The Roman town of Calleva
|Length||14.8km (9.2 miles), 4 hours. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 8 hours.|
|Toughness||3 out of 10.|
|OS Maps||Explorer 159 or Landranger 175. Mortimer, map reference SU 673 641, is in Berkshire, 10km south-west of Reading. Aldermaston is also in Berkshire. Silchester and the Roman town of Calleva are in Hampshire.|
From St Mary's Church in Stratfield Mortimer, the route follows a clear stream - Foundry Brook - eventually to the amphitheatre and the 2.5km of Roman walls surrounding the 107-acre site of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, and the whitewashed twelfth-century church at its entrance. The Roman remains are quite modest - just earthworks, but tea and homemade cakes are sometimes served at the church on weekend afternoons.
The lunch stop is at a pub on Silchester Common and the afternoon route is mainly through woods of Scots pine, and commons of gorse and birch trees. Aldermaston, the teatime destination, is reached over the weirs of the River Kennet.
The walk can be extended by nearly four miles to Theale, which has more trains, along an enjoyable canalside path, making a total walk of 21km (13 miles).
There are buses about every hour on Saturdays from near the lunchtime pub in Silchester, going to Mortimer (15 minutes) or Reading (50 minutes).
The layout of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum has survived intact, having been completely abandoned when the Romans withdrew from Britain (the Saxons hated walled towns). However, all the buildings, carefully excavated, have now been reburied to protect them from vandals and the elements. Only the town walls and the amphitheatre are visible. The amphitheatre was built in about 50AD, with space for up to perhaps 9,000 spectators. It would have been used for public executions and shows with wild animals, but only sparingly for gladiatorial contests, since gladiators, dead or alive, were expensive. The town walls required some 160,000 wagon-loads of flint and bonding stones, and were built about 260AD as part of a general move to protect the Roman Empire from mounting unrest. Many of the exhibits from Calleva are on display in Reading Museum. The tiny Calleva Museum, half a kilometre beyond the site, closed in 2006.
The earliest part of St Mary the Virgin Church, Silchester, dates from about 1125. The walls were built with reused Roman bricks. There are two Roman temples underneath the church and graveyard. It has been suggested that John Bluett may have contributed to the building of the church, as the price of escaping a vow to join the crusades. Records show that the church had half a dozen rectors in 1349. Most of them were probably killed by the plague, although one was removed for 'trespass of vert' (taking timber from Pamber Forest).
Take the train nearest to 10am from Paddington Station to Mortimer, changing at Reading. Journey time 45-50 minutes. Trains back from Aldermaston, changing at Reading for Paddington, are hourly (every two hours on Sundays). Journey time about 1 hour. On the extended walk, Theale has twice as many trains, including (on Mon–Sat) an hourly direct service to Paddington.
Buy a day return to Mortimer. In practice this is usually accepted on the return journey, but you might be required to buy a single from Aldermaston (or Theale) to Reading.
This is not a good walk for drivers, as the two stations are on different lines. You could do it by changing at Reading West, but you might have a long wait for the connection.
|Lunch||The suggested lunch stop is the Calleva Arms (tel. 0118 970 0305) on Silchester Common. It is open weekdays 11am–3pm & 5.30–11pm, Sat 11am–11.30pm and Sun 12noon–11pm; food is served 12noon–2pm; staff appreciate having advance warning of groups.|
The suggested tea place is the tea room at the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust Information Centre (tel. 0118 971 2868) at Aldermaston Wharf; it is usually open until 6pm (but is closed all day Mondays). It may close earlier in winter.
From 6pm the Butt Inn in Aldermaston (tel. 0118 971 2129; open Sat 12–3 & 6–11, Sun 12–3 & 6.30–9; food from 7pm) is an alternative.
It is possible to visit the pub or buffet on the platform at Reading Station while waiting for a connection on the return journey.
No major changes. [Pre 2011 edition] Use the website version - detour around a quarry
Use the online version of the walk, if you have an old (pre 2011) edition of the book.
Help us! After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
The [numbers] refer to a sketch map which is only in the book.
- Coming off the London train on platform 1 at Mortimer Station go over the footbridge to exit the station. Turn right and in 50 metres, at a junction (where to go right takes you over the railway bridge), go left, your direction 315°. In 70 metres follow the road over Foundry Brook and bear left at roundabout, to head up towards the church.
- In 70 metres you pass the Cinnamon Tree Indian restaurant on your right-hand side. In 165 metres, by a two-armed byway sign, turn left, your direction 210°.
- In 75 metres you pass the lychgate entrance to St Mary’s Church, Stratfield Mortimer (probably locked), on your right-hand side. In 25 metres you cross Foundry Brook again and go straight on, with a tarmac drive on your right.
- In 35 metres go through a gap in the fence (with a metal fieldgate to its left-hand side) and turn right, following a yellow arrow footpath sign, your direction 235°, with the field fence – and soon the banks of the brook – on your right-hand side. Stay on the path following the yellow arrow signs.
