Knoll to Publow brook
Wansdyke most probably starts on Maes
Knoll, with the bank and ditch
originating from the eastern defences. A sunken
lane converges with it, and it must have been the
original ditch, now eroded. The railroad
obliterates the course of the dyke east of the
little wood, but it re-emerges until it reaches
Publow Brook, where Wansdyke ends for the first
time. As you can see in the spread below, every
field has a different manner in which Wansdyke is
preserved, for in the third field (as can be seen
from the panorama) Wansdyke is reduced to a
former field division, while in the next field
the ploughed-down bank reappears.
In this spread, you can see
that Wansdyke due east of the Whitchurch - Norton
Malreward road, following the hedgerow to the
little wood in the middle distance, where it is
crossed by the former railroad. In the left
corner lies Publow Hill.
reaching a marshy piece of terrain close to the
former railway, all traces of the dyke cease
to the A37, almost no traces can be found
today. However, Colt Hoare clearly saw it in 1830:
track is marked with certainty over an arable
field by a white stratum of soil occasioned by
the plough. Leaving a copse wood a little to the
left, it ascends through one pasture field and
descends through another to the turnpike road [now
the A37], leading on the right to Pensford and
to the left to Whitchurch
On this spot the
bank and ditch are very visible and strongly
marked on each side of the road.
can be assumed that the building in the late 19th
century of the North Dorset railway destroyed
much of this stretch, but earlier activities may
have done so as well. East of the railway,
Wansdyke reappears in full glory. In the drawing
from 1925 you can see Wansdyke on Cottle's farm
between Maes Knoll and Publow (above). Wansdyke,
interrupted only by a former stream-head,
continues with a massive height all the way to
the Publow brook.
The Publow Hill gap
Here Wansdyke ends in the Publow
Hill gap. This gap in the continuation of
Wansdyke, although only 2,24 kilometres (1.4
miles) long, issomewhat of a mystery. Not onlydid
the alignment puzzle the researchers, the
complete absence of any trace of Wansdyke over a
not inconsiderable distance has led some of them
to believe that Wansdyke could only have been
constructed without any political control over
the Avon valley.
Strengthening this point of view
was the apparent lack of any view to the north,
which is limited to the valley of the Publow
brook. Some authors sought to trace Wansdyke
across Publow Hill, but in vain. Major &
Borrow traced a dubious course, which is now seen
as an apparent non-existing line of modern field-banks
and hedgerows. One of these can be seen in this picture, which shows frost-marks
on wahat seem to be strip-lynchets, but what may
have been remains of Wansdyke. Many remains of
planned earthworks turn out to be strip-lynchets,
which belonged to a settlement that once existed
on Publow Hill, maybe dating back even to Roman
Crawford (hesitantly) favoured the
river Chew and its tributary as a boundary, but
Fox & Fox reasonably argued against that by
showing that at Peppershells plantation, a
portion of Wansdyke could indeed be traced north
and west of the river, and which was missed by
Crawford. Even Crawford mentioned that a 1811
Ordnance Survey map marked Wansdyke as running
parallel to and north of the river Chew (of which
he could find no trace before 1960). Indeed,
traces of Wansdyke can no longer be found on the
upland of Publow Hill, not even on air-photographs.
As it is no longer present on the 1900 map,
chances are that the early 19th-century
surveyors made a mistake. This drawing by Burrow
in 1926 shows earthworks on Publow Hill, looking
towards Maes Knoll, (click here to enlarge the drawing).
What, then, could be the reason
for a gap in Wansdyke of this magnitude? Fox
& Fox have argued for a dense forest cover at
the time of construction. This would make any
defensive earthwork or indeed a token boundary
dyke superfluous, and the authors argue that this
is repeated elsewhere. Though I would not exclude
this possibility, I would rather take the lost
settlement into account, which would also provide
a very good explanation for the absence of any
remains. Furthermore, it could provide a reason
why the builders seemed less caring about the
lack of view northwards, which would of course
have been provided from the settlement on top.
There could have been a
continuation at some time, of course. The 1900
map shows the remains of an east-west aligned
bank just northwest of the summit of Publow Hill.
