** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
July, the seventh month, was dedicated by Mark Anthony to Julius Caesar (100 – 44 bc). Caesar’s reform of the calendar two years before his assassination arguably might be considered his most important edifice, over and above his military campaigns & political manoeuvring. Caesar overhauled the ancient Roman agricultural calendar, which started in March, and aligned the months to the sun’s yearly cycle. He inserted leap years to correct most of the remaining anomalies.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, successive governments have made several efforts to overhaul the law relating to rights of passage through the countryside, but still anomalies remain.
This month’s principal article has been adapted from one invited for their newsletter by “The Friends of the Roman Road, and Fleam Dyke“. To those who read both newsheets – my apologies! The text serves to illustrate the effect of changes in the law, availability of funds, and general pressure from user groups on the state of the Roman Road byway SE of Cambridge. Changes and improvements along this route over 40 years mirror evolution in the state of Cambridgeshire paths to a certain extent over the same period, although this track has always been in better order than many byways in the county.
Changes along the Roman Road
It was in the Autumn of 1961 that I first walked the Roman Road. A new student in Cambridge, it was a great relief to leave the City for a half-day, and walk from the ‘bus at Red Cross, up Worts Causeway onto the old track. Here I continued between the bronze beeches, with a dry chalky path beneath my feet, and the last vestiges of Summer flowers, knapweed, residual scabious, and old man’s beard in the hedges. At a high point along the Way, I looked down uneasily over the flat fens, and at the restless wide skies – then such an unfamiliar landscape – now, after more than 40 years, happily my adopted place.
Later I learned more about this historic route. This section of Roman Road running from Red Cross on the outskirts of Cambridge to beyond Horseheath is properly Wool Street, but is also known as the Via Devana (seemingly a later invented name). I learnt that the grassy agger fringed with wild flowers was once 36 feet wide, and 1 – 2 feet high, running in a partly enclosed green lane. Nearing Horseheath, it passes north of Borley Wood, and south of Streetly Hall, to become a track approaching Hare Wood. Beyond this (in the 1960s) it became obliterated in arable land, crossing a lane south of Withersfield. Over the county boundary in Suffolk, the agger continues in a tree belt (not recorded as a path on Suffolk’s Definitive Map) to the outskirts of Haverhill.
It was the 1970s before I had penetrated this entire length of the road. By that time, I was in employment at Abington, and, with Roger, a regular walker, and member of both the RA Cambridge Group and of Cambridge Rambling Club. By the latter half of the 1970s, we were on the Cambridge RA Group Committee; we had learnt that public rights of way were recorded on a map at Shire Hall; that the whole length of the Roman Road at that time was recorded as a “RUPP” (road used as public path); and that parts of it were numbered according to the civil parishes in which it lay.
The boundaries of these parishes often lie along the road itself, being of ancient derivation, so one length of the road may have two numbers, and technically opposite sides fall within the responsibilites of different parishes. I remember reporting a wrecked car on one section, and phoning a parish clerk. “Which side of the road is the car?” he asked.
In the early days, the Way was very well used by all classes of user – indeed, because of the poor maintenance then of many footpaths, and a shortage of information on local rambling opportunities, the Roman Road, as an obvious walking route, was perhaps even more popular than today. At the same time, motor cycles and cars used the route, especially in dry seasons. On more than one occasion, we observed a lazy car driver trundling along at 5 mph, with a dog lead out the window, and a dog exercising alongside. Both the alarm caused by such vehicles coming up behind, and the ruts made in the surface indicated something needed to be done.
The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act was by then due to make its impact on the Roman Road. Under this Act, the sections of the route between Worts Causeway and Marks Grave were reclassified as byway by Cambridgeshire County Council on various dates between December 1986 and April 1987. The section from Marks Grave to Horseheath was classified as a bridleway in March 1989 (following an objection which was referred to the Secretary of State), and the final section from Horseheath to the county boundary became a footpath in December 1986. Thus, recreational vehicles were prohibited from using that part of the Way east of Marks Grave. Then a Prohibition of Driving Order was made in January 1992, which banned motor vehicles from using the Roman Road from the Hildersham-Babraham Road, to a point 150 metres south of its junction with Worts Causeway. Provision of bollards and barriers followed fairly shortly, to enforce this Order.
