Thursday, January 8, 2009


An old holloway between Solva and Middle Mill

One of the good things we have is of course public libraries, so a request for Robert Macfarlane's Wild Places book resulted in it coming a few days ago. He has separated his chapters into different aspects of the countryside, a map of the land as seen through rivers, waterfalls, moors etc.
But a chapter that intrigued me was about holloways, those old green roads worn deep into the earth, with tall banks on either side. Gilbert White had written about them, they are a feature of the soft earths of the south, and can be seen in such places as Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset.
Macfarlane says they date back into the Iron Age, and of course my mind immediately leapt to the title of this blog Northstoke, which is a small hamlet a few miles from my home, for I had written a piece about it a couple of years back, only to lose the blog itself. One day I will write about Northstoke again, and its church of St.Martin, for it also has that pre-christian history of being built on old pagan land, though in this case it was a Roman building. But leading up to this church with its tumbling stream alongside is a holloway.... and hunting through my photos came across these.....

The church sitting on high ground

The holloway

This looks like part of the Roman track that veered across the field to a roman villa at Upton Cheyney

The stream that cascades down by the side of the church

Gilbert White in the Natural History of Selbourne, says this

These roads, running through the malm lands are, by the traffic of ages, and the fretting of water, worn down through the that they look more like water-courses than roads.....In many places they are reduced sixteen or eighteen feet beneath the levels of the field; and after floods, and in frost, exhibit very grotesque and wild appearances, from the tangled roots that are twisted among the strata, and from the torrents rushing down their broken sides...

This last photo is of a trackway that comes out of my village, to join eventually the North Stoke holloway that in turn leads to the Roman Via Julia that follows the River Avon to Bitton.This trackway though not a proper holloway comes from the Celtic-Romano Walcot settlement, just on the edge of Bath. This would have been the easiest way out of Bath/Aqua Sulis, following the middle way below the great Lansdown and joining up with the Via Julia as it made its way to the coast.

Its age can be seen from the steep sides, in the second World War a temporary air field was made at the top of the Lansdown on the old racecourse; it had a commanding view over to Bristol and would have been used to try to stop the terrible German air raids Bath and Bristol were subject to.

This trackway was metalled during this time and bits still remain, it also has a Saxon background, so stretching from Iron Age time, and probably before that it has a long history. It is a beautiful walk, but one I rarely go on, the body of a 60 year old man was found under the hedge a couple of years ago, he had been there for sometime, perhaps he had a heart attack climbing the hill, he was only found by the farmer when they started to cut back the hedge. At the bottom there is an old wood, and here last year someone from the village hung himself from a tree, perhaps the place is haunted by old ghosts, it is isolated and only walkers use it, but in summer the old wood is very beautiful, but not to end on a tragic note...
Another path, skirting a wood and the scent of wild garlic or ransomes that line it with such splendour, this path folds round to one of the most graceful trees I know.


  1. Another lovely set of photos, I've only seen ransoms growing that thickly in the Lake District though they do grow wild in my local woods too. I find these old holloways fascinating, we have them round here too, the old saltways coming over the moors from Cheshire. I've just bought Robert Macfarlane's book but haven't started it yet - still reading Wildwood by Roger Deacon.

  2. I get my books from the library, have too many books at home, been downshifting them. The ransoms are a glorious sight, there is also a large patch of woodruff further on

  3. Your blog was quite a find for me. I love your photos and words--what a lovely part of the world you are blessed to live in! I am a huge admirer of Robert MacFarlane's writing (I've read "The Wild Places" three time so far)and also was intrigued with the chapter on the holloway. Nice to see some photos of one. I bookmarked your blog and plan to follow it. Are you familiar with Roger Deakin's writing? Highly reccommended.