Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pondering on Mid Wansdyke

My mind has been wrapped up for a few days in following the old Roman road, that takes a straight course over the high ground between West and East Wansdyke, the supposed barrier between two tribal areas? this though  can only be conjecture there is little dating evidence but it is supposed to be post-Roman.  It could also be the boundary line of the Dobunni tribe, Cunliffe mentions the fact that they looked after the sacred springs of Aqua Sulis*

There is  a linking part of the boundary between East and West Wansdyke, following an old Roman road over the higher ground, this is called the Mid Wansdyke.  It skirts Chippenham, following a line to Sandy Lane, or the Roman station of Verlucio, from here it takes a course over the Cherhill downs, past Avebury and of course its Roman settlement and then joins up with  East Wansdyke.  Wansdyke obviously takes it name from Woden, and the boundary has been associated with the Saxons.

The area of the western Wansdyke became the border between the Romano-British celts and the west Saxons following the Battle of Deorham in 577. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Saxon Cenwalh achieved a breakthrough against the Britons, with victories at Bradford on Avon (in the Avon Gap in the Wansdyke) in 652 AD,

The maps following the course of the old Roman road can be seen on Poems, Painting and Photos, the maps themselves rather worn sadly.  Not too confuse myself mostly, is the fact from where the boundary started to the west of Bath, there is a presumed course for the West Wansdyke starting at Maes Knoll  hill fort, going through Stantonbury fort and then getting lost because of later ploughing, the next hill fort out of Bath is Bathampton following the A4 to Box, which is roughly four miles out of Bath. 
  Bathampton has been ruled out, though interestingly, there is the  Iron Age settlement at Solsbury, almost opposite Bathampton and commanding a high position in the landscape.

The A4 is of course an important road, it runs from London to Bristol, and is in places still following the original Roman road, but such main arteries changed direction over the centuries, and an interesting article on  toll roads, explains more.

Bath was late in building Roman villas, but of the several that lie round the city, one of the largest is Box Roman Villa.  Now buried under a church grave yard and several gardens, we had a friend who lived in one of the houses there, with the remains of the villa under the soil in her garden, and she had decorated her house in Roman style.

  © Copyright Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
So I meander, but it is in Box rather than going up the steep hill that follows the A4, you can turn right up onto the Roman road that is supposed to be the Mid Wansdyke boundary.  There is another modern road that starts from Bathampton, going over Kingsdown  the Roman road seems to follow it in a parallel course marked on the map. There are also tumuli up on Kingsdown, and therefore the  Roman road must have followed a prehistoric track over the high ground.  You can also see a Roman villa at Atworth, south of the road.

To be continued.... or in the Words of Vortigen..

I fear therefore that we should rule out the option of the existence of Wansdyke here, and accept either the use of the Roman Road as a demarcation line, or the complete discontinuation of Wansdyke on the stretch between the Avon and Morgan's Hill. May the reader choose wisely.

And the poem, which probably sent me thinking about the Wansdyke....


On the byway,
off the highway,
are you resting, chief and churl,
sleeping easy, dreaming sweetly,
under cloud and wind and soil?

One who passes, pauses,
sleeps at night,
then travels onwards northwards,
salutes the sleepers under sod,
salutes the wind-blown leaning grasses,
shares your ancient journey,
shares your god.
 John Kemp.

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