The Danish raids (1): Carhampton

Looking at all the various N. Somerset raids reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may take a bit longer than I’d thought, but first of all: Carhampton, not because it’s a probable site of our battle in 878 but because there are interesting things to look at.

The town/village of Carhampton is set slightly back from the coast, roughly equidistant between Minehead and Watchet. Coastal access would be at the village of Blue Anchor (the name of a public house, m’lud). There was a Hundred of Carhampton, so this was the presumed hundredal meeting place, and mustering point for the Hundred’s fyrd. It is thought that it was also the site of a royal estate (though who thought it and why I’m not very sure: note, investigate).

A different scene altogether from the cliffs at Countisbury: Carhampton was much more vulnerable to raids

A different scene altogether from the cliffs at Countisbury: Carhampton was much more vulnerable to the Danish raids

All in all, it was a place where there would have been likely to be thegns and royal officers around looking after the king’s affairs in his absence. Unlike by Countisbury, where the cliffs are steep and high, the coast at this point is more accessible from the sea.

In the Domesday Book Carhampton is listed as Carentone, and scholarly orthodoxy is that the name derives from OE carr, rock; with the dative plural carren + tun meaning the farm by the rocks (and not from the name of St Carantoc). My impression is that people have had to look quite hard to find these rocks; however, this is important because our first raid was reported as 833 (probably 836):  This precedes Asser’s Life of Alfred, so the Chronicle is the main source: Mss A, B, C, D, E have approximately the identical entry:

Ms A (Parker): Her gefeaht Ecgbryht cyning wiþ .xxxv. sciphlæsta æt Carrum 7 þær wearþ micel węl geslægen, 7 þa Denescan ahton węlstowe gewald

‘In this year King Egbert fought with 35 ‘shiploads’ æt Carrum and there was great slaughter, and the Danes had the place of slaughter‘ (meaning of phrase somewhat disputed as to whether it indicates defeat or victory, but I think here it means the Danes won).

There are still some sources identifying æt Carrum with Charminster on the Dorset coast (philologically unlikely, since the Domesday name for Charminster is Cernemude, where the first two syllables certainly refer to a river name). There was also an earlier guess that it was somewhere in Kent.

KIng Alfred's son Edward the Elder who inherited the estate of Carhampton

KIng Alfred’s son Edward the Elder who inherited the estate of Carhampton

It’s mentioned in King Alfred’s Will as Carumtune, one of the first places named and one of those bequeathed to his son Edward the Elder (which does look as if it was a royal estate then), who reigned from 899-924.

Second raid, 840 (probably 843): Oh, dear. The five manuscripts have an entry almost identical with the previous one. The only change is that, Egbert having died in 839, the king’s name this time is Æthelwulf (his son, and Alfred’s father). And he was defeated too (if he was):

Ms A (Parker): Her Ęþelwulf cyning gefeaht æt Carrum wiþ .xxxv. schiplæsta, 7 þa Deniscan ahton węstowe gewald.

‘In this year King Æthelwulf fought against 35 shiploads æt Carrum, and the Danes had the place of slaughter.’

Summing up then: we seem to have at least one (maybe two) Saxon defeats (or victories) at the hands of the Danes æt Carrum in roughly 833-843, which may, in fact probably was, at Carhampton. And the king was Egbert and/or Æthelwulf.

Further accounts may strengthen the claim of Carhampton as the location of the raid(s), so onward we shall go next time,

The Battle of Cynuit (2)

Back on track: the so-called ‘Battle of Cynuit’ was a shadowy event that took place in 878, shadowy because the Chronicle has little to say about it, though Asser has a bit more.

According to Asser, the Great Heathen Army  split into separate forces in 874; one section, under Halfdan went north, the other had three leaders – Guthrum, Oscetel and Anwend. This is the branch that went to Cambridge, to Wareham, to Exeter, probably/possibly to Gloucester and finally descended on the royal estate at Chippenham in 878, causing Alfred to take flight to Somerset.

So, who were the Vikings who wintered in Demetica regione in 878 and sailed ad Domnaniam – on Defenascire and were slaughtered in front of the arx Cynuit? One would suppose them connected with those who had been invading Ireland. One of their leaders was Ímar, or Ivar, who had died in 873. His fame apparently lived after him since whoever led the attack on arx Cynuit in 878 is identified only as the brother of Inwær/Ingvar (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) or Inwari (Asser), though is not  himself named (Ubba is suggested).

