A new discovery!
A few miles away is Christleton village. Plough Lane leads away from the centre to become Platts Lane and it continues after crossing Hockenhull Platts.
Platts Lane always made me curious. Why was it so wide? Was it wide all the way back to Christleton? And, more interestingly, it narrowed a lot to the start of a muddy path to the western bridge, so perhaps, it had to do with the packhorses being readied to cross the bridges, Besides, drovers often shared the same route as packhorses.
Detective work had to be done. I took photos, sorted a map of the lane and made measurements at six stops using a laser gadget. It saved trying to cross ditches, fighting brambles and mud. Best of all it worked fine in strongish light. Wonder what the sparrows in the hedge made of it!
Anyway, the overall width averaged 12 metres (38ft). Now, that’s on the scale of a Roman Road! The hedges would add another couple of metres. Rather leave the Romans alone…for now.
You might think, what’s all this measuring business? Well, I needed to check if my hunch was correct. Contacted Bruce, who has a website, (www.localdroveroads.co.uk) a really informative one, about drovers and their fascinating story. Everything about this research turns out to be well … just fascinating.
A drovers’ road has to be mostly straight, with wide verges, usually lined with oak trees (hazel is pretty common too) and, this is a tricky one to get, a very sharp, right-angled bend with a gate dead ahead. Hawthorn trees are a good sign in a hedge beside an ancient or old road. Present-day farmers hard cut hedges so few trees develop. There’s more to all this.
The information I gathered went off to Bruce. He came back with 99% likely the lane was a drovers’ route, at least a local one and possibly a regional and national one. Indeed, the border with Wales is only about 10 miles from Christleton,. From Wales came many, many drovers of cattle, sheep and other livestock destined for markets throughout England.
Drovers were men who often moved large numbers of cattle (often Welsh Blacks) or sheep over long distances, mostly off-the beaten track. Riding or walking, with trained dogs such as collies and the bigger Cardigan corgi, these men were highly skilled in their trade and generally, respected and welcomed by farmers.
These were long-distance drovers. Huge numbers of cattle set out from Wales to all the main markets such as Birmingham, Bristol and London. There was droving on a local scale, from villages to markets in nearby towns. Whether national, regional or local the droving of livestock was a vital part of the rural econony.
The story of drovers is another detailed one. Will return to its rich past another time. I guess just relating the discoveries sets the scene, otherwise there would be pages and pages on a single topic. Instead, another poem to close on. Another inspiration as I search these stories
In the past year, varied research, including fieldwork has uncovered a wide range of original evidence about the Hockenhull bridges, a hollow way, the R. Gowy, flour mill(s) and hopefully, more is to come. Both drovers, pack horses, archaeological finds the pre-history of Hockenhull Platts and the natural history, both of the study area and around where I live, will be included. I suppose there’ll be many random extras!
Most of all, I hope you the reader, may find enough of interest to stimulate you to delve into the rich secrets and stories of the landscape.
STOP PRESS: Another possible drover’s/packhorse route even closer to the Welsh border. Here we go again!
*Scots Pine Waymarkers*
As a guide to drovers’ Scots pines were used to signal a good place to stopover both for men and livestock; drovers often brought pine cones to plant along the way. An inn or farm might have a single pine or a group easily seen by the the lead drover. Farmers welcomed their arrival for the manure it provided and the inns for the extra income both in food and drink as well as accommodation for the tired travellers.
Cotton Farm is just off the drovers’ route at Hockenhull Platts. It has a single tall pine behind the farmhouse. Was this such a waymarker?
One can imagine with dusk falling, the distant sound of men calling, the rumble of hooves in the lane, the farmer with lantern aloft, welcoming the lead drover and the raised spirits of men coming to a restful night’s sleep.