The Wessex Ridgeway, a conduit for shepherds, farmers and travellers across the downs from Avebury to the River Thames and beyond, is often called Europe’s oldest road. But is this so? The downlands of southern England dominated early archaeological research. Thanks to surveys, excavations and scientific advances, we now know that local and long-distance communications were more complex and field systems and settlements more extensive than previously thought. This new research somewhat changes our view of how the Ridgeway may have been used.
This day school will examine recent research into prehistoric and early medieval routeways, and local and long-distance communications. Detailed field and aerial surveys of the Wessex downland also allow us to consider the evolution of the Ridgeway, from prehistory through the Roman and Medieval periods. The rich evidence of Anglo-Saxon charters shows its relationship to other trackways, notably the herepaths.
The Ridgeway has inspired artists of the ‘cold pastoral’, writers and naturalists. Today the long-distance path provides a valued lung for urban dwellers and yet remains a contested landscape.