"Anybody can play weird, that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple - awesomely simple - that’s creativity."
A short walk in the New Forest.
The Thames at low tide, Christmas Eve.
from Nature, Volume LXVI, May to October 1902
All the videos we posted last week regarding the search for the Harrow Way have now been assembled in a single playlist.
Our Navigations - Field Report 5: a post-script
The film made for “Along the Sunken Lanes” was not the first attempt my friend Ralph and I made to document the Harrow Way in a car with a digital camera. Earlier in the summer when the lanes were at their greenest we had set off west from Hungry Hill heading in the direction of Stonehenge along the minor metalled roads and lanes of North-East Hampshire. We got as far as Ellisfield, just before we would have crossed over the M3, when we received a message which meant we had to return to deal with a family illness. Our journey was to be cut short and postponed until a later date. The film like our journey ends prematurely.
Ellisfield sits at the north-western end of a valley which stretches towards Alresford, which became famous as a place visited by those in search of source singers of traditional songs. Collectors such as George Gardiner and Ralph Vaughan Williams came at the turn of the century to hear a wide variety of singers in Axford, Cheriton, The Candovers and Ellisfield. In the 1950s folk-singer Bob Copper supported by the BBC returned to the area to record what remaining source singers he could find, an adventure he wrote about in his book “Of Songs And Southern Breezes”. It was during this period that he met and recorded Enos White, a former carter from the area who sang a legendary recording of “the Ballad Of George Collins” revived so ably by Sam Lee on his recent album.
Just before singing the song Enos told Copper:
"Ol’ Vaughan Williams got some songs offen my wife’s mother y’know, ‘er name was Randall an’ she lived up Ellisfield"
Later Copper would meet the folk-singer Frank Cole.
"Frank, I Learnt, was, like Enos, also a son-in-law of Mrs Rabdall of Ellisfield, whose daughters seem to have had a leaning towards traditional singers in their choice of husbands"
It is my belief that in the film we drive right past the cottage where Mrs Randall once lived.
In retrospect turning back from our first attempt that day was probably a good thing. Inexperienced as we were with the simple equipment we were using we struggled to get setup right. Revisiting the footage now there is a haunted quality to the images, probably a combination of the diffuse light that day and our technical shortcomings, which I rather like.
Our Navigations - Field Report 5
"So when I think of the individual, I am always inclined to see him imprisoned within a destiny in which he himself has little hand, fixed in a landscape in which the infinite perspectives of the long term stretch into the distance both behind him and before." Fernand Braudel
The fifth in our series of youtube slide shows and films in search of the Harrow Way is concerned again with the process of revisiting significant points along the route. In this case, the filming was done from a car driven by my old friend Ralph. We drove out to a junction where the Harrow Way merges with the A303 on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border and began filming as we drove back eastwards along minor metalled roads towards the land of our childhoods. We stopped several times to inspect our surroundings and enjoy a fine summers day just before the harvest would begin. Those of an ornitholgical disposition may be interested to observe a pair of Red Kite flying above a telegraph pole at around 2:16 in the film.
The film starts with a view of Quarley hill-fort. A pivotal point in the imagery and myth of the Harrow Way and in my investigation of it. Practically all the early writers on the Harrow Way mention it as one of the most ancient symbols of the lost road.
"A landmark difficult to escape in these parts of Hampshire, as its summit surrounded with a single bank and ditch, and crowned with a clump of trees, is never possible to mistake. Close at hand it is difficult to realize that its gentle slopes should stand out so distinctly when seen from distant uplands, where Quarley often proves useful in giving the direction of track-ways, and is as welcome to the view as Fuji is to the Japanese." R. Hippisley Cox “The Green Roads Of England” 1914
However Osbert Crawford, appointed in 1920 as the first Archeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, wrote a series of papers which would eventually be published in 1924 as Air Survey and Archaeology. During the war he had served as a flying observer and was convinced of the value of aerial photography to archeology. In his paper he detailed how photographs he had taken over the hill-forts of Hampshire and Wiltshire showed that the hill-forts were not as old as previously believed.
"The air-photos depicted the pre-Roman hill-top camps literally in a new light, their grassy ramparts thrown into relief by sunlight and shadow. (One such picture is better than the most carefully-drawn hachured plan, for it is almost the thing itself.) But they revealed something much more exciting than this, for one could detect a faint inner ring within the outer ramparts of two of the camps. This inner ring appears to be unconnected with the rest and to be older than it."
