Icknield Way

For footage from this site, see Cambridge

The Icknield Way is an ancient highway that spans southeastern England from Norfolk to the Dorset Coast. Scholars disagree about the point and purpose of this routeway: some believe it to be prehistoric, at one point connecting to the continent across the English Channel; while others believe it to be more recently pre-Roman. The Icenhylte was first mentioned in a 903 C.E. charter, and in the 1130s it was named as one of four ancient highways. Today, the Icknield Way welcomes travelers as a modern long-distance footpath, with a recommended hike schedule of eight days.

The name Icknield Way, first written as Icenhylte or Icenhilde weg, is Celto-British in origin. It could be derived from the Iceni Tribe that occupied the area of present day Norfolk where the routeway begins, or it could be a reference to the ancient River Ouse, which was once called Iken.

The Iceni tribe is perhaps best-known today for Boudicca’s rebellion in 60-61 CE. Boudicca lost to the Romans, and the Iceni were incorporated into the Roman Empire. Many tiled Roman villas can be found along the eastern parts of the Icknield Way.

The highway provided a convenient footpath for incoming armies. A number of defensive dykes, like Devil’s Dyke in Cambridge, cross the Icknield Way. There is some discussion about who built the dykes and why, but the common thought is that invading Saxons built the dykes to defend against the Britons.

The Icknield Way was named in the 1130s, along with Ermine Street, Fosse Way, and Watling Street, as an important English highway. A 12th century historian claimed that all four highways had been constructed by royal decree. While highly unlikely, the highways did provide fast and easy movement for king, army, and traveler. Together, they span the distance of England.

As a modern long-distance footpath, the Icknield Way stretches 110 miles as an eight day hiking trail. Whether the Icknield Way is prehistoric or pre-Roman, today’s hikers can share the footsteps of thousands of years worth of travelers—an experience as timeless and unforgettable as the Icknield Way itself.

Sources:

Harrison, Sarah. “The Icknield Way: some queries”, The Archaeological Journal, 160, 1-22, 2003.

“The Icknield Way Path”, Icknield Way Association, 2015. Online. http://www.icknieldwaypath.co.uk/

“The Icknield Way Trail”, IcknieldWayTrail.org, 2017. Online. www.icknieldwaytrail.org.uk