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THE OLD SARUM LEY CONSOLIDATED



G.J. Harris research over recent years has concentrated on looking for actual track remnants occurring on alignments. Here he looks at just one of his findings - the classic ley running south from Stonehenge.

The Old Sarum Ley was probably the first alignment of ancient sites to attract the attention of alignment researchers and has remained the most famous, or infamous, ever since. So when a bit more of it is found, it must be worth writing about.

The story really begins at Moot'80, after an intriguing first read of The Old Straight Track', picked up whilst waiting for a bus. "Wouldn't it be better if ley hunters looked for aligned remains of the old straight tracks instead of churches" said the upstart to the cornered guru. "If you think so why don't you do it yourself" he growled. So I did.

Watkins had suggested that many 'Roman roads are merely surfaced stretches of pre-existing track, so a study of Roman roads, which survive in great length, seemed the best way to start. It gradually dawned that essential equipment included a drawing board, a straightedge at least a metre long and a stock of 1:100,000 scale O.S. County Outline maps (without administrative boundaries). These maps contain practically the same detail as the 1:50,000 series, except for footpaths, and cover four times the area at only twice the cost. At this size and scale it soon became apparent that the lines of several stretches of 'Roman road, when extrapolated, often i ntersect at a common nodal point, and that stretches of roads not thought to be Roman frequently coincide wi th the extrapolated lines. The latter phenomenon puzzled Margary, much earlier, you may recall (Roman Wa ys in the Weald 2nd edit. 1956). More significantly, several alignments composed entirely of non-Roman roads and tracks were invariably found to radiate from the same points. Two good examples of such points in the midland s are at a crossroads, or meeting point of roads, on Condicote Lane in the Cotswolds (SP 157261, displayed at Moot'84), and at the junction of  'Roman' roads at Six Hills in Leicestershire (the subject of an unsuccessful application for a British Archaeological Award in 1986).

The penny dropped though when attention was diverted north to the map of Northumberland on which it was found that three such nodal points are occupied by stone circles. (See Letter, Archaeology Today, Vol. 8 No.1 Feb. 1987) Anyone wishing to be convinced that tracks once radiated from the sites of stone circles should study the landscape NNW of the circle at NT 972205. It reminded me of the Thoms' observation that three tracks in close proximity to Stonehenge appear to align with that best known circle of all. (Megalithic Remains in Britain and Brittany OUP, 1978 pp 158 & 161).

So the County Outline map of Dorset was pinned to the board, with that bit of Wiltshire containing Stonehenge attached. To ley hunters who have confined themselves to 1:50,000 or larger scale maps Stonehenge must be a big disappointment, there being so few notable point alignments within 20 miles of the circle. Furtherafield though, they abound. The landscape WSW through Henstridge and Sherborne is dominated by a series of very close alignments, not to mention yet another nodal point for 'Roman' and other roads at Ilchester. Look, too, on Landranger Sheet 184, at a line from the centre of Stonehenge SSW towards Grovely H ill, through the church and bridge over the Nadder at Burcombe, along the track over Stoke Down and onto the track running off the map at Easting SU 000. Then continue the line on the 1:100,000 scale map south to Lulworth Castle. The probability of point sites aligning by change is an entirely different matter. If ever a line marked the course of a former straight track, this one does. But on to the The Old Sarum Ley!

As everyone knows, if a line is drawn from the centre of Stonehenge through the centre of Old Sarum, which seems the tidiest of all the variations proposed, it continues on through Salisbury Cathedral and clips the edges of Clearbury Ring and Frankenbury Camp. But no-one ever seems to mention that this line also passes through Harnham bridge over the Avon south of the cathedral. If long straight tracks did exist in prehistory, and were used by man, then rivers would naturally have been crossed at the points to which they led. Once established, such crossings are likely to have remained in use, in the same place, no matter how much the tracks in between deviated from their original course, or disappeared entirely. So fords and river bridges might reasonably be expected to be common features along the courses of former tracks, and indeed they are.

The Odstock road south from Salisbury wavers somewhat to the east of the line but returns to it precisely where it crosses a tributary of the Ebble. South of Frankenbury Camp, bridges over Huckles Brook and Lindford Brook, and what initially appeared to be a four mile sequence of road, track and path heading over Kingston Great Comm on, fall precisely on the line. When examined in more detail at a scale of 1:25,000 (Sheet SU 00/10), the latter turned out to be a parish boundary, straight for most of  it’s length, but zig-zagging the rest, with six boundary dead on line. Just another of those coincidences'? I think not.

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