Which route? (2)

King Alfred has arrived in Bruton passing just south of the town and turning slightly towards Redlynch. From here he makes for Selwood. The road he takes is called ‘Hardway’ (its modern name) – the way over the hard ground.

1. Coincidence: This, according to Timperley & Brill’s ‘Ancient Trackways of Wessex’ is none other than the Saxon Harrow Way, crossing through Selwood and Salisbury Plain, and into Hampshire, passing just north of Andover.

The Timperleys interpret the original ‘Harrow Way’ as ‘Hardway’, though Bosworth Toller has here-weg = highway, high road, publica via which seems more attractive. It doesn’t prevent ‘hardway’  from being a later corruption. A connection with here-paþ –  ‘a road for an army, military road, road large enough to march soldiers upon’ is also possible.

However, the Timperleys identification of the route seems to differ from that in Wikipedia which is further south, through Shaftesbury. Whether this is indeed the Harrow Way or not, a straight line can be traced between Langport, through Somerton and Castle Cary, to Bruton. And taking the Hardway south of Bruton, the way leads to:

2. Coincidence: Kingsettle Hill. The name argues a Saxon origin: the heáh-setl was a seat of honour, official seat or throne. A bishop-settle referred to a bishop’s see, a figurative ‘sitting place’ according to the OED. A King’s Seat? Which king?

The meeting of the ways

The meeting of the ways

3. Coincidence: the Kingsettle way leads on into Selwood and to Kilmington (a name of Saxon origin), passing between two landmarks. On the left is Selwood Barrow (known as ‘Jack’s Castle’, or ‘Jack Straw’s Castle’). Originally a neolithic(?) burial site, it has an elevated position with a view over a wide area, as far as the Severn, and was supposed to be a beacon site in time of war. But on the the right hand side is the 18th-c. folly known as … Alfred’s Tower.

So here is a possible explanation as to why the tower was built just there. It was on the Harrow Way, a possible rallying point for Alfred’s fyrds. There is a track leading back into the Mendips, the northern part of Somerset (Alfred had travelled through the southern hundreds); the Harrow Way leads to Andover and Hampshire; and ahead is the heart of Wiltshire.

And probably Ecgbryhtsstane is impossible to locate any more closely. Even if any of this means anything at all … Though it doesn’t explain the reference to the ‘orientali parte’, ‘be eastan Sealwyda’, since even if the pars was administrative (and therefore meant ‘in the Wiltshire bit of Selwood’), rather than geographic, Kilmington was, annoyingly, (still) in Somerset at that time. Like Penselwood.


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