The High Road or the Low Road: Which Way?
London Bridge in 1616 by Claes Van Visscher. The bridge was closed at night, and in 1760 the houses were removed. In London there were only two bridges crossing the Thames; Southwark and London Bridge, for cattle going to Smithfield market or St Bartholomew's fair, from Kent. In the 1600's and earlier, London Bridge was the only crossing. Routes were chosen where adequate supplies of water could be found, along with areas for grazing. Crossing dry chalk land areas or heathland presented a problem; while the going under foot may have been rapid, supplies for the livestock were not as plentiful as on the flood plains of rivers or in low-lying districts. The chalk downs have good examples of "hollow" track-ways, worn down by the passage of cattle over many years.
A 'depressed' bridle-way on Hogstolt Hill near Crabtree in West Sussex. TQ 2225. Travelling across country without signposts or maps would have been an "art and mystery". During the second World War the removal of signposts made travel only possible for local people. The diarist Samuel Pepys recorded how he and his party got lost on Salisbury Plain in 1668, even with a guide and how they also experienced great difficulty in finding their way across Berkshire Downs. Early in the eighteenth century Danial Defoe was obliged to rely on the directions given by the numerous shepherds he encountered for finding his way across the plain. Cattle owners no doubt used a particular drover because of his knowledge, in order to minimize his time on the road. Drovers must have acquired their knowledge from earlier trips with other drovers. In unfamiliar territory they relied upon permanent landmarks, like hills, church towers and wind-mills to guide them; and they also planted trees as sign-posts. They planted "Scots" Pine because of it's distinctive outline when viewed from a distance; surviving on poor soils for hundreds of years. They were planted singly or in groups which provided a coded message, and many mature specimens can be seen today throughout the land. They also planted common pear trees at corners to indicate a turning point. They pollarded trees and "abused" others to make them distinctive, and we have them to thank for the "Harry Potter" beech tree at Frithsden in Buckinghamshire!.
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