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Road to Blackwater -1

The village of Blackwater lies on the old London-Exeter Road at the junction of Berkshire, Hampshire & Surrey and about 40 miles from London’s main markets.  In droving days it was a sort of Clapham junction too: huge herds of cattle & flocks of sheep arrived from the North, South but mainly the West for the annual fair on November 7-8th, supposed to be the biggest in Southern England1.  From there the beasts were split up by their new owners and driven on to London, the Channel ports and Kent.


Why Blackwater for the fair?  Because it’s on the Blackwater River and surrounded by huge area of  poor & acidic grazing land, unfit for dairy cattle or crops but perfect for animals on the move.  So it became dotted with hand-dug ponds for thirsty animals.  Burnt Common (#1) at SU 6264 near Aldermaston was, we were told, the furthest west the London butchers travelled to assess the quality of the cattle, because they could get back by coach in one day.   It must be 500 acres, part of which is taken up by Welshman’s Pond (#2), which must have taken a deal of digging.  It’s huge!


Along the southern boundary is, predictably, “Welshman’s Road”, which the traffic doesn’t allow you to walk with any comfort.  Worse, there is an anomaly to all this.  Welshman’s Road isn’t aiming for Blackwater at all; more like Wokingham…


However, a mile to the south on the edge of Silchester another track, The Drove, goes through the centre of the Roman town before becoming The Devil’s Highway (and further on “Welshman’s Drive”).  This one is straight as a die & bang on target.  And there’s a link between the parallel routes via Mortimer West End and The Red Lion at 634634.  The byway is triangular at first, as if changing its mind; and it’s not wide enough to be convincing.  We reckoned drovers would have taken the road past the pub.  We found a picture there showing the road coming down from the pub (behind the trees) and veering off to the right just as it reaches the brook.(#3)


But after veering off the road again it becomes a stonking drovers’ track (#4,5) until it hits the edge of Silchester at 636625, from where we started the following day...

1 But so, apparently, was Weyhill.

Road to Blackwater -1 image 1
Burnt Common
Road to Blackwater -1 image 2
Where Butchers had a Butchers
Road to Blackwater -1 image 3
Where the track leaves the road.