Inspired by Chance's fieldnotes and his recent mention of the Woolstone wellsprings (OS: SU296872)
in a comment on Dragon Hill, I persuaded my walking friend back up to Uffington Hill today. A frosty, bright, morning as we made our towards Uffington Castle; today, however, the mission was to reach the woodland at the horse-shoe bend on the road below. We climbed over a stile into the tussocky grass and slowly followed the sheep paths down the hill. Going was surprising tricky, with the wet grass quite slippy - we made it to the bottom of the hill and over the road to the wooded area where we walked along the side of the road to gain access to the wood.
The view of Dragon Hill and Uffington White Horse hill is spectacular from here. Very much a 'first' experience for me - Uffington Hill forms a massive amphitheatre with Dragon Hill positioned within it, though to one side rather than the centre. Several springs emerge in the small woodland at the foot of the hill, it is easy to visualise that there may have been a ceremonial aspect attributed to this landscape.
With some difficulty, we scrambled through the wood, over the streams and up the bank on the other side - coming out on private farmland.
A stop for lunch at the White Horse Inn in Woolstone before we followed the waymarked 'circular walk' path back up to the Ridgeway.
Wonderful wildlife, a roe deer, frantic fast moving squirrels (clearly not used to people), a flock of fieldfares, buzzards, two herons in flight and best of all - as we reached Uffington Castle, two red kites flew overhead. At one point on the ramparts of the hillfort a red kite flew across our line of vision before gliding down to the woodland where we had scrambled about a few hours earlier.
I spent a day wondering along one of the best parts of the Icknield Way last summer. Me and a friend had spent the night on the Ridgeway opposite Waylands Smithy. Duty had called him back to Avebury and I found myself with time to explore Hardwell Camp, Woolstone Wells, Dragon Hill and the campsite at Britchcombe Farm.
I was dropped off by the Knighton war memorial at the junction of on the Icknield Way and Knighton Hill. (SU 28288 86813). I have travelled this section of the Icknield Way many times before, but never on foot. That Saturday morning the traffic was light but I still had to keep my wits about me as the cars sped past.
The road in front of Hardwell Camp has been secured with a deer proof fence. The interior of the camp is an ideal retreat for the deer and some would have jumped out into the road. I found my way up the footpath which runs alongside the western edge of the hillfort. There seems to be a natural entrance at the top but in the height of summer, the mass of vegetation and overgrowth was too extensive to make any clear picture of it's shape. Defiantly a site to explore during the winter months.
This section of the Icknield Way follows the contours of the hill just above the line of the numerous springs. My next stop was the springs know as Woolstone Wells which form the River Ock. These springs should be seen in the same way as the Swallow Head springs are in the Avebury landscape. One of the many legends surrounding these springs is that the Uffington white horse is said to be a mare, and to have her invisible foal on the hill beside her. At night the horse and foal come down to eat at the slope below known as the Manger, and to drink the mystical waters. The Woolstone Wells are said to have been formed by a hoof print from the horse and the Icknield Way follows this line precisely. Unlike the Swallow Head springs, these springs were flowing freely and did not seem to have been tapped by the water company. There wasn't any parking on this section of the Icknield Way, so I guess very few people take the time to explore this site.
Walking onward, a footpath is available on the right which winds past Dragon Hill, crosses Dragonhill road and continues up the side of the hill to join the Ridgeway. I carried on walking down the Icknield Way and watched Dragon hill change shape. At the cross roads with the Icknield Way, the hills flat top is most prominent.
By this time, I was in need of refreshment and the welcome thought of a cup of tea spurred me on to Britchcombe Farm and the formidable Mrs. Marcella Seymour. Rated as one of the best located campsites in southern England, Britchcombe Farm was busy with happy campers, although I could have done without the screaming kids. The Tearoom on the farm is open Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from 3 - 6 pm. Someone once told me that Marcella was the Dragon from the hill, but I found her to be very approachable. I asked her about the rumour of lighting fires and she gave me an info sheet with all the campsite details. Fires are allowed, if you ask her first. Please have a bucket of water ready before you light your fire. Keep the size of your fire to no larger than 18" square. Bags of suitable kindling and logs are available at £5 per bag from the farm. As for the camping charges,
cost per night is £6.00 per person per night for adults. Under 5 year olds are free of charge, Age 5-14 is £3.00 per person per night.
Gazebos are £6.00 per night. Showers are inclusive. Electric Hook Up's £6 per night. Washing up facilities and Showers are available next to the toilets. Although this facility has been posted to the TMA, it has not been listed as a facility of the Uffington area. http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/facility/514
Full details are Mrs M Seymour, Britchcombe Farm, Uffington - SN7 7QJ
Tel: 01367 820667 Fax: 01367 821022
That part of the Upper Icknield Way which, on the Ordnance Map, is called Ickleton Way, leads, "they say," to the world's end.
A gentleman once travelled along this road till he came to the fiery mountains. He turned back long before he reached them, for the smoke and smell nearly suffocated him. he lived near Watlington, but the woman who told me this had forgotton his name, though she had heard many speak of him. He died before she came into this part.
The road is also called Akney Way and the Drove Road, on account of the number of sheep driven along it at fair time. It is said to go all round the world, so that if you keep along it and travel on you will come back to the place you started from. It is also said to go from sea to sea.
A drover who had been "everywhere," Bucks., Oxfordshire, Herts., all over Wales, had always found the Akney Way wherever he had been. (Heard in 1891.)
In April, 1892, I walked along the Icknield Way from Crowmarsh, in Oxfordshire, to Dunstable, in Bedfordshire (a distance of 35 miles). I was unable to gain any further information about the legend previously mentioned, but, all along my route, heard that the road went all round the world, or that it went all through the island, that it went from sea to sea, that it went " from sea-port to sea-port."
Well regardless of the 'Truth' (see misc.), it was obviously a long distance route in the tales of the people living by it, so I don't know what that means.
Scraps of Folklore Collected by John Philipps Emslie
C. S. Burne
Folklore, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun. 30, 1915), pp. 153-170
It's widely believed that the Icknield Way was a long distance route in prehistoric times, being a continuation of the Ridgeway from Buckinghamshire to Norfolk. The original paths would have weaved along the high chalk ridges and open dry areas across East Anglia (today the Icknield Way Path keeps you to a narrower route).
Fair enough, that a lot of unlikely things have been said (for example, the idea that the Anglo Saxons made their move into England along it). Indeed, some stretches of the route only got the Icknield name when antiquaries started looking for them.. and apparently adding bits in that needed to be there for a continuous long route. (Have a read of this: http://www.north-herts.gov.uk/wilbury_walk.pdf )
- But can't we cling on to the undeniably ancient use of some sections, surely? There are ancient places on and near it (can you hear the anxious rising tone of my voice) - lots of them. Prehistoric people had to get from A to B.. didn't they have trade routes? Oh don't tell me this is a fancier version of my folklore favourites.. is anything true at all.. or is this just the latest tale we are telling ourselves about the route? Hmm..
*and this includes your beloved Ridgeway too no doubt.