Walking uphill through thistles through along the Wansdyke day 5

July 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm Leave a comment

we are about.....here!

Another glorious morning….and by the time we got off the minibus the other side of Lockeridge towards Alton Barnes it was of course raining! Undeterred we put our best feet forwards and strode up the downs (!) knocking down thistles and nettles on a little used footpath, on our way. Todays word is ‘strip lynchets‘…(A lynchet is a bank of earth that builds up on the downslope of a field ploughed over a long period of time…thank you esteemed leader!) We were striding up West Saxon tracks (Wessex) and the Wansdyke ( Saxon word from Woden) was a symbolic unmanned defence to keep the East Saxons out. It was constructed in the 7th Century and used for about a hundred years as a territorial warning. Grims ditch, Devil’s dyke and Wansdyke are all Saxon names. Adam’s Grave is also known as Wodens Barrow…site of a couple of battles in 739AD.

The purpose of the uphill climb was to reach the lost village of Shaw (locally means ‘strip of woods’)…the village was abandoned when tax came in around 1138…prior to this it was the poorest village in Wiltshire according to the Doomsday Book..the problem being that it grew up between two parishes (Alton and Overton) on either side of a track. Foundations of the church and buildings are barely visible as humps in the tussocks when the long grass is cut, but thankfully the stained glass windows from the Saxon church were removed and installed in the chancel of Alton Barnes church and well worth a visit. Since Saxon times until the 1840s only churches were allowed to bury the dead and so graveyards are often raised higher because of the quantity of bodies piled into consecrated ground, often without coffins. Patches of nettles in an ancient field indicate where water once stood (pond) and the top of the downs is littered with ancient dewponds to water the sheep and cattle (once lined with dung and wool unlike in Sussex where clay is plentiful). The Black Death wasn’t responsible for the demise of the village of Shaw…bad location and shortage of water saw to that. The Black Death did however break down the feudal system making manpower more highly valued. Where agricultural labour ran short, sheep took over, and the downs were famous for sheep grazing and were annually driven to the sheep fair at Martinsell on St Annes day. We also passed by an ancient Wessex wood with old species such as hornbeam and rowan. Parishes in this part of Wessex were strips of land which gave everyone fair access to the London road and the Kennet river.

Back to College for a final scone and jam (or two!) and the end of a fabulous week of walking through history.

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Walking up hills in the rain through history day 4 Random dragons

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Debi Evans

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