Lincoln - Exeter : Fosse Way


                                                         Foss Way: from Lincoln via the Midlands to the SW




  Foss Way: from Lincoln via the Midlands to the SW  (Peter Robins)


  Foss (or Fosse) Way, the Roman road from Lincoln SW to Bath and on to Axminster, is an obvious route for getting from NE England to Bristol and other SW ports. Like other main Roman highways it is however still a main road for most of its length, so must be shadowed by the modern walker.


  Newark would be the first stop. This had a medieval chapel of St James. It also had Franciscan and Austin friaries, marked today only by Friary Road and Friary Court.


  Somewhat off-route to the N is Southwell Minster, a foundation of secular canons, largely Norman with an C11 tympanum. Just S is the village of Halloughton, where the small church of St James is a C19 rebuild of a C13 foundation. And further S again is Thurgarton, where the church is what remains of the Augustinian priory. The Trent Valley Way can take you further SW to Radcliffe and, if you like, Nottingham, though nothing apart from street names remains there of the Carmelite or Franciscan friaries, or the chapel of St James (the church of St James on Standard Hill was post-medieval).


  Leicester was a Roman town, and the Augustinian abbey of St Mary de Pratis there was once wealthy and powerful. The site has been excavated but what little remains of the fabric is now in Abbey Park. There was also a house of Austin Friars. The N suburb of Birstall has a church of St James the Greater with some Saxon remains in the nave.


  S of Leicester, the church of St James the Greater at Huncote is C19. Foss Way becomes a B-road but is still not very walker-friendly, apart from a short stretch N of the junction with Watling St. From Stretton-under-Fosse you can follow the Centenary Way W to Cistercian Combe abbey, now a hotel and country park. Continue on this route SW round Coventry airport to Stoneleigh and the route to Warwick described in the Midlands route page.


  S of Warwick, at the village of Walton, in the grounds of Walton Hall (now a hotel and country club), is the St James church of Walton d'Eiville, an C18 rebuild of a medieval church. Further S again, Idlicote too has a, partly medieval, church of St James (see also CRSBI).


  From here, Foss Way continues on to the Cotswold villages of Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water, but pilgrims will more likely have headed for the shrines at Hailes and Winchcombe. To get there, the Centenary and Heart of England Ways can take you SW to Chipping Campden, where the church of St James, with its splendid tower, is a well-known late-medieval 'wool church'; however, in medieval times, it was dedicated to St Katherine.


  The Cotswold Way starts in Chipping Campden, and this is an obvious if indirect way to get to Hailes, where only a few walls and arches remain of the formerly important Cistercian abbey to which pilgrims flocked to revere the phial of Holy Blood. To the E, Cutsdean has a church of St James, though only the tower remains of the medieval building.


  A bit further on is Winchcombe, where the Benedictine abbey housed the shrine of St Kenelm and became one of the most powerful in the country. Nothing remains of it, however, the current parish church being another well-known C16 wool church. To the E, however, you can visit St Kenelm's Well, though the building over it is C19.


  From here, the Confraternity's Droitwich-Bristol guide uses the Cotswold Way S, but this meandering route seems an unlikely pilgrim route to me. More likely, pilgrims would have headed either to the Severn valley and Gloucester, or back to the Foss Way at Cirencester. The minor road S from Hailes is marked by OS maps as Salt Way, and Salperton further S probably means 'ton on the salt path', so this is an obvious possibility for heading to Cirencester. It continues to Lechlade on the Thames, crossing Foss Way just N of Coln St Dennis which, despite its name, has a fine church of St James the Great with a Norman tower. The church at next-door Coln Rogers is Saxon in origin. In Cirencester, one of the most important towns in Roman Britain, only the gatehouse survives of the C12 Augustinian abbey, which acquired great wealth from the wool trade.


  S of Cirencester, Foss Way for once stops being a major road, and becomes something pleasant to walk along. From Kemble, near the source of the Thames, it is either a track or a minor lane all the way to Bath. However, it's likely that pilgrims on this section will have diverted to Malmesbury, where the abbey housed the shrine of St Aldhelm, in whose works (early C8) is the first reference to St James evangelising in Spain. Just off-road, the village of Ashley has a church of St James (C12), as further S does N Wraxall, a C13 church with a fine statue of St James as pilgrim over the S porch (see also here (bottom of page)).


  Bath is an ancient site, based on a holy spring and shrine to the Celtic god Sul, hence the Roman name Aquae Sulis; their temple was dedicated to Sulis Minerva. Though the current abbey looks very resplendent after its recent clean and restoration, it is a post-medieval rebuild of the Benedictine monastery church-cum-cathedral and nothing remains of the monastic buildings. Note that the parish name for the abbey is Bath Abbey and St James; though the church of St James was destroyed in the Second World War, its name survives in various street-names. E of Bath, S Wraxall has a church of St James, and also had a C14 hospice, now incorporated into Manor Farm.


  Pilgrims heading for Bristol from Bath will have followed the Avon valley via Keynsham, and modern pilgrims can easily follow the Avon Valley Walkway. Little however remains of the Augustinian priory at Keynsham.


  Just S of Bath is Southstoke, where the church of St James has a Norman doorway. A detour to the E will take you to Hinton Priory, where are the remains of the Carthusian foundation of Locus Dei, and Farleigh Hungerford castle, where the chapel of St Leonard houses some medieval wall-paintings.


  Much of Foss Way between Southstoke and Radstock is not a main road. At Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Downside Abbey, a Benedictine community which moved from Douai in N France in the early C19, is now best known for its school, but it also has guest accommodation and retreats.


  From here, Foss Way continues to Shepton Mallet and Ilchester, but pilgrims are likely to have diverted W to Glastonbury, and to have gone there via Wells. Wells cathedral was run by secular canons and based on a Saxon minster, itself based on a holy well - hence the name 'Wells'. See the cathedral website for information on the bishops' relics that were revered there.


  Glastonbury is probably the most myth-enshrouded place in Britain; supposedly founded by Joseph of Arimethea (some accounts even claim accompanied by Jesus himself), and claimed as the resting-place of the Holy Grail (as well as King Arthur). Pilgrims flocked to the Benedictine abbey, a Saxon foundation, which became one of the wealthiest in the country. Today, only the abbot's kitchen, lady chapel, and barn provide any substantial remains, but there is still an annual pilgrimage. Besides the ruins, pilgrims can climb the famous Tor and visit the Chalice Well; they can also stop at the C15 George and Pilgrims Inn, based on an older pilgrims' hostel.


  From Glastonbury they are likely to have continued to the Benedictine abbey at Muchelney, where the C15 abbot's house, along with parts of the cloister and refectory, remain. The River Parrott Trail will take you S to Foss Way at Over Stratton, past E Lambrook, which has a church of St James. Foss Way is then a minor lane to Chillington, which has a medieval church of St James, from where you can head S to Forde Abbey, where the current house includes the remains of the Cistercian abbey; nothing remains of the abbey church. Foss Way continues to Axminster, but pilgrims may very well have headed SE to the shrine at Whitchurch Canonicorum; the Jubilee Trail and Wessex Ridgeway will take you most of the way there.


  April 2005

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