There is a great line in the Monty Python film ‘Life Of Brian’ which asks the question “What have the Roman’s ever done for us?” Whilst the Roman’s may have been very prolific builders and their great architectural feats have stood the test of time. They are not the only inhabitants of this Island to have left their mark for us to see today.
It may be the burial mounds, or tumuli, of the Neolithic and Bronze Age. It could be the monumental hill forts of the Iron Age. Or even the patch work of small fields and hedge rows of the Medieval Period. Wherever we look there is always something that can be intrinsically linked to the past.
But back to the Monty Python question. There is hardly anywhere in Britain that does not have some Roman influence or relic. In Bath there are the Baths, at Fishbourne there is the great Roman Palace. Hadrian’s Wall and its associated forts stretch across the north of England. But one of the greatest relics of the Roman occupation are the Roads. Many are now overlaid by modern straight roads but there are a few places where the original Roman roads can still be found.
Todays walk takes us to one of those places where we can actually walk on the very surface trodden by Roman centurions, Traders and Noblemen. We will also visit a Bronze Age earthwork and the site of a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure.
Start/Finish – Parking at the Left Hanger Car Park near Bignor OS Grid Ref: SU 97373 12922 Explorer Map OL10
Route – 4.6 mile circular route with a small detour to the Neolithic Camp.
Stane Street is the modern name given to the 90-kilometre Roman road that linked London to the Roman town of Noviomagus Reginorum, or Regnentium, later renamed Chichester by the Saxons. The date of construction is unknown however, based on archaeological artefacts discovered along the road, it was in use by 70 AD and may have been constructed as early as 43-53 AD.
The road comprises of a central agger, or raised cambered trackway up to 10m wide and 1.8m high. It is flanked on each side by a ditch from which material used in its construction was excavated. Over the years this has become partly infilled, but survives in places as a depression up to around 7m wide and 0.8m deep. . This walk will take you along some of the best preserved stretches of Stane Street.
Along sections of the road the agger and ditches are separated by a berm, an area of level ground, up to about 8m wide. Excavations in 1913 and 1937 showed that the surface of the berms and the agger, were metalled (had a level surface made of small pieces of stone).
By way of dispelling the myth that all Roman Roads ran in straight lines from A to B. Stane Street follows the route of least resistance especially when it came to crossing the North and South Downs. In order to find the easiest route through the North Downs, the road followed the line of the River Mole to the east of Leith Hill. A slightly different deviation was made at the South Downs, as in this case there was no river valley to follow.
The route followed a slight gully up the scarp face on the north side of the South Downs near Bignor, in order to ease the gradient of the climb. This is now the access road that you will have driven up to reach the car park on top of the downs. Once on top of the South Downs, it is a gentle slope down towards Chichester as you will see from the walk.
Interestingly though, whilst Stane Street took the path of least resistance, at nowhere alone it 56 mile route does it deviate more than 6 miles from the straight line course.
After you pick up Stane Street just west of the car park, start to follow its course heading SouthWest. After about 300 m, just north of Gumber Corner, the path intercepts a Prehistoric linear boundary. This earthwork runs NNW-SSE from the near by Glatting Beacon for about 500m.
The boundary has a ditch, around 4m wide and 0.9m deep, flanked on each side by a bank up to about 6m wide and 0.3m high. It probably dates from the Middle Bronze Age and excavated finds include fragments of a Bronze Age funerary urn. It would have been a powerful symbol, often with religious associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of those groups who constructed them.
The northern end of the earthwork curves to the east around the edge of the two prehistoric barrows. The northerly of the 2 barrows is easily accessed from the track to Glatting Beacon on the right hand side just past the recently refurbished Dew Pond. The Barrows probably date between 2400-1500 BC.
On the final part of the walk a short detour is taken towards the Barkhale Woods. It is here that we find the remains of Barkhale Neolithic Camp or Causewayed Enclosure. There is very little to see these days other than the faint line of series of concentric ridges.
The causewayed enclosure is situated on a gentle south-facing slope between the two summits of Bignor Hill. It is defined by a low bank and outer ditch, the ditch being interrupted by causeways spaced at regular intervals, a characteristic of this type of monument. The area enclosed is 3ha and has maximum dimensions of 220m from north to south and 150m from east to west. The bank survives to a height of 0.5m and is 10m wide.
During excavations on the site, Neolithic pottery and flint tools were discovered confirming that the enclosure was occupied during the Neolithic period. Some pottery dating to later periods was also found.
Causewayed enclosures were constructed over a period of some 500 years during the middle part of the Neolithic period (c.3000-2400 BC) but also continued in use into later periods. They are amongst the earliest field monuments to survive as recognisable features in the modern landscape and are one of the few known Neolithic monument types.
This is the last of the current series of Walks Through History for the time being. If there is the interest I can always do plenty more walks in my local ‘playground’. All of the walks and ancient monuments discribed in the these four post have all been within 30 km of each other and the furtherest is only 35 km from my home.
Where I live is nothing special historically. There are numerous Prehistoric sites to visit and explore all over the country. All you need to do is look a little closer at your OS Maps and see them all over the place. Happy walking and good hunting.