A Report from our Foreign (well he does reside in Wales) Correspondent - "Mr Steve"
One of my current projects is to retire my oldest Desktop computer and build a nice new shiny one and so when late last week I was offered virtually everything I needed at a price too good to refuse, an immediate trip to North London was required before they had a chance to sober up. On the way down I took the opportunity to divert a little and re-visit Silchester which is a Roman walled town to the south of the M4 motorway near Reading. For some reason Silchester never got re-occupied after the Romans left and so missed out on becoming a modern town like virtually all the rest have done and also very fortunately for us no thieving peasants or sticky fingered Monks managed to take away too much of the stonework thus leaving us with a rare example of an almost complete circuit of Roman walls.
The inner town area which is now all grassy fields was roughly ninety-nine acres in size and the outer wall circuit is approximately 1.75 miles around. There is a well marked trail which goes around the entire town although some of this is on top of the wall rather than alongside it because of the walls proximity to a narrow road.
There are two car parks for this site, the official one is in the north and is clearly signposted, whilst the second smaller one is actually for St Mary's Church but is handy for the Amphitheatre and for the main cleared section of walls.
As you arrive in the North car park you can see three obelisks next to the entrance path, I haven’t been able to find out if these are Roman or modern reproductions or if they came from the site itself and then had hideous concrete added. As you walk past them make sure that you don’t miss the small box nearby which has the free map of the site.
As you go along the marked path you will notice to your left a large ditch running alongside, this puzzled me for a while as it is quite a long way away from the walls themselves and seemed very strange. The mystery was partially solved when I bothered to actually read the leaflet which explained that this was an Iron Age ditch; so why didn't the Romans incorporate it? It would have meant one less ditch to dig.
After a short walk you arrive at the walls themselves, you can now chose to turn left or right and follow the circuit of the walls in a circle or instead there is a well maintained straight path called The Drove that runs right down the middle. This is the one I took. Either side of this is where the town would have been so if you like looking at fields and invisible Bulls then it’s a lovely walk (I don’t think the farmer wants you in his fields), the outer walls can be seen either side of you off in the distance and gives you an idea of the scale of the town but that’s about it.
At the bottom of the Drove is St Mary's Church, a sensible person would now turn left and look at the Amphitheatre. I turned right and walked alongside the walls.
From the church to the South Gate is the longest stretch of walls that have been completely cleared of undergrowth and are quite impressive. The walls survive in places up to thirteen feet (4 metres) high but the general impression I got was that Caerwent’s walls are taller and more substantial despite being a much smaller settlement and having a village in the middle of it.
As is usual you only really see the inner core of the walls made up of flint, mortar and tiles
Once at the South Gate the Trail changes to a rather pleasant woodland walk leading you back to the entrance, the wall is still visible and extant, occasionally peaking out through the foliage whilst to your left the outer ditch now becomes much more obvious.
Back at the entrance you can continue on to the North gate as the trail moves up onto the wall itself and by following this route you will eventually return to the church again. This is the only way to see this section as a narrow road follows the course of the wall down this side and it is not advisable to walk along it.
I had to drive back down this road to the church, park up and walk the short distance to the Amphitheatre. Smaller than the legionary one at Caerleon, it gives you a very good impression of what was probably much more common in towns throughout the province.
JJ's Trip to Caerleon Part One
JJ's Trip to Caerleon Part Two
Interestingly as the display board says, this was re-used during the Anarchy of the 12th C as a defensive location rather than the bigger walled town itself.
Silchester is an interesting place overall but is not much more than some walls and fields in the middle of nowhere however its fortunate survival has meant that extensive excavations have been able to be carried out over the years and the many items discovered are held in the Museum of Reading.
Following a very pleasant stroll around Silchester my plan for the rest of the day was to head off to pick up my computer parts in North London and then spend the rest of the afternoon visiting Verulamium (St Albans) as it was just up the road; however I was delayed so much by the abysmal traffic on the motorways that I had to unfortunately postpone this until sometime later this year.
With my computer transactions eventually completed it was time to head back to Wales and to my final stop of the day which was for a meal at one of my favourite pubs. This is the Blue Boar Pub in Aldbourne, somewhere I try to pop into whenever I am travelling up and down the M4 especially if I could somehow claim either overtime or expenses.
Located just south of Swindon and in lovely countryside the pub was coincidentally used as the officer’s mess for Easy company of the 506th Regt. 101st Airborne. Yes that one. The pub has only a few ‘Band of Brothers’ mementos on the walls, the most interesting of which is a list of the members of the ‘Keggers Club ‘the secretary of which was Lewis Nixon and included amongst the list of officers , Lt “Frosty “Winters. Sorry no proper photo at this time as it was rather full of customers but there is a rather poor picture available on line if you search under “Blue boar pub aldbourne pics”. I haven’t copied a link to it as it isn't very clear.
Finally, there is an audio tour available for Silchester that you can download before or during your visit and can be found in the link below.
This has been a day out with Mr Steve