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The Roman Portway

Tuesday, 20 September 2022 at 18:59

Kirtlington on Dr John Dunn. Kirtlington

The Roman Portway (not to be confused with the southern Roman Portway which runs from Silchester to Old Sarum) makes even more sense when the equilateral triangle argument is made.

It is the triangular argument made in the blog Could the Portway be Roman in origin? writ even larger.

The Pangbourne / Whitchurch crossing of the Thames makes more sense and is a more direct route north from Sichester to Dorchester on Thames and beyond. It has long been a favoured ferry crossing because of the islets that exist in the Thames here.

The most direct route is the hallmark of a Roman road.

There are two essential straight lines to the Portway.

Silchester - Dorchester on Thames - Kirtlington

Kirtlington - Farthinghoe - Norton (Bannaventa)

The variations from the two lines are accounted for by conditions of geography and roads existing prior to the Roman conquest.

It is generally said that the Romans came to Britain and laid out an elaborate road system. This is probably only partly true, in that they most likely improved many roads and added a number of others.

It is highly possible that the route existed for thousands of years before the Romans came, notably crossing the Icknield Way between Icknield Farm and Ipsden. Roman coins have been found at this crossroad.

The Roman route will also have been modified to take account of medieval trading priorities, most notably the wool trade. The Port Way as it it is known now in places was most likely a significant medieval trading route.

In addition there will have been further modifications made in the turnpike era.

Back to the equilateral triangle. Silchester is on the middle of the base side. The best route northwards is to splice the triangle in twain and go straight to the top, rather than around the Thames to the west via Dorchester on Thames, or even further west and up the western side of the triangle which is the Fosse Way. To go east and follow the eastern side of the triangle, Watling Street, would be ridiculous, given the direct route to the northern tip as an alternative.

The best theory is that the route was established in Roman times, having being made from a mixture of pre-Roman and Roman-built roads.

It retained its integrity as a route into the Middle Ages, being adopted and modified for use as a medieval trading route, especially for the transport of wool.

Southampton, conveniently situated directly south of Silchester, was one of only eight ports from which the export of wool was allowed in the Middle Ages.

The route fell into obscurity as the wool export trade diminished in importance, and turnpikes and stage coaches later kept to the contours rather than the steep gradients of direct and straight roads.

© John Dunn.

What about the case for a Roman Portway to the south of Dorchester on Thames?

Monday, 19 September 2022 at 20:01

High Street Benson on Dr John Dunn. Benson High Street

What about the case for a Roman Portway to the south of Dorchester on Thames?

(To be read in conjunction with previous blogs Portway, Portway 2 and Could the Portway be Roman in origin?)

There is evidence to suggest that a Roman Road connected Benson (near Dorchester on Thames) with Pangbourne via Goring Heath, Broad Street Farm, Woodcote and Cold Harbour.* See J. Sharpe and P. Carter, ‘A “New” Roman Road East of the Thames from Benson to Pangbourne’,
SOAG Bulletin 62 (2008), 7–12.

Whatever the exact accuracy of the route, the implication is that a Roman Road ran northwards from Silchester to Pangbourne, where it crossed the river and ran north to Benson, there to join the road to Henley that led on towards Dorchester, thence along a Roman Portway northwards to Bannaventa, a fortified Roman town on Watling Street, near what is now the village of Norton.

A Portway route connecting the Roman towns of Sichester and Dorchester, is much more direct than the conventionally understood one west of the Thames via Streatley, and it keeps the road away from the Thames Valley, which is a policy that the
Roman surveyors adopted elsewhere.

It is likely that this section south of Dorchester on Thames is a continuation of a Roman Portway running from Bannaventa at Watling Street in Northamptonshire.

*See J. Sharpe and P. Carter, ‘A “New” Roman Road East of the Thames from Benson to Pangbourne’,
SOAG Bulletin 62 (2008), 7–12.

© John Dunn.

Could the Portway be Roman in origin?

Sunday, 18 September 2022 at 22:41

Beckley on Dr John Dunn. Beckley village

Could the Portway be Roman in origin? (Not to be confused with the southern Roman Portway which runs from London to Dorchester)

Further investigations into an ancient road. (See previous notes Portway and Portway 2 in Blogs)

On the superficial face of it - an emphatic no. The roads on my suggested itinerary up to Beckley are certainly not straight.

