There is little doubt that almost two thousand years ago, under the Romans and possibly even earlier, the Fosse Way was a major cross country route and use by the population at large was as free and unrestricted as on any route in the country. More recent records, covering the past 250 years, would indicate that general use of the Fosse Way over the east Mendip ridge was gradually abandoned in favour of alternative routes. The section of the Fosse Way which passes through Beacon Hill Wood and runs south as a ‘green lane’ to Yellingmill Lane is at present recognised by the Highway Authority as a public Right of Way (RoW) and is recorded on the Definitive Map as a Road Used as a Public Path (RUPP). This confirms a right of passage for walkers, horse riders, cyclists and possibly vehicles (in this case only road legal motor cycles, as a Traffic Regulation Order bars 4WD vehicles). The RoW through the wood was surveyed and marked out on the ground in 1998; this showed that the line does not follow a route which would have been used by vehicles or horses. For example, it cut obliquely across one hollow-way which, whilst not being of Roman construct, was certainly created and maintained for use by horse and cart. At that time, the ‘Definitive’ line perhaps made a sensible route for those travelling through the wood on foot, as it avoids the muddy hollow-ways. To assist with the future management of the wood it was decided to research the documentary evidence to see if the exact route and existing highway rights could be confirmed. This information would then help inform a decision as to the best route for riders to use; one which would ensure, as far as possible, that archaeological remains would not be threatened.
A variety of maps were studied in the preparation of the report; including: Early maps by Strachey (1736), Day & Masters (1782) and Greenwood (1822); Enclosure Award maps for Stoke Lane (1776) & Shepton Mallet (1785); maps drawn up for taxation purposes such as the Finance Act (1910) & Tithe Apportionment (1836); and a series of Ordnance Survey maps dating from the field drawings (1808) right up to present day Definitive Map records.
The report, “The Fosse Way and Highway Rights through Beacon Hill Wood”, prepared by Beacon Hill Society founder member Peter Banks, can be downloaded here: