Walk the Salter’s Way from Castor
Enjoy this wonderful walk, described here by Elaine Wakerley
Start the walk
St Kyneburgha’s Church, Castor
There has been a landmark here for over a thousand years. Where there is now a church spire, in 250 AD there was the roof of the Praetorium, one of the largest buildings in Roman Britain. The site covered about nine football pitches and the palace was twice the size of Peterborough Cathedral.
In his journals John Clare records working with Edmund Artis on this excavation. Artis’ grave is to the right of the church porch and the information board opposite gives interesting insights.
Explore the Church, it welcomes visitors (and good dogs) and is included in England’s Thousand Best Churches (Simon Jenkins, 2012). It is open every day from first thing in the morning until dusk. Go inside and enjoy the tranquillity. There is much to see, free information leaflets and a modestly priced guidebook.
Leave the churchyard by the east gate and cross over Stocks Hill
Here are just two of several outcrops of Roman stonework integrated into the fabric of the village. They are scattered over a wide area and give an idea of the vast scale of the praetorium. It is believed to have been the administrative centre of the rich Fenlands.
Opposite the church gate is a footpath that runs between the old rectory and GlebeField.
John Clare would have seen the medieval barns and known about the earlier earthworks that form the banks and steeply scarped features. This made great toboggan runs for generations of village children.
Over the stile and down the field to Water Lane, well-named as the path now crosses one of the hundreds of springs on their way to the river
Castor House stream
A little bridge crosses a stream which once fed an enormous pond at Home Farm. This pond was so large that it may have been the fishpond of the ‘missing’ manor house. Three manor houses are recorded in the villages and only two have been identified.
The pond was fed by the network of springs that make their way from the limestone ridge on which Castor Hanglands sits, rising and falling south to the Nene.
Walk south west over two fields, frequently grazed by sheep, until you reach Love’s Hill
At the gate, look to the north west across the open countryside. On the horizon is Castor Hanglands, part of the once vast Rockingham Forest and beloved of John Clare.
It is a SSSI with an extraordinary range of habitats where 0rchids and nightingales thrive, and it has one of the most biodiverse ponds in England. A walk in the Hanglands and a lot more information is available in the route guide, John Clare’s Footsteps through Castor Hanglands.
Take the path east along the Peterborough Road and turn north to Marholm Road, crossing over the top of the dual carriageway
Once on the Marholm Road almost immediately on your left is Marholm Field Bank
Marholm Field Bank
A little spot of biodiversity, a herb-rich area of grassland with betony, pyramidal orchid, lady’s bedstraw, bird’s-foot-trefoil, marjoram and ox-eye daisy.
Walk along the Marholm Road for half a mile until you see a footpath just in front of two large barns. The walk turns left here. On the right another footpath marks the location of Salter’s Tree.
‘Salter’s’ is significant. There is a Salter’s Way and Salter’s Wood as well as families of Salter’s living around here. We know there was a gibbet and a great elm tree which some villagers remember. A man called Salter may have been hanged or hanged himself from it but most likely it was the place where medieval salt traders met to do business outside of the village.
Today it is also the inspiration for an ale brewed in the village.
Turn left, in front of the barns and you are on Salter’s Way
You are walking though aeons. From prehistory, this wonderful agricultural land, plentiful water and stone have been accessed from this path. It has been used continuously and there is evidence that it was once a Roman road.
Skylarks breed in the open fields here and this thick blackthorn hedge is a nesting site for yellowhammers.
Both species are in decline nationally but thriving in this ancient landscape. John Clare knew the yellowhammer well.
“In early spring, when winds blow chilly cold, The Yellowhammer, trailing grass, will come To fix a place and choose an early home, with yellow breast and head of solid gold”.
Look to the south towards the river and imagine the praetorium where the church spire is. Look north east to where the density of (as yet unexcavated) Saxon remains suggests an important chief lived there. A busy spot and rich in wildlife, skylarks, linnets, deer, hare and wildflowers appear in season. There have never been many hedges on this open landscape.
All around there is evidence of ancient agriculture. This has always been food producing land and shows the print of hundreds of years of ploughing, mostly by oxen, horses were late-comers. Where ploughs were cleared at the end of a strip, over hundreds of years banks grew up called Headlands.
The mounds of earth that can be seen from Salter’s Way are where divided furlongs butted back to back and ploughs dropped soil as they turned on the divided strips. It is a feature which is shown on the early maps and is a remarkable survival.
Cow Lane, The Drift
This medieval ploughing headland forms the 1,000-year-old boundary between Castor and Ailsworth. It is a massive bank of accumulated earth deposited over hundreds of years as ploughs were turned in each parish butting up to this ancient common way from the villages. Enclosure recognised this and granted a sixty-foot carriage and occupation road giving access to allotments and the recreation ground.
The recreation ground and Oldfield Pond that were well used by locals before the A47 bypass was built.
Turn north by the fence for a 1.2 mile extension around Oldfield Pond.
The pond is an example of the unique hydrology that shaped this area. It is spring-fed, part of the network of springs emerging along this higher ground and it is believed that the Romans lined it with clay as a reservoir. A highly respectable group (including a Canon and an Air Vice Marshal) turned water dowsers and traced the pond outflow to the huge Roman baths that lie beneath the school playing field.
This was a favourite spot for dipping and ice skating before a much needed dual carriageway bypass cut Cow Lane in half and access became very difficult. The pond shows rich diversity and is home to great-crested newts and common toads.
Lady’s bedstraw was gathered as sweet smelling bedding for medieval ladies.
Downwards to Ailsworth
DOWNWARDS TO AILSWORTH
Continue on the same pathway, noticeably lower than the surrounding fields.
Millennia of farm transport has depressed this part of the track and made clear ruts.
Green Lane and Ailsworth Marsh
A wet green way leads to Helpston Road
To the north three small fields hold a very special flora and fauna including common valerian and field scabious. You may, like John Clare, see a linnet.
“Now infant April joins the Spring And views the watery sky
As youngling linnet tries its wings And fears at first to fly”
At the junction with Helpston Road, Ailsworth, turn left and cross the bypass into the village
Enjoy well -earned refreshment in the villages!