WESSEX

Straight

up the sweep of the town, and we come to the Bury Barns roundabout, shared with the A40.

The A40 is a nice, civilised trunk road; it's going places. To the left, it goes all the way to the Bank of England, (Cheapside, Holborn, Oxford Street etc. are, technically, part of the A40), via Oxford. To the right, it leads to Gloucester, Abergavenny and Fishguard.

There is a temptation to turn off East, towards the metropolis, or wander West towards South Wales, but the A361 is our chosen road, and that carries on, roughly South-ward.

There's a little dip as we cross the Shill Brook, and we're out on the level.

We left the Oolitic limestone of the Cotswolds when we left Burford. We've moved on to a broad saddle of Cornbrash - another sedimentary rock. It produces a subtly different landscape - with broader undulations.

On the right (West), hidden by a screen of trees, is the hamlet of Signet - at the foot of Signet Hill. It's a pretty little dead-end street. I'd guess that the old road from Burford to Lechlade once passed through this hamlet, until the A361 shifted East.

About half a mile further on, still on the right, is the Cotswold Wildlife Park - where animals, native and foreign, roam relatively freely, for the delectation of the paying public (not my kind of thing - so I didn't go in).

Just around here, the path of Akeman Street crosses the A361. Akeman Street was the old Roman Road from Cirencester to St. Albans. Of course, the Romans didn't call it Akeman Street - that's an Anglo-Saxon name ("Street" may be a corruption of the latin "Via Strata" - meaning "paved road"). Nobody knows who Akeman was.

In some cases (like Watling Street/A5) the routes of Roman roads have been re-used by modern road planners; in others, the path of the old way can be discerned on a map, if you connect up a chain of little country roads or tracks - when they betray an unusual straightness. Akeman Street is one of these.

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