Reading - SouthWest

 

  Reading-Southwest : from Reading to Salisbury and the Ports of the Southwest (Peter Robins)

 

  From Reading W, the first major town would be Salisbury/Sarum. A Roman road, the Portway, leads there from Silchester which one can reach via the Kennet Navigation towpath, and then by paths and lanes. Although the Portway between Silchester and Andover cannot be directly followed for most of the route, it can be shadowed with paths and lanes, and from Andover it can be followed more or less exactly to Old Sarum, from where the centre of modern Salisbury is easily reached. In Andover, little remains of the small priory, a cell of Benedictine Saumur. Just to the S, at Wherwell, nothing remains of the Benedictine nunnery (the current building is C19).

 

  There are now 3 possibilities, depending on which port you want to get to.

 

     - Poole

  Again, the obvious route is on the Roman road, Ackling Dyke, via Badbury Rings and Wimborne Minster, where was a minster of secular canons, dating from Saxon times. This Roman road can be followed pretty much in its entirety.

 

  However, although there is plenty of prehistoric interest on this route, there is little in the way of facilities between Salisbury and Wimborne; further to the E, and halfway between the two towns, was the Benedictine priory of Cranborne. To get there, leave Salisbury via the Avon Valley Path, but continue S to Hornington and the path along Grim's Ditch to Tidpit. Grim's Ditch (one of several in the country) marks the boundary between Wiltshire and Hampshire, and is probably a Bronze Age boundary marker, one of the enormous number of prehistoric earthworks in this area. At Cranborne, only the church remains of the priory.

 

  From Cranborne, head for Wimborne St Giles and the extraordinary church and henge site at Knowlton, excavated in recent years by Bournemouth University. From here, head for Badbury Rings and, via Pamphill, Wimborne. See Dorset Historic Churches Trust for details of minster.

 

  Poole can be reached by using another Roman road, by Corfe Mullen straight to Poole Harbour. Poole's church of St James is a C19 rebuild of a medieval foundation.

 

     - Weymouth

  Again, the obvious way from Salisbury to Weymouth is via the Roman roads, again via Badbury Rings, and then Dorchester. There is no modern path along the Badbury-Dorchester road, but just W of Badbury was the largest abbey of Cistercian nuns in England, at Tarrant Crawford. Little remains of this, though the nearby church (Churches Conservation Trust) has some fine medieval wall-paintings.

 

  Tracks lead further W to Milton Abbas, where a public school now occupies the house which replaced the Benedictine abbey. The church survives, and is used as the (very grand) school chapel; it houses a bust of St James. The C12 St Catherine's Chapel nearby was a pilgrim chapel and has an inscription on the south doorway granting an indulgence to pilgrims who visit it. The parish church of St James is C18, along with the rest of this estate village. More tracks lead over the downs to Dorchester, a Roman town which had a Franciscan friary and a hospital of St John, but nothing remains of these.

 

  The Dorchester-Weymouth Roman road is now the main road, but you can shadow it, perhaps to the W via Maiden Castle.

 

     - Exeter and Plymouth

  From Salisbury, a track, one of several known as the 'Herepath', runs W along the edge of the downs past Chiselbury most of the way to Shaftesbury. Just to the N, in the village of Ansty, the C13 church of St James is where the Knights Hospitaller had a commandery where there was also a Hospice.

 

  Shaftesbury's Benedictine nunnery with the shrine of Edward the Martyr was the largest in England, but little remains to be seen. The current parish church of St Peter was built at the gates of the abbey as a pilgrim church. The W of Shaftesbury is known as St James after the parish, though the current church is C19. You can leave the centre down Gold Hill (one of the most photographed streets in England) and along St James St, or along Abbey Walk with its fine views, and down the partly-cobbled Stoney Path, a pilgrim path, to St James church.

 

  The next destination is Sherborne, and to get there you must leave the downs and cross Blackmoor Vale. To the S is Hinton St Mary; the Roman Villa marked on Explorer maps is where the early mosaic of Christ was found.

 

  It's hard to believe now, but the small town of Sherborne was a Saxon see, the precursor of Salisbury. The present, largely C15, Sherborne Abbey has a fine C15 wooden statue of St James, though this does not originate from Sherborne.

 

  Whitchurch Canonicorum is the next major shrine en route, which pilgrims may well have reached via Yetminster (the Macmillan Way can take you there) and Beaminster, both of which, as their names suggest, were early minster churches, even if nothing remains of them today.

 

  Whitchurch's shrine of St Wite is remarkable for having survived the Reformation, and the current church reflects the wealth that pilgrims brought in the Middle Ages. It is one of only 2 shrines in Britain, and the only one in England, still in situ. Nearby, at Morcombelake, is Wite's holy well.

 

  Here you are almost on the coast, and a simple way to the Exe estuary would be to follow the coast path. Scenic, but nothing to do with pilgrimage. You are also back on a Roman road, this time from Dorchester to Exeter, which ran via Axminster, where it crossed Foss Way, and Honiton, in other words the main road. So head to Axminster using the little lane via Raymond's Hill

 

  Axminster is known today for carpets, but it's the originally Saxon church which provides the name of the town. Just to the S was Cistercian Newenham Abbey, though little remains of this.

 

  Medieval Honiton was largely destroyed by fire, and the town is today largely known for lace-making. Probably the more interesting church is at Ottery St Mary. This is very different country from the Wiltshire Downs, with steep valleys heading down to the sea. There's no obvious route into Exeter from the E, though if you do approach the city past the airport, you will pass close to the remains of the Benedictine nunnery of St Catherine at Polsloe. More scenic is probably to head for Topsham and then up the river/canal into the city centre. Between Topsham and Exeter, there was a C11 Cluniac priory of St James, a charter relating to which is in the archives of King's College Cambridge. Besides the cathedral, another church of secular canons, parts of Benedictine St Nicholas Priory, including the guesthouse, remain and are open to the public. There's more on Exeter in the Middle Ages on the City Council's site.

 

  Although modern travellers may head across Dartmoor to get to Plymouth, it's unlikely many pilgrims will have braved its notorious bogs. More likely is that they skirted the S edge. Buckfast had a wealthy Cistercian abbey, though little of this medieval building remains in the modern abbey complex. The abbey offers many facilities to visitors, including accommodation. C11 Totnes priory was Benedictine, though the current priory church was rebuilt in the C15. And on the coast at Torre (after which both Torquay and Torbay are named), was the richest Premonstratensian abbey in the country. The remains of this, along with a fine medieval barn, now belong to Torbay Council.

 

  From Exeter, head SW to Christow ('Christian place'), where the C15 granite church is dedicated to St James. From Bovey Tracey, the Dartmoor Way can take you to Buckfast.

 

  Glenn Bearne's Dartmoor crosses site describes the old track, marked by crosses, between Buckfast and the next monastic site, Plympton Priory. Although Plymouth is now the main town in the area, it was only small in medieval times, though it did have Franciscan and Carmelite friaries. The former Friary Road railway station was on the site of the latter. Plympton was much more important: the C12 Augustinian priory was dedicated to St Mary and the remains are now near the church. Plymouth's church, St Andrew's, was destroyed in 1941 and rebuilt.

 

  April 2005

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                                                           delhommeb at wanadoo.fr -  26/12/2016