History and Turbulent Times

 

Hidden within the leafy lanes, breezy pastures and lofty hills of the UK countryside are some of the most intriguing stories from our past. Some can be uncovered within castle walls; others must be contemplated from within caves and ancient burial chambers. Wherever you choose to walk, it is likely that you will see evidence of times gone by and with a little research (or help from your guidebook); you can learn about the history that has shaped the land. Our list of historic walks is by no means exhaustive, but here is a selection of history-rich trails that you can enjoy.

Offa's Dyke Path


Untitl22ed-1.jpg

Offa was an Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia, whose warrior tribe once roamed central England. Offa had a reputation as a ruthless leader and was incredibly powerful, being the first ruler to be known as the 'King of the English' and the developer of the first silver pennies in English currency.

King Offa's most famous legacy, however, remains stamped on the landscape - an earthen wall stretching from the Severn Estuary near Chepstow in the south to Prestatyn in the north of Wales. Better known as Offa's dyke, this earthen wall was probably built as a defence against the unruly Welsh. It is still visible as a vast bank and ditch from many points along the Offa's Dyke Path and is now recognised as one of the longest archaeological monuments in Britain.

Other fascinating historic locations along the Offa's Dyke Path include the castles at Chepstow, Monmouth, White Castle, Longtown, Montgomery, Powis, Chirk, Castell Dinas Bran, hill forts at Burfa Camp, Moel Arthur, Moel Famau, the 15th century water mill at Bacheldre and abbeys at Tintern and Valle Crucis.

 

South Downs Way


Unt12itled-1.jpg

The South Downs is Britain's newest National Park, but it is home to some of the country's oldest history. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years, by Neolithic and Bronze Age man who cultivated the downland and mined for flint; by Iron Age farmers; by Romans who constructed trade routes and by Saxons and Normans who built their churches.

As for walking, the Downs were favoured by early drovers and traders who wished to avoid the dense, wet landscape of the Weald and established tracks over the drier terrain of the South Downs. As you follow in their footsteps, it is possible to uncover clues that reveal centuries of history.

Long barrows and hill forts were introduced by Bronze and Iron Age man and at Old Winchester Hill, there is an Iron Age hill fort containing Bronze Age barrows. All around, the unusual 'ripple' of the fields is the legacy of Iron Age farming techniques, while elsewhere, unusual lumps and bumps under the ground are all that remain of medieval villages, abandoned during the plague.

Other more unusual sites of interest include Chanctonbury Ring, which has been used as a hill fort and a Roman temple, but is also said to have been created by the Devil and, just off the route of the South Downs Way, the long man of Wilmington, a chalk figure with mysterious origins.

 

White Peak Way


U12ntitled-1.jpg

In a scenic area overlooking the Derwent Valley is an area strewn with ancient relics. Stanton Moor was once inhabited by Bronze Age settlers and hidden amongst the heather are over 70 barrows, a range of stone circles and standing stones.

There is a distinct atmosphere to the place and tales of druids, magic and ghosts are rife. Indeed, the most famous of the stone circles is called the 'Nine Ladies' - legend tells that each standing stone represents one of the nine ladies who dared to dance on a Sunday and as punishment, were turned to stone.

Other historic features of the White Peak Way include Peveril Castle, one of England's earliest Norman fortresses; Chatsworth House, one of the country's most splendid and best-loved historic houses; Rowter Rocks, where an eccentric vicar built a hideaway and of course, the many Derbyshire villages with traditional customs such as 'well dressing'.

 

Hadrian's Wall Path


12Untitled-1.jpg

Unlike other Roman Emperors, the Emperor Hadrian was interested not in expanding his Empire, but in strengthening and securing it. In AD 122, he ordered the construction of a huge wall across the northern frontier. It stretched for 84 miles (134km), took six years to build and every Roman mile, a mile-castle was placed to house the troops who once marched there, protecting Roman Britain from the Picts.

Hadrian's Wall was initially built as a 10ft (3m) wide 'broad wall', but after two years it was reduced to a narrow wall of 6ft (2m) wide. Today, at locations such as Planetrees, the point where the wall becomes narrower is very obvious while at other locations, the characteristic ditches and Vallum are more apparent.

With mile-castles, forts and temples scattered along the route of Hadrian's Wall, there is history to discover at every turn of the Hadrian's Wall Path, which closely follows this remarkable ancient monument.

Chesters, Corbridge and Housesteads Roman Forts all offer wonderful insights into life in Roman Britain with artefacts on display in their museums. For the best preserved sections of the Wall, Cawfields, Gilsland, Birdoswald and Sewingshields are the areas to focus on, while allowing for an extra night at Once Brewed is a must if you wish to visit Vindolanda, one of the most extensive forts with live excavations in the summer, reconstructions and the famous collection of Roman writing tablets.

 

The Ridgeway


Untitl22ed-1.jpg

The very term 'ridgeway' has Anglo-Saxon origins, referring to the tracks used over centuries by people wishing to cross the countryside on the drier ridges of hills. As a trail, the Ridgeway is considered to be one of the oldest routes in Britain and is thought to have been in use for over 5000 years. All along the way you will see signs of prehistoric, Bronze and Iron Age structures, as well as other more intriguing finds to add to the mix.

Right at the start of the trail is the World Heritage Site of Avebury with its world famous stone circle. Nearby is Silbury Hill, a man-made chalk mound similar in size to some Egyptian pyramids and shrouded in as much mystery. The West Kennet Long Barrow completes the complex of Neolithic wonders that adorn the early stages of the Ridgeway.

The Ridgeway also visits the Uffington White Horse, the oldest hill figure in Britain at around 3000 years old; Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound dating back to around 4000BC; Wantage, the birthplace of King Alfred the Great; the prehistoric earthwork of Grim's Ditch and castles at Barbury, Liddington, Uffington and Segsbury.

 
 
 

Rob Roy Way


Untitl22ed-1.jpg

Rob Roy MacGregor is one of Scotland's most notorious characters. He took part in the Jacobite uprisings and later became a well-respected cattle drover and dealer, working with powerful clans at a time when cattle raiding was commonplace. As a result of his prowess, Rob Roy was lent £1000 to expand his activities, but when this was stolen by one of his chief herders, Rob Roy was declared bankrupt and after refusing to respond to a summons, was declared an outlaw.

Rob Roy's former patron, the Duke of Montrose, evicted his family and ransacked his homes. Set on justice, Rob Roy began a long campaign against the Duke and his arrests, subsequent escapes and daring adventures have become legendary.

The Rob Roy Way explores the landscape where Rob Roy and his clansmen were active and visits locations that are linked to his story. From Drymen with the remains of Buchanan Castle, once owned by the Duke of Montrose; Aberfoyle, where a short diversion to Loch Ard leads to Rob Roy's cave where he is thought to have hidden and Callander, home of the Rob Roy Visitor Centre.