Coordinates: 51°50′40″N 0°36′12″W / 51.8445°N
0.6034°W / 51.8445; -0.6034
Icknield Way near
Lewknor in Oxfordshire
Icknield Way is an ancient trackway in southern and eastern
England that goes from
Norfolk to Wiltshire. It follows the chalk
escarpment that includes the
Berkshire Downs and Chiltern Hills.
2 Early documentary evidence
3 The "Four Highways" of medieval England
3.1 Icknield Street
5 Modern paths
6 Artists and writers on the Way
7 See also
It is generally said to be, within Great Britain, one of the oldest
roads of which the route can still be traced, being one of the few
long-distance trackways to have existed before the Romans occupied the
country. However, this has been disputed, and the evidence for its
being a prehistoric route has been questioned.
The name is Celto-British in derivation, and may be named after the
Iceni tribe. They may have established this route to permit trade with
other parts of the country from their base in East Anglia. It has also
been suggested that the road has older prehistoric origins. The name
is also said to have been initially used for the part to the west and
south (i.e. south of the River Thames) but now refers usually to the
track or traces north of the Thames.
From ancient times, at least as early as the
Iron Age period (before
the Roman invasion of 43 AD) and through Anglo-Saxon times, it
Oxfordshire and crossed the River
Thames at Cholsey, near Wallingford.
Early documentary evidence
The earliest mentions of the
Icknield Way are in Anglo-Saxon charters
from the year 903 onwards. The oldest surviving copies were made in
the 12th and 13th centuries, and these use the spellings Ic(c)enhilde
weg, Icenhylte, Icenilde weg, Ycenilde weg and Icenhilde weg. The
charters refer to locations at Wanborough, Hardwell in Uffington,
Blewbury and Risborough, which span a distance of
40 miles from
Wiltshire to Buckinghamshire.
The "Four Highways" of medieval England
Icknield Way was one of four highways that appear in the
literature of the 1130s.
Henry of Huntingdon wrote that the Ermine
Street, Fosse Way,
Watling Street and
Icknield Way had been
constructed by royal authority. The
Leges Edwardi Confessoris gave
royal protection to travellers on these roads, and the Icknield Way
was said to extend across the width of the kingdom. Geoffrey of
Monmouth elaborated the story by saying that
Belinus had improved the
four roads so that it was clear that they were the protected
Around 1250, the Four Highways were shown by
Matthew Paris on a
diagramatic map of Britain called Scema Britannie. The
Icknield Way is
depicted by a straight line from
Salisbury (i.e., Old Sarum) to Bury
St Edmunds which intersects the other three roads near Dunstable.
In the 14th century,
Ranulf Higdon described a different route for the
Icknield Way: from
Tynemouth by way of Birmingham,
Chesterfield and York. This route includes the
Roman road running from
Rotherham, which is now called
Icknield Street (or Ryknild Street) to
distinguish it from the Icknield Way.
Spencer Gore: Icknield Way, 1912. Used as the cover picture of "The
Icknield Way Path
Icknield Way Path - A Walkers' Guide" published by the Icknield Way
Association in 2012
In many places the track consists or consisted of several routes,
particularly as it passes along the line of the escarpment of the
Chilterns, probably because of the seasonal usage, and possibly the
amount of traffic especially of herds or flocks of livestock.
To the west the track can be detected below the escarpments of the
Berkshire Downs. Near Wantage, the route along the ridge of the Downs
is known as The Ridgeway, and the name
Icknield Way is applied to a
parallel lowland route above the spring-line at the northern edge of
the chalk. Between
Ivinghoe there are two parallel
courses known as the Lower
Icknield Way and the Upper Icknield Way.
In Cambridgeshire, Street Way (Ashwell Street), Ditch Way and others
have been put forward as variant routes, possibly for use in summer or
Many modern roads follow the Icknield Way, for example the B489 from
Aston Clinton to
Dunstable and the A505 from
Baldock to Royston. In
some places, especially from the east of
Luton in Bedfordshire to
Ickleford (so named from the Way crossing a stream) near
Hertfordshire, the route is followed by minor roads, and is not
distinguishable at all in many places, except by landscape features
such as barrows and mounds which line the route, and indentation
presumably from ancient and frequent use. It could be described as a
belt studded with archaeological sites found at irregular intervals.
Icknield Way used to form part of the boundary between
Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, and at one time Royston was cut in
two by this boundary. Royston is where the
Icknield Way crosses Ermine
In the south-west some writers take the Way to Exeter, while others
only take it as far as Salisbury. To the north-east, Icklingham,
Suffolk, and Caistor-by-Norwich, Yarmouth and Hunstanton,
all been proposed as the destination. In support of the western
route, a road at
Hunstanton was named Ykenildestrethe
and Ikelynge Street in the 13th century.
Main articles: Wessex Ridgeway, The Ridgeway,
Icknield Way Path, and
Modern long-distance footpaths have been created from
Lyme Regis on
Dorset coast to
Holme-next-the-Sea on the
Norfolk coast, following
the general line of the Icknield Way.
The Hobhouse Committee report of 1947 suggested the creation of a path
Seaton Bay and the Chiltern ridge, and in 1956 Tom Stephenson
proposed a longer route to Cambridge. A route through
discussed in the 1960s.
