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Blackwater Road (2)

Walking through Silchester (SU 637624) on “The Drove” is an eerie experience: the town looks as if it was deserted in a hurry.  Acres of flat grass (#1), hiding the grid-pattern of ancient streets, lie either side of the track inside the remains of an impressive Roman wall (#2).  True there’s a lovely little church, St Mary’s, on the eastern edge to show that there was re-habitation (and the old amphitheatre, outside the wall, was home to a few in the 12C) but all the old houses are gone without trace.  Chris Speed, local archaeologist, says it was evacuated between 500 and 650 AD – but why?


Big question.  I am too ignorant to be theorising, but some believe that the inhabitants were tempted to join another diocese – probably Reading – on the basis that the town had been spiritually contaminated by the pagan Romans.  Chris says the Anglo-Saxons didn’t trust city-dwelling because they were farmers by nature.


Easier to believe that there wasn’t enough water - Silchester has no substantial river.  Wroxeter and Caistor-by-Norwich (and Old Sarum?) were deserted for that reason.  But the water table, says Chris Speed, is not far below the surface and was gushing all over the place when they were excavating the baths after a dry spell in July 2019...  So we are back to ancient diocesan squabbles until a new theory pops up.


“The Drove” is straight enough to be Roman (#3) and, when it leaves the city behind, it continues straight as a die through a cornfield (#4) (with a delightful smattering of cornflowers) till it rejoins the tarmac, goes over the railway and passes the old Silchester Arms at 662625.  We were convinced the inn was for drovers but were told by the delightful owner that it was built for the navvies who built the railway.  (It would have been hard to keep the last of the drovers out, of course…)  He has kept the sign (#5).


We stopped when we met the start of the green lane at 667626, The Devil’s Highway, thinking how unlikely it was to have found a drove road going through the middle of a Roman town.

Blackwater Road (2) image 1
Inside the Walls
Blackwater Road (2) image 2
And Outside...
Blackwater Road (2) image 3
The Drove
Blackwater Road (2) image 4
Thru the Corn
Blackwater Road (2) image 5
Sign of the Past