A early summer walk following part of a Roman Road through North Hampshire.
This is another one of those instances where driving through the area on my commute to Newbury, I look up something of interest and I want to further investigate on foot when I get the chance… The early June day I picked was perfect weather for walking.
On the map the roman road is marked as ‘Port Way’. The part I’ll be walking is defined by a line of tree planting and I also see the term ‘Ceasar’s Belt’ on maps which I think is related to forestry and not the Emperor’s clothes…
‘Port Way’ is the name given to the road between the Roman settlements of silchester in Hampshire and Old Saram in Wiltshire, near Salisbury, (and part of the longer network between Dorchester and London). With the trees lining the route its hard to a tell how much of the original structure of the road remains, but there are some well defined ditches and undulations. The percieved knowlege of the historians through excavations carried out on Port Way suggest what we have today is ‘pretty well preserved example’ for an almost 2000 year old road. Not all roman roads were built up and depending on their importance, but this one used the engineering techniques of the day.
- There is a layby near the start of the walk. There are some cottages called ‘Clapgate’ beside the old A34, (which must be a reference to a stopping post?) heres my map to show the route.
We are starting on the roman road. Its a slight rise and initially earthworks are visable. There are enclosures close and its not long before I see some Dear and other wildlife.
The path then seems to be directed to run alongside and trees continue to mark the route. Its not long before the view opens up into rolling countryside.
Farm access means there is a track alongside. Its tempting to see a piece of rock and think you are looking at an original surface but as this is part of a farm, there are tracks so its probably infall!
2). The walk is rising gradually and then over the crest we come down to a road. There’s a fallen tree so its a good place to sit and open the flask.
After the next bit it is a steeper climb, but the views are rewarding. To the left there looks to be old black hut, but directly ahead is White Hill and the distinctive Hannington mast.
3). The path dips here and it is at this point our walk takes a left on an ajoining footpath. It is signposted, but over a stlye on the right hand side. The path rises again and picks a cross wind up, so I imagine some days this is quite an exposed part. I walk by the ‘hut’ I saw earlier and it turns out to be some derelict farm sheds…
There is quite a steep descent by a plantation and where we are going to cross the road again is visable. A really nice part of the walk!
4). Crossing the road, at ‘Owls Lodge’ the amount of flint underfoot really shows up on this stretch. The O.S. map refers to ‘field systems’ being evident, which I guess dates from The Medieval period. (I can see other references littered along Great Litchfield Down).
Back in the present day there are several lanes I cross for Down Farm. The track is gravel and stone, which is loose but well defined as it slowly rises.
5). I’ve got my spot for lunch. The view opens up again towards Beacon Hill. Wonderfully you can’t see the A34 running beneath it. On Beacon Hill, there is a grave for the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who’s ancestral home Highclere castle, (and setting for ‘Downton Abbey’), is behind the hill in the valley on the left. After lunch, back on to the the footpath, it is a tarmac road, so watch out for estate traffic.
Down one side is a fine avenue of trees. There is a small row of estate workers houses, before we enter the village of Litchfield itself. Its a quiet place that also used to have its own railway station, (and I think I’ll come back to Litchfield in another blog sometime in more detail), but the old A34 used to run through the village, before the Dual Carraigeway was built.
6). Turn right by some converted stables then take the next left, by the rectory on the right. (The white building in the photo below).
Opposite the rectory are the remains of a path up to the dissused station.
Ahead of us is the underpass of the A34 which we have to go through. This is suddenly the noisiest part of the whole walk. The road takes traffic from Winchester and The South Coast, up to Oxford and the M40!
7). After the underpass, follow the path round to the right. I found My O.S. map wasn’t totally clear in signposting where the path would be, but I kept on following on and I eventually saw the signpost directed me left up a bank along a track. Looking back down I appeared to be back tracking, but then thankfully it veers to right through a gap and away from the noise on a small path.
The path follows some power lines up a hill. I still wanted some clarification I was heading on the right path, but it soon becomes very evident its the path!
8). As you approach Dunley, the path has on the right what looks like converted farm buildings. The path joins a lane which splits, take the left fork and at the juction of the road, cross it and follow the road signposted ‘Egbury’. There is a long avenue of trees and a gradual rise for a mile. It feels like part of an old estate.
9). You approach some gates to Dunley Park. Bear to the left around and carry on a short way through a gentle bend, where the road forks. Take the left route which is initially a made up track. You are entering Bradley Wood. We’re staying on this path through the wood. At the farm the track stops, but the path is defined around to the right of the property.
10). A feature on the map really intrigued me, and the main reason I wanted to explore. We’re picking up the ‘Portway’ roman road again as it runs through the wood. Clearly marked are some earthworks and what looks like ditches which the footpath will cross. The sun was shining again which added charm to the mixed woodland.
The wood feels old, but the trees have been planted over any archeology there was. Pollarding of trees would have been done many times in this woodland. I was hoping to see more defined features to be honest. Also, the features are on private land off the path so its hard to get close. Even where the path crosses the Roman Road its hard to make out any features, which is a real pity.
(A later walk I did in Dorset on a roman road, Ackling Dyke, was a better preserved example. read more here).
11). I carry on through the wood and there is another underpass beneath the A34. A short gap brings me back almost full circle. Take care – the last part is along the roadside back to my car. Despite the last part not adding anything visual to the Roman experience, of the Portway, its been a varied walk with some great views and woodland.
Length: approx 7 miles
Terrian: some gradual climbs, mostly defined footpaths and tracks. Some Styles and partly along roadside.
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