There must have been several hundred thegns (ministri regis) cornered in arx Cynuit since they eventually slaughtered at least 800 invaders (perhaps 1,200). Why were they all in the fortress? Asser says, ‘in eadem arce multi ministri regis cum suis se concluserant confugii causa– they were seeking refuge. In what circumstances? The ministri regis served the king in various capacities, some but not all in a military capacity. Had they witnessed the approach of the Viking fleet? That would mean they were already gathered together somewhere, for some purpose. Why would they have been near present-day Countisbury?

A large Viking longship: the shape allows for landing on beaches and sailing up quite shallow navigable rivers

A large Viking longship: the shape allows for landing on beaches and sailing up quite shallow navigable rivers

Anyway, after the Saxons had taken refuge within this natural stronghold, the Vikings had presumably taken up their siege position on its vulnerable east side. It’s intriguing to think that they might have arrived there by sailing up the East Lyn River, since the shallow drafts of their warships enabled them to sail quite far up navigable rivers and appear in places where they were not expected. Or would it have been too shallow and rocky? At any rate, the fleet had to land somewhere and the cliffs below Wind Hill were too steep to climb very easily.

Would 23 ships, each with, say, 35 oarsmen (total 805) aboard have been able to make their way up the river (in Gaul at this time Viking fleets made up of hundreds of ships sailed up the River Seine in raids)? An engraving shows the position of the fortress quite well, with Wind Hill and the earthwork rampart on the far side. If Countisbury was the correct site, it does seem as if the only way to besiege the refugees in their stronghold was to sail up the river to where access was easier. It may be that there was access from the beach further to the east, perhaps as far as Porlock.

The mouth of the River Lyn and the valley of the East Lyn river

The mouth of the River Lyn and the valley of the East Lyn river

Wind Hill Iron Age fort, facing the eastern earthwork

Wind Hill Iron Age fort, facing the eastern earthwork

I don’t have a lot more to say about this, but may sum up in a further post.

Movin’ on

Having conceded defeat on the location of the Battle of Edington, I take up another issue. First, a new map (much like several others already posted): this is from the Langport and River Parrett Visitor Centre and is an illustration of the present day extent of the Somerset Levels. These are now largely drained except when there is flooding: no permanent swamps, but you can still see the familiar shapes of several ‘islands’ and the westward pointing ‘finger’ of the Polden Hills.

The Levels and some interesting places

The Levels and some interesting places

In early modern times there was a ferry between Combwich and Pawlett, and before that there was thought to have been a Roman ford.  Combwich itself had a harbour and this whole area was quite heavily Romanised. There are the remains of a Roman settlement under the M5 by Pawlett.

I’ve marked the Fosse Way and the Roman road along the Poldens, both passing through the Roman Lindinis (Ilchester); also the crossings from Street to Glastonbury and from Combwich to Pawlett. The main mass to the north is Mendip, of course, pushing out to Brean Down and Kewstoke;  to the west, beyond ‘Cummidge’ and Cannington, are the Quantocks.

Crandon Bridge, now across the King’s Sedgemoor Drain, was in earlier times on the River Parrett whose course roughly corresponded in places with where the Drain is now. And Crandon Bridge was in fact a port in Roman times. This is an article by Stephen Rippon about the coastal trade at the time of the Romans. I have purloined one of his diagrams (below). I hope he will not mind: it is so very à propos as it shows where the old course of the river was. I have added a bit of colouring.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 21.29.01According to Stephen Rippon’s article in which he wrote up details of the excavations carried out before the M5 destroyed so much of the archaeology, the main goods seem to have been pottery and coal, and perhaps stone for building. He suggests the port supplied the legionary fortress at Caerleon, where a large Roman port has also been recently discovered.

This is all very interesting, but next I want to look at Combwich and Cannington which have provided more grounds for speculation. What I wanted to establish here was that this was a centre of navigation as well as having good communications by road; that the Parrett was navigable as far as Crandon Bridge and beyond.

Well, one has to admit …

… it is at least tempting.  A few blogs ago, I wrote: ‘Eþandune was NOT, alas, Edington in Somerset, in the Polden Hills not far from Athelney’, and then I thought ‘but supposing it was’.

I’ve found a very interesting map prepared by the River Parrett Drainage Board to show the areas on either side of the river that were liable to flooding  (it shows, not unsurprisingly, a remarkable resemblance to the conjectural maps of AD 1000 and AD 390 before drainage began on the Levels, when the Parrett valley was dotted with a number of small islands amid water or swamp).

I have superimposed the Ordnance Survey map over it: the Drainage Board map wasn’t 100% accurate, so there isn’t perfect congruence. On this combined map I’ve shown the main routes to and from Ilchester (click on this to enlarge).