As the years went by, guide books on walking in the locality began to appear, many of which included a route along the Roman Road. In 1970, Cambridge and the Isle of Ely County Council published a set of leaflets, with rather faint maps, “Walks and Rides around Cambridge“. An early parish effort was “The Footpaths of Linton District” (1974) published by the Linton District Amenity Society. Cambridge City Council, joint with RA Cambridge Group, produced “Country Walks around Cambridge” in 1980.
Then in the late ‘80s / early ‘90s came a wealth of useful publications in response to the surge of interest in country walking and natural history. Cambridgeshire County Council produced the (free) booklets “Enjoying the Cambridgeshire Countryside” (1988, 1989, 1992), and “Footloose and Carfree“, Vol. 1 (1994), Vol.2 (1996). Specific to the Roman Road were two of the series of leaflets (30p) on individual circular walks: “Roman Road (Wandlebury)”, and “Roman Road (Linton)” both printed 1989.
RA Cambridge Group produced books describing collections of walks. That for South Cambs. (first published 1987, reprinted, and with new editions several times to the present) of course includes the Roman Road.
There have always been problems along the Way from time to time. In 1984, Council workmen erected a signpost incorrectly on the Roman Road for the turn-off of Fulbourn Footpath 11, just before the annual Oxfam Walk. Hundreds of walkers went the wrong way across a cultivated field! Exclusion of vehicles from the western section largely eliminated wrecked vehicles here, but the physically unrestricted byway section east of the Hildersham Road still suffers from burnt-out cars, and fly tipping (both of which should be reported to South Cambs. District Council) and waterlogged ruts on the Balsham section make the route sometimes impassable here to walkers in wet Winters.
A long-standing problem is the arable section of the right of way between Hare Wood & the Withersfield Road (Horseheath Footpath 1). The line of the agger has been long been obliterated by ploughing, but the law requires reinstatement of the right of way after cultivation. For many years, this was not forthcoming, and in the 1960s-1980s the route was difficult to trace. In August 1985, a stalwart footpath campaigner, resident in Suffolk, took Cambridgeshire County Council to the office of the Local Government Ombudsman over failure of the County Council, as Highway Authority, to provide a bridge over a stream, and to oblige the landowner to reinstate the right of way. And the latest clearance of the section of the Roman Road between Worsted Lodge, and the Hildersham turn has produced anguished comments not only at the April 2006 AGM of the “Friends”, but also amongst the rambling fraternity who, whilst seeing the need for some clearance, are disturbed by the adoption of so extensive a “scorched earth” policy.
The vast majority of us ramblers are not dedicated athletes intent on using the countryside as an extended exercise track. As far back as 1969, The Cambridge Rambling Club planted trees alongside the Roman Road to commemorate a well-loved member. Most walkers are amateur naturalists, members of their local Wildlife Trust, and organisations like the RSPB, National Trust, Cambridge Preservation Society, Woodland Trust etc. They appreciate the work of the “Friends” and other conservation groups. Over the years, voluntary work has been shown to be the way to make rapid improvement in countryside issues. For older walkers & conservationists, the attraction of improvement schemes which come to fruition in a year or two, over those promised for a few decades in the future is obvious. I would suggest that pressure from ramblers in the past has led to measures that now protect the Roman Road and other ancient monuments and SSSIs like Fleam Dyke. For the latter, the Ramblers’ Association led the campaign in 1990 for a bridge over the A11, but that’s another story.
Milk bottles make walkways
Country Landowner Magazine of Jan.2006 has a “green” image with an article on the advantages of recycled plastic products for footpath furniture.
Recycled products made from e.g. plastic milk bottles can be used to make plastic walkways, with a lifespan of up to 40 years. Comparing well with timber, they do not rot, splinter, or need no preservative treatments. Plastic “sleepers” can be made with a lightweight hollow profile, and with a textured non-slip surface. Some 1500 plastic bottles would be required to make a 1.5m length of recycled walkway! So should it be back to the old slogan, “Drink a pint of milk a day”?
What the article does not mention, is that many local authorities use similar recycled plastic for signposts, e.g. Essex C.C. These seem to last quite well, but like timber posts, are not resistant to fire, and are fairly easily knocked over. The “Waste & Resources Action Programme” would like to see more use of recycled products in the landscape.
