The Saxons named the devil Grim or Odin, and they used the term 'Grim's Ditch' for various linear earthworks, probably as a means of explaining the origins of features of which they had little understanding but for which they thought he must have been responsible.
The Saxons named the devil Grim or Odin, and they used the term 'Grim's Ditch' for various linear earthworks
The 3 miles (5km ) stretch of Grim's Ditch which The Ridgeway follows between Mongewell and Nuffield is still clearly defined, especially its eastern end. Archaeologists undertaking a dig before the construction of the Wallingford bypass in the early 1990s have estimated the date of this earthwork to be around the late Iron Age/early Roman period which makes it at least 2000 years old. But why was it dug, what was it's purpose? Opinions vary, but the ditch may have been constructed to separate two estates to prevent stock from straying, or it may have had a defensive purpose.
There are sections of other Grim's Ditches elsewhere close to The Ridgeway both west and east of the River Thames with some extensive lengths in the Chilterns. On Pitstone Hill northeast of Tring the Trail runs along another short section.
Another broad and ancient trading route between the southwest and Norfolk, the Icknield Way is thought to be not quite as old as the route The Ridgeway follows west of the Thames. Instead of keeping to the highest and driest ground it travels along the springline near the base of the scarp face of the downs and the Chilterns.
West of the Thames the Icknield Way is now mostly tarmac and its name is not included on maps, although in Wantage a road which now runs on it is still named after it. From Streatley to Ivinghoe, however, a careful look at maps enables you to trace much of it, a considerable amount having been incorporated into the modern road network. You'll discover there are two parallel routes, the Upper and Lower Ways. The Upper Icknield Way keeps to the lower chalk shelf with the Lower Way probably being a more recent, possibly Roman, route on the clay.
The Icknield Way, the modern recreational long distance regional route, starts at the end of The Ridgeway on Ivinghoe Beacon and travels on to Thetford in Suffolk for 100 miles (160km) where it joins with the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail.
Watlington White Mark
This curious triangular mark cut out of the turf to expose the white chalk beneath on the hills south of Watlington has an interesting tale. It was supposedly created by Edward Horne, the vicar of Watlington, in 1764, who was somewhat ashamed of his spireless church. By cutting this shape in the hills, when he looked from his upstairs vicarage window over the church towards the Chilterns, the tower by all appearances was topped by a spire. It mattered not that it was just a chalk illusion!