marked as 4b on the map above. The roads cross at the Leucomagus road station in East Anton. There's nothing to be seen today of the Roman road station: where the roads cross is now in the middle of a modern housing estate!
An aside about the way stations on Roman roads. There were stopping places ('mansio') every 12 miles or so; the forerunner of the wayside inn. There were also 'mutatio' (changes) every 4 miles, where mounted messengers could change horses; 4 miles being the distance that a horse could reliably be galloped hard. By galloping hard and changing horses every 4 miles, and changing riders as necessary, the messengers could maintain an average speed of 20 mph. In this way, an urgent message could be relayed from York to London, a distance of 200 miles that would take the normal mounted traveller over a week, in only about 10 hours! I find that astonishing, and very impressive.
I had originally intended to go along the A272 to Winchester, but just before I left home I found out that the Boomtown musical festival was starting that morning; the festival site is alongside the A272 about 3 miles East of Winchester. On a previous ride I was caught up in the traffic congestion of people going to the festival, so after Petersfield I diverted onto country lanes instead.

These are the views from the Millbarrows road along Wind Ridge, overlooking Kilmeston:







The nearest I came to the Boomtown festival site was Lane End Down:









I went through Morestead and on into the centre of Winchester to the start of the Roman road route.

This is the route following the Roman road (where possible), nearly to Mildenhall, and on to Ramsbury:



Key to map routes:
▬▬: Route of the Roman road that will be ridden on the ride (nearly all metalled roads).
.
• • •: Route of the Roman road that cannot be ridden (restricted byway, bridleway, footpath, no right of way, or disappeared under ploughed fields, housing, etc).
.
▬▬: Other roads that will be ridden along on the ride.
From Winchester to the A30 at Hill Farm crossroads the Roman road is a secondary main road. Beyond the A30 and as far as Andover the route is mainly paths and tracks that aren't legal to ride, with just a short section (less than ¼ of a mile) of surfaced country lane. So I followed a diversion through Barton Stacey, and stopped on Barton Down, alongside an MOD (Ministry Of Defence) live firing range.


This is the road from Barton Stacey:



The white thing on the right is the trig point, on the highest point of the down.

The road onwards to Newton Stacey:



Warning signs for the live firing range:



"… it may explode and kill you!"

View towards Barton Stacey:



Views towards Bransbury Common and Harewood Forest:





Then on to the bit of the Roman road which is a surfaced road.

From the road, looking back Southwards to the restricted byway, that runs along the edge of the firing range:



From the restricted byway Northwards to the surfaced road:



Then onwards through Wherwell, crossing the River Test, and on to the A303 to Andover, going around Harewood Forest.

Until fairly recently, the Roman road as far as the far side of Andover was a surfaced road in regular use by motor vehicles. It went through countryside, past the town of Andover, but Andover had grown and has now spread up to and beyond the line of the Roman road.

The Roman road has been superseded by new, bigger, roads, but the original road mostly remains:





That bit of the road is called Picket Twenty, named after a farm alongside the road.

You can't tell in those pics, but there is a busy modern road a few yards away to the left, behind the hedges and trees. Those are old pics taken nearly ten years ago, but the scene looks very much the same today. However, that section of road is now only allowed to be used by buses. Other sections are only for pedestrians and cycle riders. In places the old road has been severed by modern roads being built across it. Some parts can be driven or ridden, but not as a through route anymore.

I explored the bits I could ride on. I rode through the housing estate where this Roman road (the one I was following) crosses the Portway. The roads there look just like any other residential roads, of course. There is now a roundabout more or less where the Leucomagus crossroads would have been. At least there are still roads along the route of the original road. The Portway hasn't fared so well. That's not surprising though: looking at old maps (for example the 1894 map) the Portway isn't shown as an actual road (just as 'course of Roman road') all the way across Andover, for over 2½ miles from the Weyhill Road in the West to the Smannell Road in the East. Along the way I crossed the route of the Harroway too (the pre Roman road from Dover to Seaton).

From Andover I had to go off on another diversion, through Enham Alamein, before being able to follow the Roman road again across Charlton Down. This section of the road is called Hungerford Lane. After a while the Roman road becomes just a restricted byway, and another diversion is needed. At the junction I found that there were roadworks being done:





The road ahead (beyond the cones) is the restricted byway, up White Hill. I needed to turn left into another road, to get past the restricted byway section, and rejoin the route further on. I hadn't realised, at the time that I was taking the pics, that the road I needed to take was actually closed for the works to take place. Just out of sight, just around the corner behind the hedge on the left, there were 'road closed' signs across the road.

Here's an old pic of the same road junction, from the other direction:



I got talking to one of the workmen, and we ended up having quite a lengthy chat. This is when it emerged that the road that I wanted to take was closed. However, he told me that although the signs were still up, they had actually finished the work, and it was OK for me to go through. Hooray!

A little further on the road rejoined the route of the Roman road, which it then followed pretty nuch all the way to Wilton. First, up Conholt hill to the unusual semi circular deviation.

Views from Chute Causeway over the Hippenscombe valley (the cause of that deviation):







View South towards Upper Chute:



At this point I realised that I needed to get a bit of a move on if I was going to get to Ramsbury at a reasonable time for my lunch stop, and I'd better stop stopping to take pics. Consequently the following pics, until the ones in Savernake forest, are old ones, not ones I took on the ride.

