|Length:||207.8 miles (334.3 km)|
|Now part of:||B3172, A358, B3167, A30, A303, A37, A367, A4, A433, A429, B4455, B4428, B4114, A5460, A46, A1434|
|Route outline (key)|
The first thing that needs clearing up with the Fosse Way is whether it actually starts in Exeter. You see, the OS Roman Britain Map has the Fosse Way starting at Axmouth, near Seaton on the Devon Coast, and meeting a crossroads at Axminster where it crosses the Exeter-Dorchester route. This is the only route shown to Exeter. It also ties in with what I remember being taught at school.
This road is number 5 in 'Roman Roads of Britain' by Ivan D Margary.
5a: Axmouth to Ilchester 26½ miles
Seaton is marked as a Roman settlement, and with the road running down the side of the River Axe to the coast, it denotes a port here. We follow the B3172 Axmouth Road north, although the precise route has been lost by changes to the course of the river over the flood plain.
At the A3052 junction, we cross over and pick up the A358, turning somewhat at Musbury, passing under the A35 and running into Axminster. Here, we deviate from the A358's modern route, continuing along Musbury Road and perhaps South Street. Axminster was a small fort in Roman times, so the kink to get to Stony Lane is relatively easy to explain, as there was only ever one principle axis. In the case of Axminster, that seems to be the Dorchester - Exeter road (RM4). Perhaps, therefore, we should say that Stony Lane is the start of the Fosse Way?
Returning to the A358 once more, we follow it to the Somerset border, where the B3167 picks up the baton. This bypasses Chard and gets us to the A30 near Cricket St Thomas. It is only a brief flirtation with the A30, however, as we soon turn off onto the unclassified Chillington Down through Higher Chillington.
So far, much of the route is conjecture, using straight pieces of road coupled with a few documents and archaeology. However, halfway along Nash Lane, we suddenly reach certainty. This was the route of the Fosse Way.
Nash Lane becomes Fishers Lane and then Hollow Lane at Dinnington, after which the road is even named Foss Way! It now draws an almost dead straight line across the landscape, until Lopen Lane gives out at a T-junction. However, the hedge line continues and before long we find Northfield Lane, and then the road through Yeabridge. Another T-junction, but just across the fields the A303 traffic rumbles by, and with the odd re-alignment this takes us all the way to Ilchester (Lindinis), Well nearly.
5b: Ilchester to Bath 30 miles
The old A303 alignment to Ilchester is still there, as dusty unused lanes, and then across the A37 (the RM47), we find West Street, which leads into High Street. Ilchester was a very important Roman town, a provincial capital at one point, and a hub of the local road network. Church Street, the B3151 and former A37 is the road to Dorchester. Then, across the river in Northover, the B3151 (RM51) turns left as the route to the port at Combwich, across the Polden Hills. But the Fosse itself continues, crossing the A303 again just west of the Podimore roundabout.
We cross the modern A372 too, and pick up the A37 a little further north, returning to public highway. Apart from the odd kink at Babcary, the A37 runs all the way to Wraxall with hardly a bend to its name. here, however, the Romans had to deviate slightly from ruler-straight to climbe first Wraxall Hill, and then descend Pye Hill. The A37 has been realigned over the latter.
Another few miles of dead-straight brings us to the A361 junction, where the Fosse slips down Church Lane to Cannard's Grave. This is the outskirts of Shepton Mallet, but practically as close as we will get to the town centre. A brief fling along the A37/A361 route, and then a farm track to pick up Fosse Lane. At the northern end, the crossroads has been realigned, but we pick up Martins Lane all the same. At Beacon Hill the road is crossed by the RM45 from Old Sarum (Sorviodunum) to Charterhouse (Iscalis).
We now find ourselves in fields again, although hedgerows mark our route almost to the A367 near Ashwick Grove House. As we will find time and time again between here and Bath, the modern route deviates from the Fosse Way, on this occasion to negotiate Nettlebridge Hill. We pass through Stratton-on-the-Fosse (a dead giveaway), and along Wellsway through Midsomer Norton. We then follow a mixture of side roads, farm tracks and hedgerows down the steep valley and back up the other side, to cross the end of Fosse Lane, and pick up Fosse Way at Clandown. Back onto the A367, along its former route through Peasdown, straight line Dunkerton Bottom on the old muddy tracks, and so to Wellsway at Odd Down.
The Fosse Way followed the A367 Wellsway down the hill towards Bath City Centre, and this route remains an important road today. However, in the 19th Century, the local Turnpike company decided that the final descent was too steep on the ascent, and so built the meandering Wells Road. The old route continues straight down Holloway, and then down the steps to the roundabout at the bottom. The Roman Bridge sat roughly where the Southgate Foot Bridge is, and this was the site of the road bridge until the 1960s.
We now head north up Southgate Street and Stall Street to Westgate Street. Here, as with Axminster all those miles ago, the East-West (London - Sea Mills on the River Avon) route got priority, and the Fosse Way had to 'multiplex' eastwards to find the High Street!
5c: Bath to Cirencester 29½ miles
As we reach the top of Northgate Street, we leave the Roman City of Aquae Sulis behind and run through its northern suburbs. Archaeology has not as yet been able to prove the route of the Fosse, save to say that both Walcot Street and Broad Street / Paragon appear to have been Roman Roads. We then pick up the A4 London Road, pass through Batheaston on the old A4 alignment, following the River Avon. The road kinks southwards for a moment when the river does, before taking the curving route up Bannerdown Road to regain the high ground and a north-eastward course.
As we travel along Bannerdown Road, now in open countryside at the very southern edge of the Cotswolds, we pick up the county boundary. As this runs along the left hand verge, it means that we pass into Wiltshire. A little further along, we pass the Three Shires Stone and the county to our left is now Gloucestershire, not Somerset.
