Section of Drovers’ Road

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.

Christleton – Hockenhull Platts; Drovers’ Road (OS. 1875)

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, ( 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.



Mystery on the eastern bridge

A recent contact, a bridge engineer, noticed two features on this bridge. Called ‘cutwaters’, they are shaped to spread the force of water hitting the bridge so protecting  it.  Apparently, unknown locally on single span bridges, they are a mystery, especially being situated on the opposite side of the bridge to the flow of the river!
These ‘buttresses’ could be to support an unstable bridge. Added later, this might indicate this was the first bridge to be built, or the foundations had a problem. Still, it’s a puzzle, as the other two don’t have them.

Eastern bridge

The eastern bridge

This is a true packhorse bridge though all three were used by packhorses but not exclusively. Of the three, this looks the most original. Doubtless, all the bridges have been altered since the mid-17th century.

There are two buttresses on the northern side (other side ) formerly thought to be ‘cutwaters’; protection against high floodwater. After an expert checked, it was agreed these were to stabilise the bridge. Still, they proved an interesting puzzler.

The whole saga awaits the telling. It won’t be easy. Almost nothing, in detail, exists, no maps beyond the 19th century and the written record is very sparse. So, this challenge must wait for another time.

Just received this really interesting photo. In an issue of Cheshire Life,  in July 1947, it shows the causeway leading to this bridge. Even better, it shows the causeway having a much greater depth than seen before, possibly ever! And, it shows water extending along the side of the causeway whereas today there is nothing but a vegetated mound.

What a cracker!


Poem: The Three Bridges

The Three Bridges

Once mighty, gone
Now set in stone.
For a giant of its time
Came to this place
Of water and reed
To give its last breath.
Its three humps arched,
Its head lost in the marsh,
The massive tail a path for travellers.

Stand and remember.
Giants beings held this land.
Traced in the earth,
A memory of a lost time.
No headstone,
Save here in these bridges.

The Three Bridges

Location of Hockenhull Platts, near Tarvin. ‘Copyright The Francis Frith Collection and used with permission.’

The central bridge   

We see the R. Gowy flowing northwards from its beginning in a field below the Peckforton Hills, to the R. Mersey.
The other two bridges nearby both had the river passing beneath, but not anymore.
All three were built in the 17th century. All are of sandstone with a causeway connecting them. It is suggested a sandstone bridge existed in the 14th century but a wooden bridge or ‘platt’ was more likely. A platt bridge is a deck of thick(oak) planks set across the river.

Correctly called the Packhorse Bridges, they are unique in Cheshire and, as a group close together, also unique in Britain. Naming them as the Roman Bridges is a popular misconception.