One of photographs Crawford presented with his papers was this one of Quarley Camp:
"In the case of the second illustration, which is of Quarley Camp, Hants, both camp and ditch are visible on the ground, but the relationship between the two is made clear by the air photograph, which shows that the ditch was there when the camp was made. The camp, as a matter of fact, cuts through the ditch"
By the time archeologist Barry Cunliffe led a team to look at Quarley in 1990s it was considered a minor element of a much larger appraisal of the Danebury Ring group of hillforts to which Quarley belongs. Cunliffe was heavily influenced by the writings of those such as Fernand Braudel, and members of the Annales School in France, who stressed the importance of the “long duree” in history, At the end of the first section of Robert Macfarlane’s fine book “Old Ways” he very markedly leaves the chalk ridgeways upon which he starts his navigation of ancient routes. Referring specifically to Cunliffe’s work, Macfarlane continues the process of relocating British Landscape writing to the maritime edgelands and tidal seaways which Cunliffe identified as the dominant factor of influence on the history and development of our Island’s identity.
Our Navigations - Field Report 4
The fourth youtube video in our series of field reports is concerned with the process of revisiting points along The Harrow Way which I had walked earlier in the summer.
"Of these primal things the least obvious but the most important is The Road… it is the humblest and the most subtle, but, as I have said, the greatest and the most original of the spells which we inherit from the earliest pioneers of our race. It was the most imperative and the first of our necessities. It is older than building and older than wells ; before we were quite men we knew it, for the animals still have it to-day ; they seek their food and their drinking-places, and, as I believe, their assemblies, by known tracks which they have made." Hilaire Belloc - The Old Road 1911
All but one of these clips spliced together were filmed on a single afternoon walk using a simple compact digital camera with relatively limited memory and battery life. On my three day walk in May one of the places which left a great impression upon me was a stretch of road between the Golden Pot inn and Sutton Common a few miles North of Alton. In May, when stopping to admire the view from the ridge road across Swaines Hill and the broad vista of the country to the North and West, a passing cyclist called out to me “Glorious view isn’t it? you should see it on a sunny day!” I decided then to heed his words and return later in the summer. So on the 1st of July, a fine sunny day I caught a train to Alton, walked through Holybourne and up the hill towards the ridge. At one point I found myself surrounded by a field of poppies.
"Perhaps the greatest problem in the understanding of roads lies in the minds of those who wish to unravel their history. The fascination of roads and tracks, and the excitement that the process of tracing them onwards across country gives, have all too often in the past resulted in complete mental blocks or visual blindness" Christopher Taylor - Road and Tracks of Britain 1979
"The use of old paths to navigate terraans both real and imagined has attracted a rabble of delusionists, bigots and other unlovely maniacs. I’ve read with distaste the work of multi-purpose misanthropes, of nationalists peddling wrong-headed theories of race, and of nostalgists who demonstrate a preference for the biddable dead over the awkward living" Robert Macfarlane - Old Ways 2012
Up the hill there were magnificent views facing south and east across a landscape which I had learned recently was where generations of my maternal ancestors had once laboured upon the land. Since beginning my research into The Harrow Way I had been made conscious throughout by the inevitable tendency to construct narratives, both personal and general, from the material I was discovering and the places I was visiting. In making the music for the album a key point had been when I realised I needed to step away from imposing too much of a structure or theme to the album and allowing it simply to be a self-contained work of music. After all the field recordings, researching of local folk songs and customs and the hours of reading it was only when I stepped away from all of it and let the music be itself did it all come together.
Joining the bridleway coming from Bentworth, it took me on to the road coming east from the Golden Pot. A very short walk through woods brought me to the place I’d decided to revisit. To the north I could see the line of the Summer Way which I had walked on the summer solstice and further on you could make out the great heath which stretches all the way to Bagshot. To the West were the higher hills I had walked in May.
I then spent the afternoon walking back towards Hampshire border, in the opposite direction to which I had taken back in May, stopping occasionally to film what I could see and record the changes of light and shadow. I proceeded through three copses: Highnam, Sheephouse and Hangers Hyle towards where the two branches of the Harrow Way met, east of the village of Well. I headed up the nearest hill to watch the sunset and was rewarded with some quite incredible cloud formations.
Our Navigations - Field Report 3
The third of this week’s Field Reports from the ongoing navigation of the lost Harrow Way concerns a walk taken upon the solstice along a supposed loop of the Harrow Way referred to as the Summer Way. There is a youtube slide show of the walk and two video clips.
