This subject is an over ploughed field: everything has already been suggested by someone, and the ground is so churned up it’s hard to make progress. Two theories seem to divide the Gentlemen and the Players, or the Amateurs and Professionals. Professionals may be supposed to have no prejudices, to have no preference as to the conclusion. Amateurs can sometimes be swayed by personal associations.
Having said that, I’m looking at the Ams’ theory regarding King Alfred’s rallying point at Ecgbryht’s Stone: the Deverill villages [big sigh – been there, done that], rather than Penselwood, the Pros’ favoured location.
A number of trackways, some probably neolithic, others Roman, others Saxon, seem to roughly converge at a point about 4-5 miles to the north-east of Penselwood, not far from Kilmington Common.
This is a rough diagram (click to enlarge) showing the general direction of major tracks or ‘ridgeways’. The nearest way into the thick of it from the west is along the Hardway, south of Bruton, my ‘northern’ route from Athelney.
Alfred had travelled across the more southerly part of Somerset, but there was also a northerly track in, from across the Mendips (probably a Roman way to and from the leadmines) ending at Kilmington Common. There was a track (the W. Wilts Ridgeway) from north Wiltshire (roughly from Chippenham). The Great Ridgeway went from Axemouth straight up through the forest towards Marlborough and Wantage (Alfred’s birthplace) and the Harrow Way branched off it, going north through Sherborne and Bruton before diving east into the forest to cross the Great Ridgeway and passing on to Amesbury and Andover to Basingstoke. From the south-east, the S. Hants Ridgeway left Winchester, with a lesser track (the Grovely Ridgeway) leading to Salisbury/Wilton, crossing the Great Ridgeway to join the W. Wilts Ridgeway.
This bewildering network of tracks, linking Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire, crisscrosses somewhere in the centre of the southern half of the forest. But nothing conclusive yet: Penselwood is nobbut a stone’s throw away, but, as ’tis said, Just one more thing … or two …
[To be continued]