The first section to be officially designated as a Long-Distance
National Trails were then known) was that from Overton
Ivinghoe Beacon, and it was declared open as the Ridgeway in
1973. The Peddars Way, from
Knettishall Heath to Holme-next-the-Sea,
forms part of the
Peddars Way and
Norfolk Coast Path National Trail,
which was opened as a Long Distance Route in 1986. Between the
Ridgeway and Peddars Way, parts of the original line of the Icknield
Way had been covered in tarmac or built over, so a route was devised
that avoids walking on roads. In 1992 this was designated by the
Countryside Commission as a Regional Route called the Icknield Way
Wessex Ridgeway from
Lyme Regis to Marlborough was declared
Dorset County Council in 1994.
Charles Thurstan Shaw, archaeologist and long-distance walker, founded
Icknield Way Association which campaigned to reopen the entire
Icknield Way as a long-distance path in 1984, the same year he
produced the first walker’s guide to the route.
The author Ray Quinlan has combined most of the Wessex Ridgeway, the
Ridgeway National Trail, the
Icknield Way Path, the Peddars Way, and a
small part of the
Norfolk Coast Path to form a path that he calls the
Greater Ridgeway, with a length of approximately 584 km (363
Lyme Regis to Hunstanton.
Parts of the Ridgeway National Trail and the
Icknield Way Path
Icknield Way Path are
only usable as a footpath, so the
Icknield Way Path
Icknield Way Path Riders Route or
Icknield Way Trail have been created for horseriders and cyclists. The
route runs from
Roudham Heath, where it joins the Peddars
Way Riders Route.
Artists and writers on the Way
Icknield Way has inspired a number of writers and artists. Spencer
Gore, the founder of the
Camden Town Group
Camden Town Group of artists, painted the
route in 1912 while staying with his friend
Harold Gilman at
Letchworth. His work, influenced by Cezanne, van Gogh and Gauguin, is
acknowledged as one of the pioneering works of British
Modernism. One of the best known literary travellers of the
Icknield Way is the poet Edward Thomas, who walked the path in 1911
and published his account in 1913. Thomas was interested in ancient
roads and inspired by Hilaire Belloc’s Old Road and other travel
memoirs published by Constable written by R. Hippisley Cox, Harold
J.E. Peake and others. Although the book takes the form of a single
10-day journey, Thomas wrote the book in stages over the course of a
year. He was often joined by his brother Julian, both rising at 5am or
6am to walk 30 or 40 miles a day. Although more interested in poetic
description, his publisher directed him to give more concrete details
of his route, thus the book is closer to being a guidebook than
Thomas’ earlier, more poetic, travel books. Inspired by Thomas's
journey, contemporary British nature writer, Robert MacFarlane, begins
his book of walking ancient paths, The Old Ways, by walking the
Icknield Way, “hoping to summon him [Thomas] by walking where he had
George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin used the ‘Four Highways’ as the
model for the Kingsway in his
Songs of Ice and Fire
Songs of Ice and Fire novels.
Roman roads in Britain
^ a b c d e S. Harrison, "The Icknield Way: some queries", The
Archaeological Journal, 160, 1–22, 2003.
^ K. Matthews, Circular Walk (Wilbury Hill, Ickleford, Cadwell,
Wilbury Hill) Archived 13 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine..
^ R. Bradley, Solent Thames Research Assessment – the Neolithic and
Early Bronze Age, 2008.
^ Rhiannon, The Icknield Way: Miscellaneous, 2008.
^ A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-names of Bedfordshire and
Huntingdonshire, English Place-name Society 3, 1926,
ISBN 0-904889-47-5, pp. 4–5.
^ Thomas, Edward Jr. (1916). The Icknield Way. London: Constable &
Company Ltd. p. 51. ISBN 978-1447471929. Retrieved 22 July
^ Cotton Nero D.i, f186v. The map is discussed on pages 62–63 of O.
Roucoux, The Roman Watling Street: from London to High Cross,
Dunstable Museum Trust, 1984, ISBN 0-9508406-2-9.
Icknield Way Morris Men, Prehistory – Ancient Paths.
^ E. Thomas, The Icknield Way, Constable, 1916.
^ W.G. Clarke In Breckland Wilds, Heffer, Cambridge; 2nd edition,
^ a b Quinlan, The Greater Ridgeway, pp. 16, 100.
^ a b S. Jennett,
The Ridgeway Path, HMSO for Countryside Commission
(Long-Distance Footpath Guide 6), 1976, ISBN 0-11-700743-9.
^ (31 Mar 2013). Professor Thurstan Shaw - Obituary. The Daily
^ CANTAB RAMBLER73 April 2013 - Thurstan Shaw, 1914 – 2013.
^ R. Quinlan, The Greater Ridgeway: A Walk along the Ancient Route
Lyme Regis to Hunstanton, Cicerone, 2003,
^ Long Distance Walkers Association,
Icknield Way Trail.
Buckinghamshire County Council, The
Icknield Way Archived 7 June
2011 at the Wayback Machine..
^ Google Arts & Culture - The Icknield Way. From the collection of
Art Gallery of New South Wales.
^ Smith, Bernard (2002). A Pavane for Another Time.
ISBN 9781876832667. Macmillan Education AU. p.449
^ Moorcroft Wilson, Jean (2015). Edward Thomas: from Adlestrop to
Arras: A Biography Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781408187142. p.227-229.
^ MacFarlane, Robert (2012). The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. Penguin.
ISBN 9780241143810. p.47.
^ Higgs, John (2017). Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its
Ever-Present Past. Hachette UK. ISBN 9