The Fosse Way, one of Britain’s principal Roman Roads, crosses the Mendip ridge at Beacon Hill. Over the centuries this section of the route gradually fell into disuse. The reason may have been, in part, due to the steep escarpment over which it had to rise. The slope, which lies across the direct line of the road, was such that it required the Roman’s to make a slight deviation to ease the gradient. Today, the course taken by this diversion is no longer discernible on the ground.
Several old, but not Roman, hollow-ways or sunken tracks can still be found climbing the hillside and the route is still recognised as a public right of way for horses, mountain bikes and road legal motorcycles. However, through lack of use, these hollow-ways filled with mud and leaf mould to the extent that they became impassable and riders were diverting into the adjacent woodland; to the detriment of archaeological interests and the quiet enjoyment of others.
The Beacon Hill Society and Woodland Trust decided to clear the debris from the principal hollow-way so that there was a clear and obvious route through the wood for all riders.
A team of Beacon Hill Society ‘volunteers’ were joined by some local members of the Trail Riders Fellowship to dig out the worst of the muck. This was done by hand in the lower section of the hollow-way where it was hoped traces of the original Fosse Way might be found. Higher up a machine was employed to clear the trackway.
All this work was done a few years ago and it has generally proved successful with most riders keeping to the track. As might be expected, more mud and leaf mould is accumulating in the hollow-way; however, regular use, combined with storm water, is keeping the track usable. The route is easily passable by riders and conditions are now much as they would have been in the days of the horse and cart.
Before tarmac came along old roads throughout the country were frequently unsuitable for people on foot, so they took an alternative and sometimes easier or more direct route. That is how the wider network of cross-field footpaths that we enjoy today, became established as Rights of Way.