Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal

Paul Mobbs’ photographic record of his walks around ‘Banburyshire’ and ‘The Irondowns’, and occasionally, as part of his work around Britain, the areas beyond.

Banburyshire’s Ancient Sites:
Salt Way

The brine of Droitwich (called Salinae, or Salt Works by the Romans) may have been used from the Iron Age, but it was the Romans who industrialised the process. Salt Way started as a minor Roman route to take that salt to the Roman towns of the South Midlands, and on down to the Chilterns. Its use as a regional road carried on into Medieval times.

Summary for ‘Salt Way’:

Location: Roman salt road; Droitwich, Alcester, Stratford-upon-Avon, Ettington, Whatcote, Broughton, Kings Sutton, Finmere.

Type: ‘Ancient tracks & Lanes’.

Condition: Mostly intact, as surfaced minor roads with only a few section missing in South Warwickshire.

Access: Minor roads with some good off-road bridleways around Banbury.

Further information: Wikipedia.

Walks posts for site: {none yet}

Salt-making at Droitwich probably dates back to the Iron Age. Natural salt springs, far saltier than seawater, rose around what is now the centre of the town. Romans industrialised that process, and then supplied that salt across the South Midlands. This industry continued operating until the 19th Century.

The local salt road was still used until the coming of the canal in the 1850s.

Droitwich lies on a minor Roman Road between modern-day Birmingham and Worcester (marked today by the A38). Salt Way begins as a road heading east, roughly following the B4090, to the crossing of the River Arrow at Alcester. There it met a more major north-south road, Ryknild or Icknield Street (not to be confused with the Icknield Way along the Chilterns).

From the crossing of the Arrow, Salt Way follows the route of the A422 into Stratford-upon-Avon. This was a Roman crossing point on the River Avon. From there it continued on to Ettington, where it met the major Roman highway, the Fosse Way. At that point Salt Way splits from the modern A422 (the route of the Georgian, Stratford & Edgehill turnpike).

From Ettington, where the route is lost, Salt Way heads towards Whatcote, where it reappears in the local field boundaries. It becomes a road again at Compton Wynyates, the ancient manor house, where it climbs the escarpment to cross The Jurassic Way.

Beyond Epwell is quite possibly the best section of the road to walk today, as it traverses the long flat valley past Madmarston Hill and Swalcliffe Lea.

The area between Madmaston Hill, Upper Lea Farm, Swalcliffe Lea, and Swalcliffe Mill, was one of the largest Romano-British settlements in the county (pictured below).

Salt Way runs through this settlement. Beyond this point, though, its course is not entirely clear. The route is mixed-up with other later routes which cross this hilly landscape.

After Swalcliffe Lea Salt Way runs to Broughton Park, most likely through Fulling Mill. The point which Broughton Castle now occupies was a historic crossroads, with tracks coming in from many directions. This makes it difficult to map Salt Way after there.

Modern maps show Salt Way going to Giant’s Caves and then past Crouch Hill.

Personally though I’m doubtful. The wet and muddy climb up from Giant’s Caves, that runs an inch deep in water during heavy rain, seems an unconvincing route for a Roman cart track. The route past Crouch Hill is more likely to be the Medieval road to London, as that’s where other local tracks from the north trend.

The more dry and solid Wykham Lane, from Broughton to Bodicote, ‘feels’ like a more convincing contender for the Roman route. Other local researchers have made similar observations.

At Bodicote the route becomes more certain at Weeping Cross. Either the Wykham Lane or Crouch Hill route would have converged here.

This was the site of a Medieval wayside cross, taken down in 1803. The monument on that site today is a rather less romantic re-creation erected as part of a recent housing development. This is where Salt Way once crossed the Medieval ridge-route to Warwick and Coventry from London, at that time, in open countryside.

From Weeping Cross the route goes in a roughly straight line to Twyford Mill, today marked out by a very scenic footpath. Here it crossed the River Cherwell, though the precise crossing point has been lost.

On the Kings Sutton side there was another Roman settlement, probably near Cobbler’s Pits. There is little evidence, as the land-surface along the Astrop ridge was quarried for ironstone at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

On the east bank of the Cherwell, Salt Way picks-up on the Romanised Portway, heading south to Oxford. Salt Way most likely continues through the Astrop end of Kings Sutton, and then on along the ridge-line through Newbottle, Charlton, and Evenley, to join the Roman route from Alchester northward at Finmere.

Salt Way is a good cycle ride, and is used as part of National Cycleway Route 5. But for most of its route from Droitwich it’s rather dangerous to attempt to walk it.

Around Banburyshire though, the off-road sections of Salt Way are a safe linear walking route, especially if accessed from the 7 or 50A bus services between Banbury and Stratford; or Kings Sutton railway station for walks to the east (the local bus service having been closed recently).

Salt Way is special in that it is an easy to follow, linear route, which passes through very few places on its course from Compton Wynyates to Kings Sutton. This makes it a wonderful route to step outside of the busy modern world, and roam(an) at a much slower pace… Carpe Diem!