- In 400 metres turn right, crossing the brook by a footbridge with metal railings and then immediately go left on the other side, now on a path with the brook on your left-hand side. In 200 metres you pass a wooden platform bridge on your left.
- In 230 metres turn left through a metal gate (with footpath markers on the far side) your initial direction south, then follow the path along the left-hand side of the field by the edge of the brook. In 365 metres go through a gate and over a ditch on a wooden planked bridge.
- In 100 metres do not go through a gate on your left, but turn right, following the yellow arrow to the right, still with the brook on your left-hand side, your direction 310°. Follow the path as it curves gradually to the right, following the sweep of the brook for 320 metres. Go through a kissing gate in the far corner of the field and onto a path through a copse. In 35 metres you come to a tarmac road  where you turn left, over a bridge, your direction 230°.
- In 400 metres ignore a road to the right and keep straight on, past Brocas Lands Farm (as marked on the OS map).
- In 200 metres leave the tarmac road (which veers left) and go straight on, along an earth road, your direction 250°. In 200 metres, where this earth road bears left, follow the footpath sign straight across a large field towards pylons, your direction 275°.
- In 450 metres, before going under the pylon cables, turn left towards a stile in the hedge, 55 metres away, due south. Go over the stile and downhill towards a stile in the valley (which may initially be obscured by crops), your direction 190°. (You are heading towards the left of a timber-framed thatched house on the hillside opposite.) In 45 metres you pass under the pylons.
- In 80 metres go on a two-plank bridge over a stream and over the stile the other side. Once over the stile, continue in the same direction, aiming about 100 metres to the left of the timber-framed house.
- In 175 metres, the footpath leaves the field through a concealed exit in the hedge and rejoins the earth road you left earlier. Turn right uphill, your direction 205°. (If you miss this exit, continue up the left-hand side of the field towards a vehicle barrier and join the earth road there.)
- In 85 metres you pass the entrance driveway to the thatched house (The Mount). Keep forward and in 90 metres, although your onward route is straight on, detour right on Wall Lane, your direction 340°, and immediately go through the wooden kissing gate on your right-hand side, to visit the Calleva amphitheatre (next to The Mount).
- Retrace your steps and continue on the tarmac road you were on previously, southwards. In 100 metres ignore a road to the left and carry straight on, your direction 215°, on Church Lane. In 80 metres you come to the Roman walls of Calleva and a pond on your right-hand side. To the right is the entrance to St Mary the Virgin church in Silchester . Before visiting the church, you might like to go up to the Roman walls to read an information panel about the history of the site.
- Coming out of the church, turn left and then left again to head south-west on a path through the churchyard, leaving it through a wooden swing gate. Veer left to continue on a path along the top of the Roman walls.
- In 85 metres go down steps, but at the next gap in the wall go back on top again.
- You could continue along the top of the walls for the next 1km to the West Gate, but the suggested route is to come down at the next gap (after 300 metres) and continue below them. On this route there are information panels about the South Gate and the earlier Iron Age settlement (whose ramparts are visible in the field on your left after a further 300 metres). For the final 350 metres the path winds through woodland, still with the Roman walls on your right and now a wide ditch down on your left. Eventually you go through a wooden swing gate at the site of the West Gate.
- Turn left here and go through a second gate on to a wide path signposted to Silchester Village, your direction 285°, with a hedge on the left and fence on your right.
- In 135 metres ignore a stile on your right-hand side. In a further 200 metres, continue through a wooden side gate alongside a fieldgate. In a further 350 metres you go past a green wooden hut, which was the Calleva Museum. Continue a cross a tarmac lane and along a gravel track.
- In 60 metres you come to another tarmac road and cross over it to continue on a path. In a further 120 metres, you come to a gravel path, with Silchester Primary School on your right-hand side. Turn left onto the path and in 20 metres keep left, your direction 190°, and cross the common. In 250 metres you reach the Calleva Arms, the suggested lunchtime stop.
- After lunch, retrace your steps across the common, your direction due north from the pub. You pass a pavilion on your left-hand side. Turn left onto the car park beyond the pavilion and take the exit at the far end leading into a copse (ignore a turning left into playing fields) and in 30 metres you are back at Silchester Primary School. Turn left, with the school fence on your right-hand side, your direction due west.
- In 30 metres, at the end of the school fence, do not take the forest track to the right of the fence, but keep ahead on a more substantial bridleway, your direction 265°. In less than 100 metres [!] fork right onto a faint path, into a landscape of gorse and silver birch. In 80 metres your way is joined by another path from behind, on your left-hand side. Continue forward, your direction 30°.
- In 100 metres, you come to a tarmac road. Cross the road and continue on an earth car-wide road, past a wooden field gate, into Aldermaston Soke woods (as marked on the OS map), your direction 5°. Heather Brae House is on your right-hand side. Go straight on through these woods, mainly of Scots pine, ignoring all ways off.
- In 1.6km  you come out onto a tarmac road.
