Exploring the ‘magical’ Fosse Way – a quintessentially English road at the heart of Roman Britain
- The Fosse Way links Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) with Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) via Corinium (Cirencester)
- It starts in Tennyson’s Lincolnshire, passes through Shakespeare country then arrows to Jane Austen’s Bath
- The Daily Mail’s Mark Jones explored part of the ancient route and says it’s a ‘magical, shape-shifting thing’
As you drive up the A5 past Rugby, you come to High Cross. It’s nothing special: Leicestershire farmland on one side, Warwickshire farmland on the other.
You are ten miles from the geographic centre of England — but also at the very heart of Roman Britain, the only place where our two greatest Roman roads meet.
Watling Street runs north from Dover. Most of the stretch from London to Wroxeter (Viroconium) Shropshire, forms the A5. The other, much less well-known, is The Fosse Way, which links Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) with Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) via Corinium (modern-day Cirencester).
Ancient route: The Fosse Way stretches from Exeter to Lincoln via Corinium (modern-day Cirencester). Pictured is a wooded trail on the Fosse Way near Bath
I was brought up near High Cross. Every summer, we drove down the Fosse on our way to our annual holiday in South Wales.
The Fosse might be straight, but it’s undulating. After too much pop and sweets, I’d rarely get as far as Brinklow in Warwickshire, before car sickness took its toll.
Today, the Fosse is barely known beyond the shires it passes through. Yet it is the quintessential English road. It starts in Tennyson’s Lincolnshire, passes through Shakespeare country, then arrows through Laurie Lee’s Cotswolds, Pam Ayres’ Cirencester and Jane Austen’s Bath.
There are seven English Heritage sites along the way, from the Bronze Age Rollright Stones to the Tudor party palace of Kenilworth in Warwickshire.
The Fosse is a magical, shape-shifting thing. On your phone map, it’s a fine grey line: there one second, invisible the next.
The Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water is in the heart of the Fosse. We rented a stylish little house a five-minute stroll along the banks of the Windrush to the teeming heart of the village.
The Daily Mail’s Mark Jones stayed in the Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water, pictured, which is in the heart of the Fosse
The house was ideal for two people and a blind rescue dog. Duchess, the dog, activated her DPS (Doggie Positioning System), sniffed about, then curled up happily in the cottage dogbed.
We managed to get a table at The Rose Tree. Once, you couldn’t get a meal in Bourton that didn’t involve scones and clotted cream. Now, we had medallions of pork and an excellent Pinot Noir from — wait for it — Worcestershire. Romans ancient and modern would have approved.
Southwards down the Fosse at Cirencester we glimpsed how the smart set live. We walked into the living room of a private home. It was minimalist, elegant, with wall hangings in abstract patterns and a tiled mosaic floor.
But this was a private home from the first century AD: we were in The Corinium Museum in Cirencester. This beautiful recreation of a room in a Roman villa, complete with the original mosaic floor, is the highlight of this excellent small museum.
Mark writes that in Roman times, Cirencester, pictured, became a centre of fine living and prosperity: much like it is today
Mark Jones stayed at the Little Gem Cottage in Bourton-on-the-Water, part of Unique Cotswold Cottages, which has three-night stays from £297 (uniquecotswoldcottages.co.uk).
More information at: coriniummuseum.org, therosetreeinbourton.co.uk.
Cirencester in Roman times became a centre of fine living and prosperity: much like it is today. Ultimately abandoned by Rome, Corinium was looted, neglected and flooded. The Fosse Way became a backwater.
Just how delightful a backwater it is can be seen near the village of Shipton Moyne.
We turned on to a B-road leading into a wood. The Tarmac ran out: this was a place for hikers, riders and cyclists, not the Porsches and Audis you see on the busy A429 part of the Fosse Way near Bourton.
Yet this is the same road. Children screamed happily in a ford, a labrador retrieved rocks from the water and deposited them on the bank. The hedgerows and wheatfields stretched into the distance.
As we turned off the Fosse from Tetbury, and called in at a railway station, there was a vending machine selling Duchy Original products: not something you see on the average station platform. But then we are close to the Prince of Wales’s home, Highgrove.
We had some fine fish and chips at The Cat & Custard Pot inn at Shipton Moyne, which Princes Harry and William visited in happier times. I’m sure there might be the odd moment when Harry would give anything to be sitting outside it with a pint of Elmers, watching the walkers trudge past from the Fosse. I know I would.
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