There is an identified Roman Road from the Roman town of Dorchester on Thames to Beckley (which continues on to Alchester, near Bicester). This might well form the southern portion of the Portway, as an alternative to my itinerary.

After Beckley, the Roman road to Alchester and Portway diverge or cross, depending on which southern portion of Port Way is the right one.

From Beckley, there is a case to be made for the route of the Portway being reasonably straight, certainly in sections.

Where was the Portway heading?

Well from south to north it terminated at Bannaventa, a fortified Roman town on Watling Street, near what is now the village of Norton (very near to the hill fort of Borough Hill as mentioned in the essay (Road, history,nature and a motorcycle).

Dorchester to Norton is on a south-north trajectory.

Dorchester is situated at the middle of the base to an equilateral triangle, the two other sides of which are Fosse Way, running south-west to north-east, and Watling Street, running south-east to north-west.

A road from the Thames at Dorchester to Norton runs to near the top of the triangle, spicing the triangle in twain.

The Portway would have thus connected Dorchester on Thames and the Thames Valley with the road systems running to the north-west and north-east ofEngland.

There is a case to be made for a Roman Portway.

© John Dunn.

Portway 2

Saturday, 17 September 2022 at 21:18

The Magpie Farm on Dr John Dunn. The former drovers' inn, once Magpie Inn, now Magpie Farm

Portway 2

Following my comments in the essay below, Road, history, nature and a motorcycle, about an ancient route called the Portway, I thought that I would take time out to plan an itinerary for the ancient route.

The Portway runs northwards, out of the Thames valley.

A good starting point might be where it crosses the Icknield Way as the A4074, just north of Icknield Farm and west of Ipsden. The road is named on the Ordnance Survey Map as Port Way at this point.

After Benson, the route avoids wetlands by either the eastern route through the Berricks, or the western route through Warborough.

After Newington and Stadhampton, the route crosses the Thames at Chislehampton, before striking northwards to Garsington.

It keeps to the higher ground of Wheatley, Forest Hill and Woodeaton, with the wetlands of Otmoor to the east and the Cherwell flood plain to the west.

Islip is the obvious crossing point of the River Ray, leaving the route to thread its way around streams, brooks and springs, as higher ground begins to be met at Bletchington and more consistently after Kirtlinton.

Crossing the Roman Ackerman Street north of Kirtlington, the route keeps to the higher ground east of the Cherwell and west of Gallos Brook.

The road is named once more on the Ordnance Survey Map as Port Way at this point.

It is severed in twain by the old RAF airfield and subsequent developments at Upper Heyford, but the route clearly picks up again as a bridleway at Village Farm, actually passing a Portway Farm, before being severed again by the M40.

The route is picked up again as a bridleway, before a metalled road continues the route at Souldern, taking us to Aynhoe.

From Aynhoe, it continues as bridleway to Charlton, passing the Ancient British hill fort of Rainsborough Camp.

From Charlton it continues as a metalled road to Farthinghoe and Marston St Lawrence, passing between Thorpe Mandeville and Sulgrave at the crossroads by the former drovers’ inn now called Magpie Farm.

Passing east of Culworth, the metalled roadway is broken briefly at Crockwell Farm, continuing again as a metalled lane to Preston Capes where it converges with Oxford Lane.

Though the original trackway is lost on this last section, the modern road from Preston Capes through Newnham still shows signs of its age. Crossing over the ridge towards the Ancient British hill fort of Borough Hill, there are thick ancient hedgerows, and occasional holloways on the hill-climbs.

© John Dunn.


Saturday, 17 September 2022 at 21:12

Roman Road near Chesterton. Akeman Street near Chesterton*

Appendix to the essay posted below "Road, history, nature and a motorcycle"

You know... you often get a feeling about a road’s history, and this stretch of quiet lane, just after I had left Akeman Street, that kept to the high ground east of the Cherwell, did prompt me to think it was an ancient way of some sort. Whilst not a sharply defined ridgeway by any means, it did neverthless keep to the high ground between river valleys, which is the hallmark of many an ancient road.

