Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives the definition of "trackway" as "a path formed by the repeated treading of people or animals", and it is with this idea in mind that this article has been written. Such paths exist from the earliest times and in every part of the globe. For the purposes of the following, it is intended to concentrate on the ancient trackways that existed, and were already in use when the Romans arrived, in Britain. Such trackways, often built on by the Romans, formed the foundations of the current system of roads in England.
The very earliest creatures to arrive in Britain after the Ice Age, crossing land which would later be the English Channel, were grazing animals following the spreading vegetation. Their predators, including humans – the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) hunter-gatherers - followed. The earlier Mesolithic people were nomadic but in the later part of the Mesolithic permanent settlements started to appear.
These settlements were connected with each other by the ancient trackways. These green ways often followed natural contours in the landscape, and had evolved over time as animals were driven from place to place, and pedestrians walked to and from neighbouring settlements. Much of the land was forested; the lower valleys provided fertile land and were ideal places for fishing, agriculture and the rearing of cattle.
The trackways will have provided links in many ways: farmsteads to fields; to other farmsteads; to the neighbouring long barrow tomb; with long-distance trackways joining the separate localities to the camp meeting places and cross-country flint roads. Others were more likely to have been processional ways, like one heading for the gigantic temple at Avebury. Others, the long-distance ways mentioned above, are now known as Icknield Way, the Ridgeway National Trail, and Pilgrims Way.
Some of these trackways followed the tops of higher land, whilst others progressed along the lower slopes. Skills to develop tracks across bog lands, such as in Somerset, were gradually learnt by early people. Known as corduroy roads, they were formed when huge quantities of alder poles and brushwood were used to link the fen islands across the marshes.
On occasion, where rivers caused an obstacle to progress, bridges were built across them, and several roads met to use the bridge. Here major settlements grew, providing sustenance to travellers and their animals using the trackways. There are many good example of this: three follow.
The original settlement at Wallingford in Oxfordshire dates back to the dawn of British history, when its founders showed a remarkable amount of discrimination in choosing its site. Nestling in a fertile valley on the banks of the River Thames, it was an ideal place for fishing, agriculture and the rearing of cattle. The ancient trackways, in particular the Icknield Way, gave it lines of communication converging on its ford. The remains of the ramparts, which still surround the town, are the successors of the rudimentary fortifications of the old British settlement, were adapted in turn by Roman, Saxon and Norman conquerors.
A similar site is Brownhills once in Staffordshire, now in West Midlands. Brownhills was a meeting point for ancient roads and trackways since prehistoric times. It is thought that the Watling Street was in use before the Romans came, ands what were later called the Chester Road and Coventry Road are also thought to have been ancient trackways.
Cadbury Castle and South Cadbury Village
Cadbury Castle in Somerset is a tremendous iron age camp covering some 18 acres (73,000 m²), one of the most impressive sites in Britain. It is the focal point of many ancient trackways and is guarded by four huge banks with a height in places of over 40 feet (12 m) from the bottom of the ditch.
I love to walk the secret ways of prehistoric man, Where scratched across the Cotswold Hills the ancient trackways ran. The cattle ways, the salt ways, the lonely pilgrims ride To the hinterland of England from silver Severnside.
- From Roel Gate by Arthur Dalby and taken from the website on the Gloucestershire Way
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