Drovers 4: Way Markers

A lot has been written on this subject, especially the idea that Welsh & Scots Drovers planted Scots Pine seedlings (or buried their Cones) along the Way, or Farmers en-route did so to entice Drovers to stop for the night.  The idea even pops up in Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica, and is enthusiastically endorsed by John Trimmer and Bruce Smith.  An example on the ground might be a line of Pine Trees at the top of Downley Common, hogging the Skyline as you approach up the road from the Hughenden Valley. As far as the Chilterns are concerned, there were other landscape features suitable as Way Markers – easily visible from a long distance.  The Ivinghoe Beacon, for example, with its distinctive conical shape, or the Chalk Cross & Triangle cut in the side of Whiteleaf Hill (which can be seen from afar).

Whiteleaf Cross

CadsdenHaycroftPlan.jpgThe Cross itself probably dates back to the Medieval Period but the Triangle, pointing towards the Summit of the Hill, could be somewhat older.  There is a kidney-shaped Neolithic Barrow on the Hilltop, nestling in a direct line with the Triangle pointing upwards, only a matter of feet away.  Drovers could have made use of its existence, whatever period it was constructed, and another Cross on Wainhill near Bledlow could have served a similar function – as could the Watlington Obelisk Mark.  All are visible from the Icknield Way suggesting Drovers preferred to stay close to the Spring Line.  However, we may note a Lane runs up the side of Whiteleaf Hill towards Missenden, a day’s Drove away.  At Cadsden there is an isolated Pub, The Plough, situated at the head of a Dry Valley or Coombe and appears to have enough land to accommodate a Herd of Cattle overnight.

The Plough at ‘Cadsdean’ and Plough Farm

This Coombe has an interesting Geology in that it is thought to mark an Ancient River Course way back in the Ice Ages (during an interglacial) and has never been ploughed (which belies the pub name).  Beacon Hill, with its distinctive elongated shape with a rounded Stub End, rises above Butlers Cross, and can be picked out miles away. The same can be said of Lodge Hill – across the other side of the Saunderton Gap.  The Valley is wide at the Princes Risborough end but, in the opposite direction, it narrows as it approaches Bradenham and West Wycombe. This is reputed to be one of the oldest Route-ways in the Chilterns, going back to the Roman Period and earlier – and no doubt it could have been used by Drovers (calling in at Thame & Bicester Markets to sell off Lame Animals and Purchase replacements).  Further North, the Medieval Motte on the Chalk Spur at Totternhoe would have made a prominent landmark.

OS Map Of Oxfordshire 1st Series

R Hippisley Cox – “The Green Roads of England” (1913), showing Green Roads and the Earthworks adjacent to them

Hippisley Cox, in his book, The Green Roads of England (1913), described travelling past Totternhoe, which is close to the Maiden Bower Hill Fort and below the Five Knolls Barrows on Dunstable Downs.  Drovers coming from Leighton Buzzard had both Totternhoe and Ivinghoe Beacon to aim at or a Point between the 2. This goes by way of Edlesborough Church which occupies a prominent hillock, mound-like, squatting above the modern road, which then makes its way to Dagnall.  On a different trajectory, we have Southend Hill (Hippisley Cox called it Cheddington Hill), a chalk outlier in sight of Ivinghoe Beacon (both are capped by Iron Age Hillforts).  A Ridge of high ground South of Leighton Buzzard separates the catchment of the River Thame from the catchment of the Ouzel.  Defoe described the former as draining the whole of the Vale, in a multitude of Streams, one of which rose near Tring, eventually forming a substantial River near the Town of Thame.

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