"For my own part, I think there is somewhat peculiarly sweet and amusing in the shapely-figured aspect of the chalk hills in preference to those of stone, which are rugged, broken, abrupt, and shapeless. Perhaps I may be singular in my opinion, and not so happy as to convey to you the same idea; but I never contemplate these mountains without thinking I perceive somewhat analogous to growth in their gentle swellings and smooth fungus-like protuberances, their fluted sides, and regular hollows and slopes, that carry at once the air of vegetative dilatation and expansion :—Or, was there even a time when these immense masses of calcareous matter were thrown into fermentation by some adventitious moisture, were raised and leavened into such shapes by some plastic power ; and so made to swell and heave their broad backs into the sky, so much above the less animated clay of the wild below?" Gilbert White - Letter to the Hon. Daines Barrington 1773
According to the book “Trackways of Ancient Wessex” by Timperley & Brill there were two separate routes which had been referred to locally as The Harrow Way between the site known as Penley Copse and a spot North of Oakley (just outside Basingstoke) . On the three day walk to Stonehenge I took the more southerly and higher route through Weston Common and Farleigh Wallop. Having done so I also wanted to walk the more northerly route through Long Sutton and Five Lanes End which Timperley & Brill referred to as The Summer Way. I therefore chose to walk this route on the summer solstice, which fell upon the 21st of June. Here is their description of the route:
"This right fork coincides with the with the road going north-westward through Well and Long Sutton to Four Lanes End on the Odiham-Alton road, and then on to Five Lanes End with a more westerly trend to Polecat Corner. Stil keeping west. It is the minor road along the north edge of Hackwood Park, and after crossing the A319 joins the A30 for a mile and a half to the Stag & Hounds Inn…Professor C.F.C Hawkes, in an article in the Proceedings Of The Hampshire Field Club, 1925, suggests that the route through Ellisfield and Farleigh Wallop was the original line of The Harrow Way, and the Long Sutton - Polecat Cornet route was its summer way which, being more direct, superceded the parent and ridgeway and has now become known as The Harrow Way.” As well as being more direct the Polecat Corner route is lower keeping to an altitude of 300-400 feet….The lower route is sign-posted as The Harrow Way on the Basingstoke bypass."
It was still misty when I set out, once again heading for the ridge past the site of Powderham castle, but the day was warm. The multitude of greens in the trees and fields were deeper now than a month previously. Throughout the day my walk was accompanied by the sight and sound of Chinook helicopters on exercises from RAF Odiham in the direction of which I was walking.
"All these elements, native to the downs, endow them together with their continuity of line, with the status of mountains. Their quality too, is the spiritual release the mountain gives. But they possess another virtue rarely granted to the mountain in physical fact. That is their serenity. Every detail of the unenclosed chalk landscape - the protuded spur, the fluted hollow, the giant but unstrained buttress, the flowing lateral ribbing, the sinuous curve, the blunted promontory, the unbroken passage of the ridge, the dipping and soaring of the range - bespeak a calm, a remoteness from the tumult of our mortal days as pregnant with power as are the winds that sheer their crests. It is this absence of harsh and abrupt conformation which gives to chalk downs the appearance of perpetual movement, so that nothing could be more appropriate than the phrase applied to them by geologists, a ‘frozen sea’" H.J. Massingham - English Downland 1936
After lunch there was a brief rainstorm during which I sat, in a tree-covered sunken lane waiting for the downpour to end. When it did the sun finally came out and I continued up to Five Lanes End, where at the top of a hill, surrounded by fields, five old tracks meet each other. Here I filmed this video, watching the wind give life to the crops.
Further down the hill I stopped among the woods to film this too.
Our Navigations - Field Report 2
The second in this week’s series of youtube slide shows is made up of photographs I took along the way during a three day walk along The Harrow Way, undertaken in May upon release of the album.
As the writing and recording of On The Chalk (Our Navigation Of The Line Of The Downs) drew to a close it became clearer to me what exactly it was about The Harrow Way that had so fascinated me and which parts of it interested me most. I realised it was “lost” section of the mythical road between Farnham, near where I grew up, and Stonehenge which intrigued me. Although Hilaire Belloc theorized about the route of the old abandoned road though Hampshire and Wiltshire, he never searched for it there. This was where the theory became vague, here was where the narrative fell apart.
The landscape of the route is a strangely quiet zone. Belonging neither to Eastern edgelands of the seas and estuaries nor to the Arcadian heart of the West of England, it remains little written about and seldom visited. No one goes searching England here anymore. Therefore I decided that now that the Harrow Way theory was obsolete it would be the perfect time to go looking for the lost road anyway.
I used as my guide the route proposed in the 1965 book “Ancient Trackways Of Wessex” by H.W. Timperley & Edith Brill. A product of a lifetime of research and published after Timperley’s death, the book proved very popular on its publication. However it immediately began to be criticised by archeologists and academics for its outdated ideas on the age and validity of the ancient chalk ridgeway tracks. It did however trigger a steady stream of further books which updated and clarified the history of our early roads.