This would, if once continuous, have
crossed the hill in a manner which would have
allowed a view to the north, before following a
ridge south of Wooscombe Bottom (along what is
now the Whitchurch-Compton Dando road) to where
it reappeared east of Knowle Farm. Major &
Burrow traced it here, but only as a continuation
of their incorrect reconstruction of Wansdyke
across Publow Hill, and no solid evidence can be
A last remark on supposedly
limited views from Wansdyke on this stretch. The
alignment of Wansdyke between Maes Knoll and
Stantonbury is in a near straight line, which
means we can be almost certain that it was
planned that way. These two hillforts have a
clear view towards each other, and surveyors must
have used that fact. Similarly, both hillforts
have a clear view, between the both of them, of
all terrain north of Wansdyke. That some parts
lack a view of the north towards the Avon valley
is therefore negligible on a strategic level.
Compton Dando to
In 1830, Colt Hoare reported
Wansdyke running from Knowle Farm to the river
Chew. Fox & Fox recognized the part west of
the 19th-century plantation known as
Peppershells only from an air-photo, for the
earthwork has completely disappeared here. East
of Peppershells, the remains have been dropped
from the modern Landranger maps, but it is still
visible as the pictures below clearly show.
Where both Crawford and Fox &
Fox noticed a stretch east of the Compton Dando-Keynsham
road, this has unfortunately disappeared today
below housing. After crossing the river Chew and
its floodplain, Wansdyke gloriously reappears in
a very straight line of 800 metres (half a mile)
towards the Bathford Brook, a tributary to the
Chew. The first part is very well preserved, with
the ditch deepened by erosion and a rivulet, as
can be seen on the image right, which shows
Wansdyke north of New Farm, Compton Dando, in
1956 (click here to enlarge). Just before
reaching the brook, Wansdyke crosses a field
littered with tumuli or burial mounds.
After crossing the brook, Wansdyke
changes alignment to a due eastern course. The
images above show the course of Wansdyke across
the fields east of Compton Dando. It now heads
straight for the junction of the A 39 (Bath-Wells)
and the B 3116 (Keynsham-Wells) at Wansdyke House,
crossing an unrecorded semi-circular earthwork
below Long Hill halfway along that stretch. In
the photo taken in 1956 (click here to enlarge), you can
still see the remains of a once great ditch, but
the bank and counterscarp have been lost to
agriculture. A recent report by Mike Hansford (1996) however, shows
that Wansdyke today is still less impressive and
apparently still being ploughed down:
Ive seen it at
Stantonbury Camp at the junction of the A39 and
the Wellsway (grid ref ST670639). At this
junction there is a lane that heads off towards
Compton Dando and its a few yards down this
lane that there is a cottage called Wansdyke
Cottage where it can be seen in the garden there.
Its even less impressive there than at anywhere
else Ive seen it! In fact its more like a
small tump on the garden lawn.
This small tump,
recorded around 1999, was recorded in 1956 by Fox
& Fox as a broad ridge, which
only shows how fast the deterioration of West
Wansdyke proceeds. Wansdyke is completely
ploughed out east of the A 39 , where it (once)
curved southeast once more to ascend Stantonbury
Hill. In 1830, Colt Hoare reported it as climbing
across three fields, the last one today covered
with trees. It then reaches the northwest corner
of Stantonbury hillfort.
on each picture to enlarge it.
shot of the bank, which is mostly hidden from
close to New Barn Farm, coming down from Maes
Knoll and crossing Norton Lane.
approximately to the Southeast towards the house.
Taken from the A37 in the layby as the A37 rises
after coming down from Hursley Hill.
same spot, this
picture shows Wansdyke 'butted' up to the
hedgerow close at the end of the house, it's
course being East to West.
this is the same spot, 2003. The ditch in this
picture is all but gone, silted up and trodden
down by cows.
This picture is
looking East. The bank of Wansdyke is to the
right of the picture.
ditch of Wansdyke is all but filled in by
slippage of the bank over 1300 - 1500 years of
soil erosion. Looking east.
reveals traces.. Publow Hill.
Wansdyke north of Compton Dando, seen emerging
from Peppershells Wood.
emerging from Peppershells Plantation, summer
seen traversing the recently trimmed meadow.
near Compton Dando, running through an orchard at
image is shot from the Compton Dando church tower,
looking east to Lye Hill. Wansdyke runs through
the middle of the picture.
image shows the same picture, but enlarged.
image shows Wansdyke just east of the River Chew
image of Wansdyke north of New Farm, Compton
Dando, was shot in 1956 on more or less the same
This image shows Wansdyke just east of
the River Chew (looking east).
between Bathford Brook and Wansdyke House, 1956.