Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are packed full of themed guided walks: pub walks, ghost walks, literary walks, history walks. But ancient history walks? They’re been strangely rare, which seemed a good reason, among a few others, for me to begin arranging a programme of such walks with the WEA. Three are planned so far, with the first starting from Oxton on Saturday, June 15 and taking in three places of interest: the Old Ox defended enclosure, the earthwork at Combs Farm and the Roman army marching camp at Farnsfield. Two shorter walks, from Calverton and from Thurgarton, are currently being road-tested for inclusion in a new programme of ancient history walks to be launched by the WEA in Nottinghamshire in the early autumn. If all goes well, we aim to expand the programme to other parts of the county. Participants on all walks will receive a pack of documents which will include a route map and a selection of notes and reports about the known history of the sites to be visited and some of the personalities involved in their investigation. Thus, the stories of both Old Ox and Combs Farm (which will be observed, rather than visited, since it is a private farm) cannot be told without mentioning Nottinghamshire’s best known 18th century antiquary, Maj Hayman Rooke, who looked at both sites and excavated a barrow near Old Ox. Mention of Rooke quickly leads on to his discovery of the Mansfield Woodhouse Roman villa, the Major Oak, his circle of antiquarian friends in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and indeed the entire issue of the antiquarian rediscovery of ancient Britain…. So, yes, as long as the weather is good enough, we will be sitting down in the grass to discuss these kinds of interesting background issues. And if it’s raining, I imagine we will be standing up to do the same.
In some ways these walks are meant to try to revive an old WEA tradition of offering inexpensive outdoor instruction. But I also want to do my bit towards encouraging more people to get and out about in the countryside to experience and participate in local landscapes. I’ve also long been interested in the outdoor movements of the 1920s and 30s, an era which saw the growth of youth hostelling, the keeping-it-simple approach and which extolled access to the countryside as an inexpensive and democratic right; a working class response to the depression, perhaps. Now, in a time when to be ‘a walker’ has come to imply the possession of huge amounts of expensive technical kit, I’d like to reemphasise the need for a purposeful (and cheaper) kind of walking – and, in this case, with some discussion of Roman and Iron Age local history thrown in. A quick glance at the footpaths on the relevant OS map should suggest that the Oxton walk is a 7-8 mile round journey, which will probably be the longest one of the trio currently planned. Thurgarton is the shortest while Calverton is the mid-sized walk. Places are limited to 15, so if you want to sign up please contact Nikki Cleaver at the WEA asap on 0115 962 8418 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Further walks will be announced in the next WEA brochure.