Ordnance Survey superimposed on Parrett Drainage Board map

Ordnance Survey superimposed on Parrett Drainage Board map

The Fosse Way goes from centre bottom to top rightish. The lower section of the A37 is the road from Dorchester, and a continuation passes through Somerton to the eastern end of the Poldens, near Street (Domesday Strate from Latin strata, the Roman road, or causeway across the River Brue, to Glastonbury). From Street, a Roman road passed along the ridge of the Poldens, through Edington and probably on to Pawlett where a ford crossed the river to the port of Combwich – about which, more later. The two other roads running roughly west-east lead to Kingston Deverill and Penselwood respectively.

The blue circles pinpoint Oakley (Æcglea?), Edington (Eþandune?), Aller (Alre) and, just off to the north, Wedmore (Weþmor). Too neat? From Oakley the fyrd marched up the Roman road to the Poldens and along to Edington?

Except, of, course, that that doesn’t quite work. If Guthrum had come from the direction of Chippenham,  was he heading west along the Poldens and did Alfred chase after him?  Or did he approach Edington from the north? And where was the stronghold where he was driven back and besieged for a fortnight?

Although an as-the-crow-flies straight line from Chippenham to Edington passes enticingly pretty much through Bath and Wells, it’s hard to see how Guthrum would have come to be in Edington. And even if they did do battle there, Asser said Alfred pursued Guthrum back to the ‘Viking stronghold’ (‘ante portas paganicae‘) and made camp outside the gates until Guthrum was forced to concede through lack of supplies. What stronghold? The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle just says ‘him æfter rad oþ þæt geweorc‘, ‘pursued him up to the fortification’. And Henry of Huntingdon, ‘eum persecutus est usque ad firmitatem suam‘. Having then been forced into making certain promises, Guthrum came three weeks later to the king in Aller where he was baptised. And thence to Wedmore. If, as is supposed, the stronghold, fortification, firmitas was Chippenham, then Edington in Wiltshire must be indicated. I cannot see a likely solution in Somerset Æcglea or no Æcglea, so I fear must give up.

Oh, well.

Oakley? Oakley?

As we know, when Alfred rallied his army at Ecgbryhtesstane, they pitched camp there for one night and next morning set off for Æcglea or Iglea where they again camped one night before moving off to Eþandune to take on Guthrum’s army.

The location of Egbert’s Stone is explicit enough, in that it was in the eastern part of Selwood Forest. But what of Æcglea (Asser), Æglea (Henry of Huntingdon), Iglea (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)? The evidence of the Place Names of Wiltshire (EPNS, Gover) appears clear, to the satisfaction of scholars, that this was a place called Iley Oak, in Eastleigh Wood, near Sutton Veny – on the southern edge of Salisbury Plain. This, it seems, was the Saxon meeting-place for Heytesbury and Warminster Hundreds, but not only does it not exist now, there seems no trace of such a place in Domesday, which is a bit annoying.

The Victoria County History for the Hundred of Warminster says:

In 1439 the sheriff’s tourn for the hundreds of Warminster and Heytesbury was held at ‘Ilegh‘, later called Iley Oak, a great tree which stood probably in Southleigh or Eastleigh Woods between Sutton Veny and Longbridge Deverill. It was still the meeting place of the tourns in 1652. Nothing is known of the meeting place of the other hundred courts until 1831, when they met in the Town Hall at Warminster.  The name Moot Hill, applied to the low mound across the Wylye south-west of Norton Bavant village, which was formerly a detached part of Warminster parish, may indicate that the early meeting place of the hundred was there.

Oakley Brook Pond, near Lower Oakley Farm. Æcglea or not?

Oakley Brook Pond, near Lower Oakley Farm. Æcglea or not?

However, Aecglea was not where the fyrds assembled – that had been at Ecgbryhtesstane; and in any case, this is late medieval, and one would like evidence that it existed pre-Conquest. Oakley in Somerset is in Domesday in the form of Achelai, and vestiges still exist of place and name. It seems in size to have been at least as significant as ‘Iley Oak’.

It was also strategically interesting, a mile or so south of the old Roman town of Ilchester, a fortified site on the River Yeo – a key communication point as there had been a ford there in Roman times, although by the late Saxon period there would probably have been a bridge.  The town lay on two main Roman routes to the south: the Fosse Way, the road from Exeter to Lincoln through Cirencester; and a road from Dorchester which joined the Fosse Way at Ilchester. Oakley was set between Oakley Brook and the old Roman road (now the A37); it was on the borders of Stone Hundred (incl. Yeovil) and Tintinhull Hundred (incl. Ilchester).

