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Banburyshire’s Ancient Trackways:

Welsh Lane

Welsh Lane, or Welsh Road, was a ‘drove road’ following Medieval or earlier tracks connecting north-west towards Coventry and Kenilworth and south-east to Buckingham and Aylesbury.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Welsh Lane, Crossing Danesmoor’, 11th April 2019
Welsh Lane, Crossing Danesmoor
Click for a larger image.

‘Welsh Lane’ was a route which paralleled Roman Watling Street, used to drive animals cross-country, connecting the Medieval towns of the South East to North Wales. In the local area it appears to reuse a network of minor Roman roads, which makes the route rather difficult to follow as it intersects with The Portway and Salt Way.

The long-distance movement of livestock began with the establishment of the large towns during the Medieval area – in particular, London. For a few centuries, until the coming of the railways, this was the way that livestock was moved from Wales and the North to the markets of the Midlands and the South.

Summary for ‘Welsh Lane’:

Location: Medieval (or earlier) drove road; Clun/Bishops Castle, Birmingham, Kenilworth, Southam, Priors Hardwick, Thorpe Mandeville, Thenford, Charlton, Finmere, Buckingham, Fenny Stratford/Aylesbury.

Type: ‘Ancient Roads and Trackways’.

Condition: Mostly minor (but busy) surfaced roads, but there are some good sections of off-road track in this area.

Access: Public roads & byways – a good cross-country cycle route.

Further information: Local Drove Roads, part 1 & part 2;
and Wikipedia.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘The route of Welsh Lane across The Midlands’
The route of Welsh Lane across The Midlands
(click for a larger image)

Around the Banburyshire area the route of Welsh Lane appears to reuse the Roman routes which pass across the local hills between the South East and the Midlands; a fact reinforced by the discovery of an unknown Roman town adjacent to the route of Welsh Lane as it passes Chipping Warden.

Until the coming of the turnpike roads in the Eighteenth Century, the routes of Roman- and older ridge-roads still dominated cross-country movement during the Medieval era. Livestock being driven to London followed the major Roman roads into the city, such as Watling Street and Akeman Street.

The route of Welsh Lane is debatable as like many drove roads it wasn’t a single identified track, but a series of broad, often parallel tracks which crossed the landscape in a general direction. The drove roads on the Welsh border are still evident today, but the route across Shropshire and into Birmingham has been erased by later land inclosure and urbanisation. The route becomes clearer once it leaves south-east from Kenilworth, past Cubbington, heading towards Offchurch, and Southam.

Many Medieval drove routes went to Northampton, which used to be one of the biggest markets for driven cattle before the modern era of the railways eliminated this trade. Some came to Banbury Market.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Welsh Lane crosses the valley of the River Leam’, 17th February 2019
Welsh Lane crosses the valley of the River Leam, 17th February 2019
– looking directly along the course of HS2’s Leam Viaduct

Beyond Southam the route transforms into a recognisable drove road running across the plain towards Marston Doles. Here another old route forks off eastward, up the steep escarpment, towards Towcester and Watling Street. The main route turns south-east on a more gently rising route, along a broad way-leave between the hedgerows, towards Priors Hardwick, Boddington, and then climbs a less steep section of the escarpment to Aston-le-Walls.

Passing Chipping Warden it goes straight to Trafford Bridge where it crosses the River Cherwell. Then it heads off-road, on what were some of my favourite local lanes, across Danesmoor towards Thorpe Mandeville. Here, at the top of the high ridge at Thenford Hill, it crosses Banbury Lane.

Here the naming of the roads suggests that Welsh Lane turns east from Thorpe Mandeville towards Syresham, then on to meet the Roman road which heads north from Stowe Park, then south-east into Buckingham. That route isn’t well preserved as the creation of local estates and land inclosure erased many features in the landscape. Or it may be that this represents an alternate route.

There’s much clearer evidence, in the continuing hedge lines, that the route comes down the hill from Thorpe Mandeville and heads south toward Thenford – within a broad straight way-leave. The wide track is lost as it enters the village, then returns as it passes the next ancient hamlet of Purston. It’s also possible that a route forked at the village as another significant old track heads south-east towards Farthinghoe, where it joins the ridge road.

Beyond Purston things get complicated. Around Newbottle, Charlton, and across towards Brackley, the route tangles with The Portway and Salt Way. There are a number of possible broad lanes, such as the Green Lane to Steane, any one (or all) of which are likely to have been used to head south of Brackley towards Buckingham. It’s also possible that the minor Roman road route toward Bicester – that runs in a broad straight way-leave between the hedgerows – could have been used as a short-cut to Akeman Street.

I think the most likely is the route of Salt Way past Charlton, towards Finmere, as many sections of that still run along the high ridge in a broad straight way-leave. At Buckingham, that route runs along the valley of the River Great Ouse, avoiding a significant river crossing.

Another possible route that’s mentioned in relation to Salt Way heads south from Buckingham towards Aylesbury, which at points is still visible in sections today – most exceptionally the single-track road running in a broad straight way-leave in the valley between Quainton Hill and Oving. This route meets Akeman Street north of Aylesbury.

From Buckingham, Salt Way runs along the south side of the Great Ouse, then crosses Padbury Brook at Thornborough Bridge – the oldest Medieval bridge in Buckinghamshire. From there it continues straight along a low ridge to intersect Watling Street at the river crossing in Fenny Stratford.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘The route of Welsh Lane across The Midlands’
A snowy Newbottle, looking back along Welsh Lane before it meets Salt Way
Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Green Lane, from Purston to Steane’, 22nd June 2013.
Green Lane, from Purston to Steane – another potential short-cut connecting Welsh Lane at Purston to Salt Way near Brackley.

Though the wide way-leave of the Medieval drove road is still visible at a few points locally, a good part of the story of Welsh Lane is conjecture – one that is confused by the many other ancient routes which crossed this area. Not only were there no defined roads, or road atlases in the Medieval era (Britain's first road atlas was produced in 1675), the route would likely have changed with the season and the weather, especially where river crossing were involved.

One final note: From Kenilworth down to Thorpe Mandeville the route of Welsh Lane gets tangled up with the HS2 railway. That’s a true shame as the route it takes around the periphery of Banburyshire was a relatively remote, tranquil area of countryside. That will be lost over the next few years should the project advances.

Today, bypassed by the modern world, Welsh Lane is a truly lovely route to cycle along the undulating Warwickshire-Northamptonshire-Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire borderland. Some single-track road sections are even quiet enough to walk on foot. The more slowly you can travel, the more likely you are to glimpse the remaining features of the old road; most notably, the ancient hedgerows that mark-out its course.

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