Roman SIlchester (8.5 miles)
From: A circular walk around Roman Silchester from the English Heritage Car Park to the village and twiddling back again with a loop to the Amphitheatre.
Length: 8.5 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 4 - 5 hours.
Terrain: By and large, flat. If you are a lover of hills, you will be disappointed here.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Roman remains.
The walk starts at the English Heritage car park for Roman Silchester. (RG7 2HP for those of you with Satnavs.) It's slightly tricky to find being on a bend in Wall Lane. The road is not obvious, but the car park itself is signed. Keep your eyes open for it. When you're ready, leave the hardstanding at the right end of the park. A good track takes you by the side of a line of trees. Follow this for 100m, and turn left down the side of a narrow field. After 50m, the path kinks right and almost immediately left through a gate warning of the early closure of the car park (4 pm in the winter). Just after the gate comes the second in a series of informational boards, telling you about 'Calleva Atrebatum', the Roman town on the site of the ancient Iron Age fort.
I won't fill you in too much with the history, as it is all explained on the boards, save it to say that in the mid-first century AD it was a huge place, with baths, shops and markets – see our note about the amphitheatre below. Now, having read your fill of history, don't be tempted to walk along the wall, that comes later. Instead, follow the better footpath towards the distant church. (Straight ahead from the car park gate mentioned above).
Five hundred metres from the gate on a straight path worthy of the Romans, you arrive at Manor Farm. Fork right at the alpacas (towards the church) through a kissing gate and on a smaller footpath. When you arrive at the church itself, walk out to the minor road and immediately look for a permissive footpath straight ahead of you.
The path now crosses fields for a kilometre, until it reaches a bend/junction in minor roads at Clapper's Farm. Take a sharp right here, on a footpath along the side of the field. A mere 50m after the start of this footpath, turn left along the side of the field, rather than following the path straight ahead. The path soon kinks right and left, and the trees swap from your left side to your right side while you now follow a more-established wood down the right side of the field. The path wanders diagonally over the end of the field and exits a gate. Now you're at a more substantial set of roads. Turn right here along Bramley Road, which is signposted to Silchester. Ignore the first track on the right (almost at the junction) but when the road turns right, continue straight ahead along a (signed) public footpath.
The path now travels more or less straight for a kilometre until you arrive at Latchmere Green (Ash Lane). Turn left here and after 75m turn right along Frog Lane. 100m along Frog Lane the footpath springs off on the right. It initially follows the hedgerow, but as you pass through a field boundary, you strike off right across the field. You join a copse and then take a left (still following the copse). The copse swaps from your left to your right, before entering a wood on both sides of you. The path seems to fork here, but you take the right path, which is signed with a footpath disc on a post.
Arriving at the Silchester Road, you cross straight over and take a new footpath slightly diagonally right ahead of you. Wind on for another kilometre along a good track, until an important junction arrives. This is important to find but not easy. The path crosses a small footbridge over a stream (the first on this wide track). Maybe only 20m farther the path we're looking for turns right. It has a wooden post and disc markers indicating the Brenda Parker Way. You can't miss it if you're looking for it.
Follow the Way into Silchester. You will arrive at the village green and the Calleva Arms. Lunch on the benches and a pint in the pub is too tempting, so take a break, enjoy the sunshine and relax. When you're ready to continue, walk straight out the pub's front door and head along Little London Road (straight ahead of you towards the Silchester village green sign. You will arrive quickly at the war memorial where you take a path away from the village green behind the memorial. The path crosses through a small woodland and then crosses the Bramley Road. On meeting the road, the path crosses and continues straight ahead with Silchester St Mary church on your left. Walk for 300m until you pass through a gate and turn left across an open field.
Now you reach the corner of some tracks, pass through a kissing gate, and you head out left diagonally across the field. Any sense of déjà vu is justified since the car park is just ahead of you. Ignore the temptation to finish and you reach the corner of the field and the corner of Wall Lane. Leave the field by a gate onto Wall Lane where you turn right. Ignore the turn-off road to the car park and follow it around the corner to the left.
100m after the corner, a path takes a right down quite a steep bank. It is signed, but not well, so look out for it. Rather confusingly, the most prominent sign is a painted board on a tree saying "Private Property". Go down the dip, up the other side and over a stile. 100m more you reach a track. Last chance to bail out here. Turn right for the car park or left to continue the walk. Assuming you've gone left, after 75m look for a path on the right which slightly cuts back on your route. You now cross a series of fields (maybe 6 or 8, I lost count) with a stile from each field to the next. Just as you're losing the will to live and climb another stile, you reach the power line and walk right under a giant pylon. This is a major landmark on our route. 30m after the pylon, turn right through a gap in the hedge (woo hoo not a stile). There used to be a marker here, but it's gone. Use the pylon as the pre-marker. A reasonable path now goes down the side of the hill, across the streamlet at the bottom and up the other side, where a gate (yes – not a stile!) takes you out the field into a rugged lane/track. Walk up the hill until you arrive at the amphitheatre on your right. The second road right turn is the entrance, not the first, which only takes you to private houses.
Walk leader Paul offered us a story that the amphitheatre was actually a 'park and ride' for when the streets of Calleva became clogged with chariots. The visitors would park their vehicles in the oval parking space, and a small army of sedan-chair-bearing slaves would carry the shoppers into the market and back again. No, it's not April 1st, but you decide on the veracity of this! If you want to read history, there's an information board at the entrance.
Having parked and ridden, and being disappointed that there are no sedan-bearing slaves to take you farther, leave the amphitheatre by the path slightly to the right of the entrance. Cross the road, and now you can climb up on to the old city wall. Walk the entire length of the North side, pass the North gate (reading more as you go) and turn left at the end down the West wall. At the bottom end of the West wall, you really should know where you are. Turn first right, and soon right again and you're back in the car park (for real this time.)
Thanks to Paul B. for taking 23 of us around in the footsteps of the legions. I hope you enjoyed the walk; we certainly did.