So on May 20th, the day when On the Chalk (Our Navigation Of The Line Downs) was released, instead of undertaking any kind of promotional tour I set off on a three day walk to chart this “lost road”. I walked the best part of sixty miles in those three days ending at Stonehenge, blistered and hobbled but elated. On a misty, cloudy but dry morning by good fortune, the very moment I crossed a road on the South-Western edge of the town of Farnham and stepped into a green field, I was greeted by the site of a deer standing at the other end of the field. Not wishing to to startle it I remained still and umoving looking at the deer, looking back at me until it decided to move on a few precious moments later. It was the first of several deer I would see that day, the first of three days spent walking a combination of bridleways, footpaths and minor metalled roads.
Here is the route as described in Timperley & Brill’s book:
Just within its first Hampshire mile the Harrow Way passes on its right the coppice containing the earthwork called Barley Pound - the remains of a Norman castle probably constructed in the twelfth century - and in almost another mile and a half the earthwork in Penley Copse on the left of the road, the name Penley and the rectangular construction suggesting an ancient cattle compound. This brings the road to where, almost half a mile south-east of Well it probably forked into two branches that come together again at Oakley, twelve miles farther east. The left hand branch is represented by the line of lanes running a little south of west to Sutton Common and then by the metalled road going south-west along the ridge and descending to the Golden Pot Inn on the Odiham-Alton road. Turning north-west the branch continues over Weston Common as a footpath and then as a byway to Nash’s Green, where it bends south-west as the minor road through Bagmore before turning north-west again to come to Ellisfield. From Ellisfield, still a metalled road, it winds and twists as well as undulates through Farleigh Wallop.
Across the Basingstoke - Preston Candover Road road to the A30 road from Basingstoke to Winchester, where tumuli stand just west of the crossing. Now making for Oakley, its course past the tumuli is lost, although the quarter-mile of parish boundary from the main road to the site of the Roman road from Silchester gives the direction and cannot be far from the actual line. Three furlongs beyond the Roman road a lane and a footpath to East Oakley may also be on the line, continued perhaps by the road through the village as far as the church and then by a path from the church to where the Basingstoke road is crossed by the railway a little west of Oakley station. When this road is passing the station it represents the end of the other branch of the Harrow Way coming from Penley Copse. The two branches now go on as one. From Oakley to beyond Andover the railway and the Harrow Way are never far from each other, though after being lost for a short distance by Oakley station and going along a byway for for about two miles it becomes a track, mostly hedged, and makes a North-westerly swing to rise past Kingsdown Wood and then turns south-west again for half a mile to cross the Kingsclere-Overton road before beginning to a fall that will bring it back to the railway line again. This stretch from the road is marked as Harrow Way on the 1 inch OS map. There is a Ridgeway Farm about a mile short of of the line of trees known as Caesar’s Belt on the Roman road coming south-west from Silchester. This is a mile and half north of The Harrow Way opposite Laverstoke, and we have wondered if there may not have once been a loop of the Harrow Way on the higher ground in this region, and if the line marked Harrow Way on the map was another reach of its summer way. There are many tumuli on these hills as well as a long barrow, and the country is open with large unhedged fields dotted with occasional small woods.
Now passing north of Whitchurch, the course of the Harrow Way wavers in uncertainty before crossing the parallels of the Newbury-Winchester main road (A34) and the railway line. After passing over the railway on a small bridge the track disappears, but a faint hollow trail across the next two fields past Cholesley Farm and Down Farm comes to a metalled lane which leads to Dirty Corner. Near Hurstbourne railway station the true line of rhe old road may be represented by a fold in the ground which is lost as it comes to the railway track, and was obviously obliterated when the railway track was made. We next pick up the line of the Harrow Way as a metalled road bringing the Hurstbourne stream over the firm gravel at Chapmansford Farm, a name which imnplies there may have been an ancient ford here used by pedlars travelling the old road.
For the next four miles the road runs less than a furlong south of and parallel to the railway. As it comes within a mile of Andover and crosses the Roman road slanting down from the north-west to go through Harewood Forest, the Harrow Way becomes a lane between high ragged hedges. This is not a green lane underfoot, for it has a covering of cinders. It has been much used by gypsies as a camping place. “
A new Andover housing estate situated at the beginning of a broad hedged lane which turns west from the hill just past the hospital is signposted Harrow Way, and this lane continues for nearly half a mile to reach Weyhill. Weyhill was once famous for its autumn sheep fair, which lasted several days, drawings shepherds, farmers and others interested in sheep from all over the South of England. Much cultivation of the surrounding area has obliterated the wide series of track-ways and droves used by the shepherds and their flocks which must have led to it from all directions. Only the hedged lane from Andover remains and this being urbanized at its east end. The other tracks have become modern roads. The Harrow Way must now become one of these, and when the main road at Weyhill branches into two it takes the left-hand fork and follows it to Thruxton about a mile and a half on.