The two southern Roman roads converging at Ilchester (red line is, roughly, the Fosse Way)

The two southern Roman roads converging at Ilchester (red line is, roughly, the Fosse Way)

Furthermore, according to an article by the archaeologist, Jeremy Haslam (2012?), Ilchester was ‘probably’ one of King Alfred’s burhs – the  system of fortresses he built up as a defence against the Danes (Haslam’s rather dense argument is based on the number of Somerset hides given in the Burghal Hidage: they appear not to correspond with the number given in Domesday, suggesting that at least one burh was missing from the burghal list).

Map of the Burghal Hidage: was Ilchester on a line with Langport and Wareham?

Map of the Burghal Hidage: was Ilchester on a line with Langport and Wareham?

More about roads next time.

[To be continued]

They certainly got around

One thing worth considering is the distances covered by the Viking forces. Asser says that in 875 Guthrum’s army was in Cambridge, where they spent the winter. In 876 they left Cambridge and travelled to Wareham (Wareham!!), near Poole, Dorset; and from there they went to Exeter, where again they wintered. From there they went to Mercia (Gloucester?); and early in 878 they launched a raid on Chippenham, from where King Alfred was forced to flee.

This is when he spent some time wandering with his depleted band of followers in the marshes of Somerset.

So, having put the king to flight, did Guthrum stay put in Chippenham until Alfred returned some 4 months later to do battle in Edendone/Edington, about 12 miles to the south? Or did he push on into Somerset, avoiding the marshes by staying up on the Poldens ridge (this was the route followed by the Saxons in the 7th century)? Did Alfred, having made his dash over to Selwood to reassemble his army, return to do battle at Eduuinetone/Edington, Somerset, 40 miles from Chippenham? There is a snag to the last hypothesis (of which more anon), leaving aside that the form of the name, Edendone, does look more like Eþandun than Eduuintone.  However …

Saxon drinking bucket found at Burrow Clump, Wilts. This was a Bronze Age, and later Saxon, burial site.

Saxon drinking bucket found at Burrow Clump, Wilts. This was a Bronze Age, and later Saxon, burial site.

Here I proposed a picture of Saxon archaeological remains in Chippenham, but it seems there aren’t any to speak of. So here is a picture of a rare Saxon drinking bucket (I think it’s not a lot bigger than an ordinary mug) found on the edge of Salisbury Plain – about 15 miles as the crow flies from that Edington. There were also Saxon weapons in the burial site there.

I seem to have spent too much time stressing the distances the Viking host covered, which only begins to touch on the examination of whether Edington in the Poldens could therefore possibly have been Eþandun(e). And whether Æcg-lea might have been, not Iley Oak in Wiltshire, but Ach-elai/Oakley in Somerset. So I will crack on with that next time.

[To be continued]

Follow every lead …

… even if just for a bit of innocent amusement:

When Alfred left Athelney in May 878, he gerade with his company to Selwood Forest in Wiltshire to rally his army which assembled at Ecgbryhtesstane. They camped one night there and then moved on to Aecglea/Iglea where they camped a further night. The next day they marched to Eþandune where the Vikings were defeated in a decisive battle.

It is not certain exactly where Ecgbryhtesstane was (perhaps not Penselwood, perhaps not Kingston Deverill); nor Aecglea/Iglea (perhaps Iley Oak, west of Sutton Veny); nor Eþandune (presumed to be Edington on the ridge above the chalkland of Salisbury Plain). Eþandune was NOT, alas, Edington in Somerset, in the Polden Hills not far from Athelney.

But, supposing it was. Here’s another argument:

The derivation of Aecg-lea suggests Ockley/Oakley. There is no Ockley in Wiltshire, though ‘Iley Oak’ was the meeting place of the Hundreds of Heytesbury and Warminster, south of Edington in Wiltshire …

Achelai Alwy tenuit T[empore] R[egis] E[dwardi] - Domesday

Achelai Alwy tenuit T[empore] R[egis] E[dwardi] – Domesday

But returning to Edington in Somerset, there is indeed a small area which bears the name ‘Oakley’ (Oakley Brook, Oakley Farm) which is recorded in the Domesday Book as Achelai: not a large place since the tax paid was ‘0’ and the number of households  ‘0’. It was to the south of Ilchester, near the A37, as the crow flies 14 miles from the Somerset Edington.

The remaining vestiges of Achelai: not much in Domesday, not much now

The remaining vestiges of Achelai: not much in Domesday, not much now

So, here’s the hypothetical reconstruction: Alfred rode to Selwood Forest to rally the Hampshire and Wiltshire fyrds at Ecgbryhtesstane but then, then, he backtracked to Somerset once more, pitched camp at Oakley (not Iley Oak), and next morning marched through Ilchester and Somerton to Edington in the Poldens where Guthrum was decisively defeated and subsequently baptised a Christian, along with 30 of the best men of his army.

