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Wiltshire Ox Drove

The Wiltshire Ox Drove

 

To say a landscape is “old” sounds daft, but Roman legions seem a recent phenomenon when you walk the Ox Drove just north of Cranborne Chase and pass a succession of prehistoric earthworks.  As for droving, well, that was only last week...

 

We started at SU 948206, a mile south of Berwick St John.   Unlike the Shaston Drove, the route is varied & always interesting.  The first big point of interest is Bigley Buildings, which was an alehouse: the beer was passed through the window to passing trade, according to the farmer (#1). 

 

In the field opposite is something extraordinary: Wermere, it’s called on the map, a gigantic hole in the ground too big to have been a dewpond1.  Over 40 metres across and 25 feet deep (#2), with a few feet of water in the bottom, it is probably a ‘sinkhole’.  If an area of acid soil lies on top of alkaline rock – the chalk of Salisbury Plain, for instance – heavy rainfall or a snowmelt will eventually leach the acid out, which falls on to the rock, which turns to water, which causes the ground above to collapse.  It must have been used as a watering-hole because there’s a shortage in the area, to put it mildly: three miles further east, Lodge Farm is the site of an old well 380 foot deep.  380 feet, for heaven’s sake!

 

There’s a pond at Lodge Farm too, but just west of the farmhouse, at 043225 is a grain drier (labelled The Hut on the map) which is the site of a drovers’ inn AND a brothel, says Mr Rowe, the farmer.  Life was interesting on the chalk uplands a couple of hundred years ago...

 

And where were the Ox Drovers heading?  My guess is Downton, south of Salisbury, and from there to the Channel Ports with beef for the Royal Navy...

 

1 Ann Cole has shown me an article from The Wiltshire Gazette of December 1922 that describes how a dewpond was made.  The dewpond-maker with 3 assistants needed 4 weeks to make a pond 22 yards square.  They first removed the soil to the depth of 8 feet then began to lay a clay floor around the ‘crown’ (centre) at the rate of 2 yards width per day, covering the clay with straw each night.  Frost or ‘inclement weather’ halted the work.  So to build Wermere would have taken the team a month of Sundays. 

Wiltshire Ox Drove image 1
Bigley Alehouse
Wiltshire Ox Drove image 2
Wermere
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On the Way to...
Wiltshire Ox Drove image 4
The Hut..
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...for whatever is on offer.