Whilst writing this up, my curiosity took me to Google Maps, where I discovered the lane at this point is called Port Way. One website leads to another, and I read that Portway was a trading route, possibly Dark Age or Early Medieval in origin, running from the crossing of the Thames at Wallingford, past Oxford, north on the east bank of the Cherwell into Northamptonshire. I was on one of the more distinct sections of the ancient route.

This only added retrospectively to the romance of the road that I had travelled, quite apart from giving me the idea that Imight seek out sections of the Port Way that could be motorcycled in the future.

Road, history, nature and a motorcycle

Sometimes it is the smallest stretches of road, in unexpected places, that can make for the most pleasurable motorcycling, and I had to share this.

I had to get out of the chaos of Bicester’s ring road system, if for no other reason than to identify where I had been spat out of it geographically.

I was on the A41 heading for Oxford, whereas I had intended to be on the A41 towards Aylesbury.

I pulled off the main road to follow the old, pre-war route, to Oxford via Wendlebury.

There’s a bend in the road before Wendlebury, and a lane leads of from this, blocked by bollards to cars, but open enough for a motorcycle to slip through. Once through, I stopped , pulled the flask from the pannier, and enjoyed a coffee.

I had been on this spot before on a couple of occasions, and knew its history. The now defunct lane was blocked off when Graven Hill became an ammunition depot during the Second World War.

But there was more history. Through the gate in the field, before which I now stood, there was once a Roman town known as Alchester; completely invisible now to all but the archaeologist and his trowel.

Pondering the map, as I am wont to do on such occasions,my eye caught the name of Chesterton and Akeman Street; the former a village (a few hundred yards from being swallowed up by the the voracious field eater which is Bicester these days), and the latter, which is a famous Roman road.

All these ‘chesters’ and ‘cesters’ smack of the Roman activity that existed two thousand years ago round here, and I was drawn towards them.

I would take my leave of Alchester, ride over to Chesterton (crossing the busy A34 on the way), and follow Akeman Street on the short metalled stretch westwards towards Kirtlington.

That was my plan, and once on the Akeman Street I knew it was a plan that was meant to be.

We men of the wheel, we travel hundreds of miles with historic places of interest to see, race tracks to enjoy and ‘meets’ of various kinds to compare machinery, forgetting often that the most interesting place is most often under our wheels wherever we travel.

Akeman Street, so close to the chaos I had left behind, was empty of traffic. I could choose my speed, neither held up in front or harassed from behind, whilst savouring the history of the ancient route; the Roman soldiers that constructed the route, the legions that marched up and down it, and the countless thousands of generations that have used the road since the Romans departed these isles. And beyond the road there was the gently rolling Oxfordshire countryside to refresh the spirit as I rode along.

Yes, a short stretch, a departure from my intended way, but a happy one, an uplifting one, when the road, history and nature came together to offer sheer motorcycling pleasure.

There was a bonus. Just before Kirtlington, I turned off Akerman Street (out of necessity, the metalled section finished at this point) and turned northwards to follow the Cherwell Valley, which I kept to my left. The lane followed a low ridgeway with the Cherwell to my left and the Gallos Brook a mile or so to my right. This is hardly a dramatic landscape, and yet the lowish elevation was sufficient to give views over the Cherwell that gladdened the heart.

I rode on to the former RAF airfield at Heyford. Wow hadn’t things changed around here since last I passed by, not all for the better. And yet I was buoyed through all the developments by the joy of the ride up to that point. I knew that beyond was the ‘Larkrise to Candleford’ country, made famous by Flora Thompson's pen, and it was there that I re-settled into the rhythm of country lane pottering that I relish.

No grandiose landscapes, no famous landmarks, no bikers’ cafs, just sunshine and a few thousand years’ worth of history under my very wheels at every turn, to make an ordinary ride special.

© John Dunn.

*© Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse.

Gnomic Will

Friday, 16 September 2022 at 22:42

Symbolic painting on Dr John Dunn. Adam succumbs, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531

Gnomic Will

St Maximus redeemed by Massimo Scaligero

The following is in part a commentary upon, and in part a development of, a previously issued blog entitled Gnomic wanting.

What I had found wanting in St Maximus’s considerations of the Logos and the‘divine intention’ for each individual, I found redeemed in the writings of Massimo Scaligero.

What St. Maximus wanted to say was constrained by the forces of idolatry in Christianity’s Judaic residue.