It leaves the main road here and becomes a minor road going to Quarley, parting from this road just before coming to the village and taking the line of the metalled lane north of it that passes Lains Farm. Quarley Hill, an isolated chalk hill crowned with trees and an earthwork, stands up out of the plateau and is a landmark for miles around. Because of this boldness of outline, and many evidences of ancient habitation on and about it, Quarley Hill has become one of those landmarks one remembers and looks for, and has gathered about itself a special significance not easily described. It must have been a landmark also to those early travellers for whom the Harrow Way was one of the main roads to Salisbury Plain.
Rising to Cholderton Hiil the track…as a minor road and parish boundary from Lains Farm the Harrow Way leads south-west to the corner of the grounds of Cholderton Lodge, where it again takes up its westward line. This line in about three miles, brings it through Cholderton back to the A303 road left at Thruxton.
It enters Wiltshire…and as the A303 road continues to within a mile of Amesbury and then leaving the the main road makes a swing right as a track going under the railway to come up to the Avon at Ratfyn, a little upriver from Amesbury and the site of an ancient ford. The traces of a ford are not visible today but here the water is shallow and it has a good firm bottom. From Avon the Harrow Way would lead over the downs immediately north of Amesbury to Stonehenge.
Our Navigations - Field Report 1
This week I shall be posting up a series of simple videos and slide shows on youtube that detail many of the journeys and walks I took both during and after making the most recent Memory Band album On The Chalk (Our Navigation Of The Line Of The Downs). They are not intended as promotional videos for the songs on the album but merely as simple documents of the journeys I took.
The first slide show details the numerous journeys I made whilst researching, writing and recording the album. Most of the pictures were simply taken on my phone and I’ve thrown in a few additional images from the books and maps I was reading as well as a few of the classic images of chalk landscapes I spent time looking at.
I spent a day walking to Reculver in Kent inspired by an article from a 1895 volume called Science In Arcady by Grant Allen which identified Reculver and Richborough as the ports at either end of what was then The Wantsum Straits. Allen wrote that these ports served as the focus of trade across the channel and how through the then navigable River Stour estuary, they linked to an overland network of chalk ridgeways by which tin was transported from the West Country from ancient times. I spent some time recording the Sand Martins in the dunes nearby, recordings which ended up on the album.
On a crisp winter’s day I walked from Shalford to Shere in Surrey, revisiting the paths detailed in Hilaire Belloc’s 1911 book The Old Road, in which he identified the Pilgrim’s Way as being the remnant of an older road predating the emergence of Winchester which in prehistoric times led to Stonehenge and the ancient heartlands of Salisbury Plain.
I also spent a long weekend travelling around the West Country visiting and walking upon places such as Whitesheet Hill, Kingsettle Hill, Beaminster Down, Cadbury Castle and Pilsdon Pen. These sites were written about in books such as R. Hippisley Cox’s Green Roads Of England from 1914 and described about in almost holy terms as meeting points where The Harrow Way met The Great Ridgeway coming across England from The Wash and the other chalk spines of Lowland England to form a great networks of early communication, guided by noticeable landmarks, ancient yew trees and sarsen stones.
On Old Michaelmas Day I walked from the site of Quarley Hill to the site of the old Weyhill Fair, which traditionally had started on that day. It was near here that the name The Harrow Way had survived. The fair was seen as a continuance of an ancient practice of driving cattle to market along the ancient tracks, complete with the ceremony of the Wearing Of The Horns by the apprentice drovers upon arrival at the public houses of Weyhill during the Fair.
What fascinated me about The Harrow Way was how a an archeological theory from the late Victorian era took hold in the popular culture of the early twentieth century and was used by writers and poets to define a new narrative for the English consciousness defined by the history of the landscape it inhabited.However, like the old roads these writers searched for, the theory was in turn been superceded by science and new understandings of our past technologies and movements. In recent times a wave of writers and artists have once again turned to the landscape and by detailing their movement through it they seek again to unravel new narratives of personal and collective identities formed by the places we pass through. As fascinating, revealing and entertaining as these all are I can’t help but wonder sometimes how those narratives will read a hundred years from now.