- The original route continued ahead for 750 metres across what was Burnt Common and then Padworth Common, but much of this area has been lost to gravel workings. For a time it was possible to use a diverted public footpath and temporary paths around the disused gravel pits, but these have become overgrown and difficult to follow. The detour around this area involves an unavoidable amount of road walking.
- Turn left on to the road, your direction 265°. In 650 metres turn right into Chapel Lane. Walk up Chapel Lane for 200 metres to reach another road with a red post box on your right.
- Turn half-right here along the road, your direction 40°. In 400 metres (just before a 50 mph sign), turn half-right past a metal barrier on to Padworth Common and take the signposted public footpath, your direction 60°.
- Follow this wide grassy path for 500 metres, ignoring ways off, until you reach a road. Cross over the road-side ditch on wooden planks and turn left, your direction 250°.
- In 65 metres  you come to Birch Cottage and take a sign-posted bridleway to the right, marked ‘The Croft’, your direction 350°, along a rough road.
- In 50 metres ignore a turn to the left (to The Croft, House & Stables). In a further 80 metres you pass the thatched Yew Tree Cottage. In 300 metres, with a pond on your left-hand side, keep left, avoiding a driveway ahead. In 35 metres you pass The Croft Cottage on your left-hand side and continue straight on. In 45 metres veer right with the main path, your direction 345°, keeping a hedge on the right.
- In 270 metres ignore a path on the right and keep straight on, slightly to your left, your direction 320°. In 30 metres a high fence of barbed wire starts on your right-hand side, guarding a buried BP petrol depot.
- In 340 metres you come to a tarmac road where you turn left, your direction 235°, uphill. In 65 metres you pass the entrance drive to the Jubilee Day Nursery on your left-hand side, where an unofficial path alongside the wire mesh fence should allow you to avoid walking on the road.
- Either way, in 240 metres , where the road bends left, turn right on to the gravel drive to Upper Lodge Farm, your direction 345°. Keep straight on this public footpath, your direction due north, continuing on a grassy track between a fence on your left and woodland on your right.
- In 300 metres go through a fieldgate to come out onto a tarmac road, opposite Padworth College. Turn left on this road, your direction 225°.
- In 80 metres turn right onto an earth road, which is a signposted footpath to Padworth Church, your direction 315°. In 80 metres, in front of the lychgate, follow a path to the left, your direction 280°.
- In 50 metres you come to a tarmac road where you turn right and continue forward with fields on both sides, your direction 300°. In 60 metres turn left, your direction 250°, towards five small concrete mushrooms. By these mushrooms, turn right, on a signposted footpath, your direction 335°.
- In 65 metres go over a stile (a metal fieldgate on its right-hand side) and through a potentially very muddy, horse-churned field, with the fence on your right-hand side. In 190 metres you pass a redundant stile and take the left fork, your direction 290°.
- In 210 metres go over a bridge with metal railings and onwards, your direction 295°. In 160 metres, by a four-armed footpath sign, go on three planks over a stream and straight on.
- In 100 metres go through a wooden swing gate and onto a bridge over River Kennet Weir. You then cross several other bridges in quick succession (passing a notice about the Salmon Pass Project, which allows fish to get past the weirs) and continue on a path between fencing.
- You come out onto an earth car road, by a three-armed footpath sign where you go left, your direction 310°. In 400 metres you pass the Rudolf Steiner Alder Bridge centre. In 130 metres you come to a lock and the main road.
- At this point you have four choices. You can stop for tea at a pub, go directly to Aldermaston Station, stop at the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust’s Information Centre for tea, or continue past it along the canal for a further 6.5km (4 miles) to finish in Theale.
- If going to the Butt Inn for tea (open from 6pm), you go left, your direction 210°, coming to the pub in 120 metres. Afterwards, retrace your steps to this point.
- Take the road over the bridge, your direction 355°
- If going to Aldermaston Station, turn left onto Station Road, your direction 320°. In 60 metres fork right, signposted Aldermaston Station. In 120 metres you need to cross over the footbridge to platform 1 for trains to Reading (where you can get a cup of tea while changing trains) and onwards back to London.
- If going to the Canal Trust’s Tea Room or continuing along the canal to Theale, turn right on the path to the left of the canal, signposted to Padworth Bridge. In 80 metres you reach the Trust’s Information Centre, which has a Tea Room. After tea, retrace your steps for Aldermaston Station, or continue straight on for Theale.
- After 2.5km on the towpath on the northern side of the canal you reach Ufton Bridge where you swap to the southern side of the canal.
- Thence you continue along the towpath or paths across fields beside the canal for another 3.5km passing a number of locks, including Sulhamstead swing bridge and lock.
- When you reach Sheffield Bottom swing bridge, turn left over the bridge into Station Road. Do not overshoot: there are some white cottages immediately in front of you when you reach this bridge.
- Proceed down Station Road. Theale Station is over the bridge on your right.
- If time permits a tea stop, go past the station and on over the bridge, over a roundabout and underneath the A4 until you reach the Crown Inn pub, or use the convenience store almost opposite (about 400 metres from the station).