Scaligero cleansed the residue from his own thinking, largely due to the influence of Rudolf Steiner, and when overlaid upon the thought of St Maximus, there is a fertilisation that bears fruit.

For ‘gnomic will’ in St Maximus, read dead, or ‘reflected’ thought in Scaligero.

For ‘natural will’ in St Maximus, read ‘living’ thought in Scaligero.

The Fall was a product of gnomic will; having gained knowledge, Adam and Eve objectified each other each other, discovering shame, rather than Love.

‘Gnomic will’ is false, deluded and evil; but we will it, i.e. we want it, we take pleasure in the objectified.

Only Love overcomes the need for this, there being no shame in love.

The fallen state, the state of ‘gnomic will’ is analogous in my Mythology to the realm of Ananke, the dreary equilibrium, the interminable cycle, that awaits the violation and penetration of Love.

We are all born fallen.

To be read in conjunction with the previously issued blog entitled "Gnomic Will".

© John Dunn.

Love and the true self

Wednesday, 14 September 2022 at 21:49

A second St Maximus image on Dr John Dunn. St Maximus

Living thought is not limited by the skull.

Living thought is cosmic in its boundlessness.

The limits to living thought are the ‘mind-forged manacles’ of man himself,aided and abetted by the fallen angels that live amongst us.

Such limited thought is fallen thought, dead thought, and man is born fallen.

It is in Love that the Beginning follows death (resurrection).

John Dunn re-posted blog commentary 2022

These are thoughts prompted by my re-reading of the blog re-posted below. (Scroll down to Love and the True Self).

Continuing the theme on the writings of St Maximus (see most immediate previous blogs), there is an idea that a true path of divine intention is there for each of us, regardless of whether we follow it or not.

Not to follow the divinely intended path must equate to a deluded life, in St Maximus’s term of reference that is.

But I’m not so sure, and working the idea through in my head, I begin to become uneasy about the idolatry inherent to the concept.

Divine intention for anyone presupposes a god, as well as the forward looking intention, which makes idols of both.

Can anything be saved from St Maximus’s ideas?

The way of the Logos into man’s world is not to have it sat around, waiting for an opportunity to shine, as each man discoverers the divinely intended path.

The light of the Logos shines in our world when our thinking remains alive, rather than being lost and reflected back to us as though it represented a pre-existent material reality.

In this way we are the Logos and our thinking is the Creation that never ceases.

It might be said that the Logos enters the world (incarnation) in our thinking (living thought), unless murdered (crucifixion) to become the dead thought of material ‘reality’.

Even this would not be true, and cannot shake off the idolatry that clings on to our every thought.

To think of the Logos entering the world through us is to limit living thinking to the wet spongy matter in our heads.

Living thought is not limited by the skull.

Living thought is cosmic in its boundlessness.

The limits to living thought are the ‘mind-forged manacles’ of man himself,aided and abetted by the fallen angels that live amongst us.

Such limited thought is fallen thought, dead thought, and man is born fallen.

It is in Love that the Beginning follows death (resurrection).

Love and the true self

Everyone lives a deluded life until at some point he is awakened to the divine intention for his being.*

This leads us to the possibility of communion with others, as understood from my readings of St Maximus.

Whether of not man acts out the potential given by God, his true self is nevertheless kept in God and contemplated by Him.

The divine intention is constant, and could be said to be the true self of any individual, regardless of the deluded persona under which he might exist.

The point at which the deluded individual recognises that he is divinely interconnected with another being’s true self is Love.

Love transcends the deluded state in which one or both or more true selves are enshrouded, and establishes a relationship of true selves, a communion, however fleeting, during which they more closely track the divine intention laid out for them.

*See 'Blog' for The self from which the pertinent point is this:

To be a self is not our achievement, but rather a gift from God

There is something to be achieved from our own effort, namely, how we give form to the modes of activity.

However, something is given before any activity occurs. The mystery of an individual’s selfhood is kept in the mystery of the divine being.

Whenever we act out the potential that we are given by God, we give form to the modeof action in accordance (or discordance) with the divine intention for our being, as a self.

It is possible to live as divinely intended, but one may also lead a life of delusions separated from one’s true purpose.

© John Dunn.

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