ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 33, April 1998


History of roads

From Mr Bernard Lowry

Sir: Paul Hindle's fascinating feature (`Roads that ramble, and roads that run', February) evokes the romance of the rolling English road. The variety of the roads and rights of way in our countryside is a rich reminder of the basic need to travel, whether merely to get from farm to parish church, or to laboriously drove cattle over long distances to market.

A less romantic but nonetheless interesting influence on the form of some highways was the impact of the thousands of military installations constructed during this century. In my own county of Shropshire a main road was moved to accommodate the longer take-off runs required by jet bombers from an adjacent airfield, and country lanes were straightened, widened and provided with pavements for airmen walking to and from dispersed wartime camps. A number of footpaths and tracks on current maps still display a strange appearance as they now lead to nowhere. Some of these are the relics of wartime partial closures of rights of way, where they ran up to the boundaries of military installations.

Other wartime activities included the closure of bypasses to create military vehicle maintenance parks (the Church Stretton bypass in Shropshire, briefly opened in June 1941, is an example), and the removal or destruction of road direction signs. In this county, these were not re-instated until June 1943.

Yours faithfully,
Defence of Britain Project
Market Drayton
6 February

From Mrs Rhoda Partridge

Sir: Paul Hindle writes of the ancient, unsurfaced green lanes that are a common feature of our landscape. In North Herefordshire, we have been involved in a campaign to save one of them from being classified as a Byeway Open to All Traffic.

Once such a classification is made, the lane can become a playground for 4x4 `off-road' vehicles. There are more and more of these vehicles being produced by the motor industry worldwide, and many of their owners are keen to use them on unsurfaced tracks.

We understand from the County Archaeologist that our threatened green lane has its origins as one of the main approach routes to the Iron Age fort on Camp Hill, and as such is over 2,000 years old. We are told that its historical interest would disappear if it was used by 4x4 vehicles. However, it is not the only green lane in danger. Our county council has been asked by a local off-road club to classify 80 routes in North Herefordshire as Byeways Open to All Traffic, and it is argued that this is their legal duty.

Estimates suggest that there are already 10,000 4x4 vehicles driving off-road in Britain, and their owners are a powerful and wealthy group. If any of your readers knows of an ancient trackway worthy of preservation, they should contact their local highways department to find out if it is under threat of being classified as a Byeway Open to All Traffic. If it is, they should contact their county archaeological service to get help to preserve it.

Yours sincerely,
Battle for Bridleways
22 February

Rock art

From Mr Bill Chapman

Sir: Paul Bahn is right to draw our attention to our inability to `read' prehistoric art, and to advise caution in this fascinating field (`Stumbling in the footsteps of St Thomas', February). But in dismissing `altered states of consciousness' as an explanation for rock art motifs, he fails to give credit where it is due for some ten years' solid progress in rock art studies.

It is well established that, when in an altered mental state, whether as a result of hallucinogens, sensory deprivation or for other reasons, people from a wide range of cultures see before them such phenomena as grids, dots, zig- zags and sets of lines. A convincing case has been made that at least some rock art, particularly that consisting of geometric motifs, results from such neurophysiological mechanisms. This is not to say that we know what the representations mean, or even that they mean anything at all.

In accepting the validity of one particular explanation, rather than interpretation, of some forms of rock art, one need not exclude other explanations, such as those based on mythology, for other forms.

Yours faithfully,
19 February

Stonehenge again

From Mr John Farquhar

Sir: In discussing the purpose of Stonehenge and its point of focus, Carol Allen's letter (Letters, February) and John Barrett's article to which she refers (`Stonehenge, land, sky and the seasons', November), both seem to me to overlook the decisive attribute of the monument - its latitude.

Only at this latitude do midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset occur in precisely opposite directions: 51 East of North and 51 West of South. This is the alignment of Stonehenge's four outlying Station Stones, two of which were, perhaps significantly, surrounded by a ditch and bank. These stones are, I understand, part of the first construction at Stonehenge. It is also the alignment of the major axis of the monument, so the original alignment was preserved in subsequent reconstructions and modifications of the monument. The puropse was presumably that not just one but both these significant turning points of the year could be observed and celebrated at Stonehenge.

Yours sincerely,
2 February

From Mr Leonard Saunders

Sir: John Barrett's colourful description of the way to approach Stonehenge along the Avenue ignores some of the details of the ditches on either side of the Avenue.

The outer edge of the ditch on the north-west side of the Avenue is mainly straight throughout its entire length, except for a slight wave, and a kink inwards at the henge end. The opposite ditch is not parallel with it, but curves inwards, towards the first ditch, as it leaves Stonehenge Bottom, and outwards again as it approaches the henge, as a result of diverting around a small mound.

Moreover, the part of the Avenue that extends beyond Stonehenge Bottom to the River Avon is not contiguous with the part from the Bottom to the henge, and the ditches of this part are even more different from one another. The north ditch has three dead straight lengths interspersed with three serpentine lengths. The opposite ditch has only one straight length, and the ditches are not parallel.

These points of detail need to be addressed, and in seeking to account for them we may break new ground in truly understanding the monument.

Yours sincerely,
15 February

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