Parish of the Month – Foxton
Alison Taylor, in her invaluable work, Archaeology of Cambridgeshire (Publ. Cambs.C.C., 1997) sets the scene for the First Act of prehistoric man entering this low-lying parish, 15-25m above sea-level, except where Chalk Hill and West Hill rise to 30m. The parish boundaries comprise the River Rhee, Shepreth Brook, the Hoffer Brook, and the old road to Fowlmere. Paleolithic and Neolithic flint axes were found, and ring ditches are visible from the air. Foxton is notable for Iron Age sites (there being one west of the station), several of which developed into Roman settlements. Nearby was an Anglo-Saxon cemetery of the C3rd – C4th, containing 23 skeletons, many with grave goods. North of the cemetery was a C1st Roman building with central heating, military style ditches, and an industrial site. Being situated so close to the A10 (known as the “Portway” medieval route) suggests that the route was also important in Roman times.
Rowland Parker, in his charming book on the history of Foxton, “The Common Stream” (Collins, 1975) takes his title from the Shepreth Brook. He leads us through the development of the village in the Medieval & Middle Ages, when the principal manor house was Foxton Bury, still standing opposite the church. The Bury, once held by the nuns of Chatteris, was dilapidated by the C16th, and largely rebuilt. Rowland Parker describes the “great rebuilding” which occurred all over England at the time of Elizabeth I. He goes on to describe all the old houses in the village presently standing, and their history.
Thus, the “Cottage on the Green” built for one Thomas Campion in 1583 survives largely intact. In Station Road, No 18 dates from 1582, and No.22 from 1570. Nos 44 & 46 High Street were build for Edward Rayner ca. 1590, then enlarged in 1637, whilst Nos 73 & 75 were built ca. 1620. On Fowlmere Road, Nos 8 & 10 were constructed in 1574; No.20 ca. 1600 (and partly rebuilt 1780). Nos 1 & 3 Mortimers Lane date from 1575, and No5 from 1548.
The first church in the village was established in 1140 by the Bancs family, but the present church dates from 1300. Behind the church is the recreation ground with a car park.
When you can tear yourself away from the interesting old houses in the village, investigate the modest path network that the parish offers, armed with OS Explorer Sheet 209.
Footpath 1 leads from the end of West Road, across the busy A10, passing attractive fishing pits, en route to Shepreth.
Footpath 2, starting on the N side of High Street opposite the church leads across fields to the station, from where the public right of way emerges onto the A10 along the platform.
Footpath 3 starts at the junction of High Street and Caxton Lane, TL 409 481, where a metal fingerpost indicates “Public Footpath Fowlmere 1½”. This useful path leads up between Chalk Hill and West Hill, and across fields to Fowlmere. Permissive access to young woods on the summits of these modest hills makes this a place to linger.
Footpath 4 is the path to Newton which starts on Fowlmere Road at TL 416 481 near the phone box. It uses a farm track, and reaches a bridge over the Hoffer Brook. Beyond the bridge is a low-lying area, often flooded in Winter, when Wellington Boots would be an asset. Alternatively, use a permissive path, signed turning off left behind houses on the start of Footpath 4. This gives a dry route round two sides of the fields towards Newton in all seasons.
Footpath 5 starts from TL 401 492, where the Barrington Road makes a right-angle turn, and next to the gated entrance to Barrington Park Farm, at a sign “Public Footpath Barrington ½”. This path runs across an arable field to cross a footbridge under willows and join a well-used path to Barrington Water Meadows and the village.
A number of circuits are possible, but all require use of joining sections of road. These routes can be extended round the path network of adjacent villages.
(a) Foxton – footpath to Fowlmere – permissive track to Manor Farm – RSPB Reserve – Green Man pub – Shepreth – Shepreth Church – Shepreth Pits – Foxton. (7 to 8 miles)
(b) Foxton – footpath to Fowlmere – road (with footway) to Thriplow Old Forge – permissive track to B1368 at TL 433 480 – road (wide verge) to Newton – Newton Hall – footpath to Hoffer Brook and Foxton. (6 miles)
(c) Foxton – footpath to Station – road & footpath to Barrington (optional detour up Chapel Hill) – footpath to Shepreth (optional detour round Shepreth L-Moor Reserve) – footpath through pits and over A10 to Foxton. (4 to 8 miles)
Quotation of the Month
Seen on a display board in the dunes near Holkham, Norfolk:
“A land that is thirstier than ruin;
A sea that is hungrier than death;
Heaped hills that a tree never grew in;
Wide sands where the waves draw breath“
From, “The Salt Marshes” by
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post: Issue 37.
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This is a privately produced magazine, and the views expressed are solely those of the editor, or of the author of an individual item. Janet Moreton 01223 356889
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© Janet Moreton, 2006.