Oakley, Aller, Athelney and Edington in Somerset

Oakley, Aller, Athelney and Edington in Somerset

And where were they baptised? Well, at Aller, just six miles south of Edington and a mere 3-4miles east of Athelney. And after eight days the baptismal robes were removed at Wedmore (where by some traditions Guthrum signed a  treaty)  – and where is Wedmore? Just six miles to the north of Edington.

Oakley, Edington, Aller, Wedmore.  The locations of Aecglea and Eþandune are still doubtful. But Aller and Wedmore are as certain as may be – Asser §56:

Nam post hebdomadas Godrum, paganorum rex, cum triginta electissimis de exercitu suo viris, ad Aelfred regem prope Aethelingaeg in loco, qui dicitur Alre [Aller], prevenit. Quem Aelfred rex in filium adoptionis sibi suscipiens, de fonte sacro baptismatis elevavit. Cuius chrismatis solutio octavo die in villa regia, quae dicitur Waedmor [Wedmore], fuit. Qui, postquam baptizatus fuit, duodecim noctibus cum rege mansit. Cui rex cum suis omnibus multa et optima beneficia largiter dedit.

And why would Alfred ride all the way over to Selwood Forest and then come back again to fight a battle in the Poldens? Well, one might equally ask why he would fight a battle in Wiltshire and then bring the defeated Guthrum back to Aller, 36 miles away, to be baptised? Why not at Chippenham, twelve miles away, a royal vill? Or Trowbridge? Warminster? Even Winchester which was almost the same distance away? Why Aller, unless the two protagonists were conveniently nearby?

These are deep waters, Watson …

[To be continued]

Just one more thing …

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.

Schematic diagram of known trackways

Schematic diagram of known trackways

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]

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.

Which route? (1)

Which route did Alfred take when he left Athelney for Eþandune? Two  factors that he would have borne in mind:

Old trackways link settlements, bridges, burial sites &c.

The old trackways link settlements, bridges, burial sites &c.

1. He would have had to have kept as far as possible to the uplands where the ground provided firm going, and where there would have been existing trackways which would have made travel faster.

2. Since each hundred maintained its ‘fyrd’ – its defence force or militia – Alfred would roughly have taken a route past the meeting places and villages where he could gather his Somerset ‘people’ as he progressed. He must have left Athelney with his small band of retainers, on horseback (equitavit, ‘he gerad’), over the causeway  to East Lyng – rather than struggling across the marshes, hiphopping over a succession of islands until he reached the higher land to the east.

Langport (600 hides) was the next burh en route to Selwood; so crossing the river Tone from Lyng, Alfred would then have followed the southern bank of the Parrett to Langport (Somerton hundred), where he could cross to the other side of the river. From there he would surely have made for Somerton itself, chief town of the Somerton hundred and of Somerset, where the Somerton fyrd could join him and he could gather supplies and equipment .

What then? Would he have zig-zagged his way along, passing through the key towns, or made a fairly straight journey sending messengers to nearby towns summoning the fyrds? I think there would have been no need for the entire troop to visit each place. If the rallying point for the Wiltshire and Hampshire fyrds was to be Ecgbryht’s Stane (as Asser said), it would have made sense to send  swifter messengers to the various towns and get the fyrds with supplies and equipment to follow him.

If Penselwood is taken as the site of Ecgbryht’s Stane, as scholars think, that would suggest a southerly route, perhaps through Ilchester, Queen Camel, South Cadbury and Wincanton. But, in reality, there is little significance in the fact that Penselwood is at the tripoint between Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset since Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle make no mention of the men of Dorset joining at this point, but of Hampshire.

If a line from Athelney to Penselwood is extended, most of Hampshire, centred on Andover, Basingstoke and Farnborough, lies to the north of that line and Edington is well to the north. Why go down to Penselwood?

RoutesBlue route to Penselwood, red route to Bruton

I would suggest that Alfred proceeded, from Somerton, to Keinton Mandeville (Blachathorna hundred) and crossed the Fosse Way at Lydford on Fosse, to Castle Cary (Blachathorna hundred) which was a large settlement: it had 58 households to Somerton’s 52.7 – though this may have provided fewer able-bodied men. Thence to Bruton (Bruton hundred), another meeting place.  Then to the small village of Redlynch where … and here there are three interesting clues – coincidences, even. (To be continued)