At the next Junction, Bath Road diverges to the right and we then find Colerne Airfield, and the associated military base on the right. At the northern end of the base, the road swings a little to the east as it drops down Doncombe Hill, losing the county boundary as we do so. We then cross the A420 at a crossroads, and continue in a North Easterly direction, albeit swinging more and more to the east. There are a couple of little kinks which may be original, or medieval adjustments, before we pass under the M4 and almost immediately hit a T-junction called Fosse Gate.
Ahead of us (well actually slightly to the left as the junction has been re-profiled), beyond the gate, the Fosse Way continues, but it is no more than a rough track between fields, and it is about a mile before it becomes public highway once more. The road continues, almost dead straight, through fields with barely a house to be seen, until finally another T-junction appears just beyond Lordswood Farm and the Fosse degenerates to a farm track once more.
From here to the A433, the Fosse is more easily traced by the Gloucestershire/Wiltshire county boundary than any roads or tracks that it follows, but it is still there, marked on the ground by a hedgerow at least until we reach Kemble Airfield. Even here, one of the access roads seems to follow the course, if a little to the east. But then, with just a disused railway and a couple of fields to cross, we find the A433, and can drive it once more.
The A433 and then the A429 lead us to Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum), where the modern A-roads veer eastwards to bypass this ancient Roman Town, but the Fosse is still there, following Tetbury Road and Castle Street as far as the market place. Here, yet again, the Fosse has to yield to the East-West Silchester to Gloucester road (RM41), but at the other end of Cricklade Street, Lewis Lane and London Road show us our route once more. It is possible that Market Place and Dyer Street were also Roman. Here Fosse Way is crossed by the Silchester to Gloucester road (RM41 and the road from Alchester RM16.
5d: Cirencester to High Cross 61½ miles
We cross the Roundabout and pick up the A429 once more, cross the new outer bypass and then turn left as the road onwards (B4425) is the Bicester Road. Stow Road heads almost due north, but a series of bends take it back to north-east, across the A40 at Northleach, round another kink to avoid a hill and so past Bourton on the Water. Just north of Bourton, the Ryknild Street Roman Road (RM18) to Alcester and Lichfield turns off to the left, its route now lost in fields. Then a very strange thing, for the Fosse Way, happens. At the junction with the A424, we turn to head north.
As we pass through Stow, the first of a series of wobbles starts to send us back to our true North-East course, which takes us through the beautiful town of Moreton-in-the-Marsh where we cross the A44, and on into Warwickshire. We cross the A3400 near Tredington and then pass through Halford. Just north of this village, we come to an almost triangular roundabout, where the A429 finally releases the Fosse Way, and the B4455 takes over.
This section of the road is great fun, with only the odd roundabout or staggered crossroads separating the great long (hilly) straights. We pass over the M40 but otherwise keep going north-east until we reach Eathorpe. Here, it appears that the grounds of the large manor house (I am doing this from Google Earth now, so feel free to correct with local knowledge) have been extended, pushing the modern road away to the east of the course of the Fosse. Then, as we cross the A423 at Princethorpe, modern traffic levels have dictated a series of new junctions, to avoid the old 'fiveways'.
The Fosse is not so straight now, wiggling as it crosses the A45 and then reaches the A428. For a few metres this road takes up the reins, but then marks in the fields show the true route of the Fosse, soon reclaimed by the B4455. As we approach Brinklow, the B4455 turns sharp left into the village, but the Fosse continues ahead, through the fields to be picked up once more, first by the B4428 and then the B4455 when the two roads diverge again. The M6 is crossed, and then on through open countryside to Watling Street, the A5 at High Cross.
5e: High Cross to Leicester 11½ miles
Here stood the Roman fort and settlement of Venonis. After crossing Watling Street the Roman road is followed by a long track - part of the Leicestershire round - to be met by the B4114 at Stoney Bridge. It is then followed by the B road through Narborough to the A5460 at Brauston, from where it continues to reach the west bank of the River Soar in Leicester. Having crossed the river the road enters the Roman town of Ratae Corieltavorum. Ratae was also the crossing point for the RM57 Roman road from Godmachester on Ermine Street to Mancetter on Watling Street.
5f: Leicester to Lincoln 48¾ miles
The Fosse Way left Ratae by the north gate and, after a short distance, is picked up by the A607 to Thurmaston where it becomes unclassified streets and on through Syston to be joined by the A46 at Lewin Bridge (SK621130) after crossing the A607. It then heads for Six Hills where a Roman road (RM58) forks off north east to Grantham and Ermine Street. Two miles further on is Vernementum (Willoughby-on-the-Wolds). Here the Roman road from Trent Lock (RM182) may have met the Fosse Way. Further on the road and the A46 cross theA606 (GSJ) and ancient and modern make a new alignment slightly to the east.
From here to Lincoln the A46 has been significantly improved and the Roman road is either sidetracked or buried beneath the new work. Next stop is the Roman settlement of Margidumun at Castle Hill by the A6097/B692 roundabout, followed a few miles further on by the settlement of Ad Pontem at East Stoke (SK752496). The Latin place name refers, of course, to the settlement's close proximity to the Trent. The final Roman settlement on the A46 (or rather a few yards from it) is north of Newark at Brough (Crococalana - SK835584).
The A46 continues to follow the ancient road until it turns onto the bypass at Hykeham Roundabout where it's taken up by the B1434 to Bracebridge. Here it crossed the river Witham and was joined by Ermine Street, roads RM260 and RM262 before entering the Roman city of Lindum Colonia (aka Lincoln).