This is Scot's Poor, where the White Way ancient track turns off towards Old Sarum:



The old Scot's Poor Inn, now just a cottage:



The Northern part of the Hippenscombe deviation:



The Roman road between Tidcombe and Marten:



The Roman road between Marten and Wilton:



I had originally intended to follow the route of the Roman road from Wilton to Crofton, on the Kennet And Avon Canal. This is an unsurfaced road, but is legal to ride. However, at the Crofton end there is a level crossing across the railway, which here runs alongside the canal. I recently discovered that the level crossing gates are permanently locked. You can cross on a bike by using the pedestrian gates (if your bike will even go through the gates!), all the while making sure that the light stays green, and there isn't a train coming!

I didn't fancy that, so instead I diverted (again) by going through Wilton and round to Crofton Locks by a less direct route.

Wilton:













The Swan pub in Wilton:



After Crofton I had to divert around through Great Bedwyn, before getting back to the route of the Roman road at Savernake Forest. This is a remnant of the ancient woodland that once covered much of the country. There is a 3 mile long private road through the forest; a wide gravel and dirt track. Where you enter the forest is exactly on the line of the Roman road, but the forest track angles off slightly to the West, so that at the far side of the forest the two are a few hundred yards apart.

This is looking South (where I've come from):



And North:



Emerging from the forest onto tarmacked roads again, I went down to Axford, and along the River Kennet to Ramsbury, and lunch at The Bell.

Ramsbury and The Bell pub:



















Lunch was excellent! I can wholeheartedly recommend The Bell.

The tree outside the pub is a young oak, planted in 1986, to relace the old 'Ramsbury Tree' (a wych elm), for which the town was famous. The old tree had eventually died, at the age of around 250 years old.

The Ramsbury Tree in around 1900:



After lunch I set off again. This is the return route:



Along the River Kennet to Hungerford, where I filled up with petrol, then across Hungerfrd Common and up to Inkpen Beacon. There is a gibbet, Combe Gibbet, on top of the beacon hill, and it is visible for miles around, which of course is the reason for siting it there; as a warning. Riding up the hill towards Inkpen Beacon, it is very obvious on the skyline ahead.

I stopped at the car park, which is between Inkpen Beacon and Walbury Hill. The Inkpen Ridgeway goes over Inkpen Beacon, alongside the car park, and over Walbury Hill. This is the same ancient track that I rode along a part of, earlier in the day, on the deviation around the Hippenscombe valley.

Views from the Inkpen Beacon car park:





You can just make out the gibbet on top of Inkpen Beacon. It's clearer in this pic:









This is Combe Gibbet:



You can just see the car park in the distance.

The gibbet has been used only once: in 1676 for gibbeting the bodies of George Broomham and Dorothy Newman, for which it was built. Broomham and Newman were hanged for murdering Broomham's wife Martha, and their son Robert.

I rode around to the other (East) side of Walbury Hill, where the Inkpen Ridgeway again joins the road:





Then I rode through a succession of little villages, East Woodhay, East End, etc, past Highclere Castle (where Downton Abbey was filmed), and on through Old Burghclere to Kingsclere.

As I was approaching Kingsclere, I got stung by a wasp. Little bastard! I pulled over as soon as I reasonably could, which was at the viewpoint on White Hill. I checked the little first aid kit I carry, hoping for sting relief cream, but no, that's not something that I'd included. I did however have some antihistamine tablets (which I take for hay fever), and one of them did the trick.

The views from White Hill:









This is the Inkpen Ridgeway again:



Riding South from White Hill, I crossed the Portway, and further on the Harroway.

At the crossing of the Harroway, this is the road to the North, where I've come from:



And to the South:



This is the Harroway to the East:





And to the West:





Continuing South, I went through Overton, Micheldever Station, and Micheldever, then across Northington Down to Alresford. From Alresford, through Ropley Dean and on the 'top' road to Petersfield, then the A272 home.

Total distance 190 miles.

It was a lovely day; a little cooler than the interminable 30+°C days we've had for weeks and weeks now. Unbelievable views throughout the whole ride.
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Thank you for another great read & pictures Nigel. A beautiful part of Britain I've not been to yet, remember Old Sarum from my Geography lessons
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Thanks Kim.

I think it took me longer to do the write up than it did to do the ride!
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BTW, that is still the original gibbet that was erected in 1676.


Although, over the years it has had three new cross pieces,



and two new posts!

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Folkie View Post
An aside about the way stations on Roman roads. There were stopping places ('mansio') every 12 miles or so; the forerunner of the wayside inn. There were also 'mutatio' (changes) every 4 miles, where mounted messengers could change horses; 4 miles being the distance that a horse could reliably be galloped hard. By galloping hard and changing horses every 4 miles, and changing riders as necessary, the messengers could maintain an average speed of 20 mph. In this way, an urgent message could be relayed from York to London, a distance of 200 miles that would take the normal mounted traveller over a week, in only about 10 hours! I find that astonishing, and very impressive.
Yes - Impressive...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Folkie View Post
Warning signs for the live firing range:
"… it may explode and kill you!"
Cool - A bit of excitement.... !!!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Folkie View Post
As I was approaching Kingsclere, I got stung by a wasp.
The Live Fire Range was just a distraction to divert your attention from the real danger of the day...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Folkie View Post
Total distance 190 miles.

It was a lovely day; a little cooler than the interminable 30+°C days we've had for weeks and weeks now. Unbelievable views throughout the whole ride.

Thanks for inviting me along (with your pics)... I enjoyed the ride...

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