---Aldreth Causeway & Belsars Hill---
Aldreth Causeway is an ancient pathway that begins at the foot of the hill (Enchanted Hill) that descends through the High Street of the hamlet of Aldreth in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands of Eastern England.
Before the mid-17th Century drainage of the Fenlands the cathedral city of Ely, laying some seven miles north east, was an island and Aldreth was a small inland port situated at the southern-most tip of the Isle of Ely.
The Causeway formed the last section of what was once the main route across the inhospitable Fens from Cambridge to Ely. It is one of three causeways that joined on to the Isle of Ely, the other two being Earith Causeway to the west and Stuntney Causeway to the east.
From Aldreth, the Causeway runs due south for a distance of two miles (3.1 Km). At 0.8 mile (1.3 Km) it crosses the River Great Ouse (this stretch known as the Old West River) via the Aldreth High Bridge and around a mile and a half (2.5 Km) it disects Belsars Hill, believed to be an ancient hillfort. The terrain is mostly forested wildtrail and pathway with an elevation of 2 to 3 metres rising above 4 metres at the bridge.
1): The screenshot (above) of an interactive topographic map helps us understand the outlines and the shape of the Isle of Ely, with Aldreth on a peninsular at its south-western tip and the vast fen and marsh and water surrounding it. Cambridge, is on the route of the A10 at the bottom, just out of picture. 2): The video (below right) walks us through the last section of Aldreth Causeway which from Aldreth High Bridge to Aldreth is called Aldreth High Street, as it meets up with Aldreth and the higher ground, what was the southern point of the old island of Ely. 3): Ordnance Survey Landranger Map (below left) shows the Causeway path in red running from Aldreth down to Belsars Hill where it ends at Iram Drove.
Below left is a satellite image of Aldreth Causeway disected by the River Great Ouse which between Earith and Stretham is known as the Old West River. To the south of Aldreth High Bridge is the actual Aldreth Causeway and to the north is called Aldreth High Street although still regarded as the Aldreth Causeway. The satellite image below right is of Belsars Hill disected by the Aldreth Causeway. When walking along the Causeway it is difficult to identify the hill even when walking across it, though it is visible through some sections of the hedging.
The Aldreth Causeway has received a lot of attention over the past two years, almost entirely due to the work of the WakeHereward Project, as it has been promoted as a part of the 'Conqueror's Trail' hike from Cambridge to Ely on 27th October to mark the anniversary of the Fall of Ely
to William the Conqueror in 1071. Locally it has long been a path for leisure walks and dog walks.
After an inaugural research hike by enthusiasts gathered together by the WakeHereward Project on 27th October 2020, In 2021 the WakeHereward Project arranged a three-day event and partnered with the Aldreth Community Association to commemorate the 950th anniversary of
Hereward's Last Stand against the Conqueror under the name of the 'Aldreth 950'.
Day 1 on 27th October was a second annual hike along the 'Conqueror's Trail' from Cambridge Castle to Ely Cathedral, a route devised by the project that passes by a number of historical places of interest, offering that this was the route William the Conqueror may have taken in his assault upon the Isle of Ely. Day 2 on 29th October was 'An Evening Remembering Hereward' at Aldreth Village Hall featuring Historians talking about Hereward and the Normans and the events that unfolded during the defence of the Isle of Ely, recognised as the last pocket of English resistance to the Norman Conquest. Day 3 on 30th October was a medieval re-enactment of events of Hereward's defence of the Isle at Aldreth and the Conqueror's attempts to gain access to the Isle of Ely, eventually succeeding while Hereward fled into the fen. On May 14th 2022 at the Aldreth Vintage & Craft Fayre a commemoration plaque was unveiled in honour of Hereward placed at Aldreth Village Hall stating 'his actions at Aldreth passed into legend'.
This year to mark the occassion the WakeHereward Project resumed its production of a historical documentary that aims to uncover evidence and reveal the route William the Conqueror took in his assault upon the Isle of Ely, analysing the prominent places and landmarks, while opening up the route as a pathway to hikers and ramblers as the 'Conqueror's Trail' when the documentary has been completed.
Images above depict, top left): Hikers of the WakeHereward Project on the 'Conqueror's Trail' heading towards Rampton Church. (image: Martin Black) Top right): Kim Smith of the Aldreth Community Association and David Maile of the WakeHereward Project unveil the Hereward comemmoration plaque (above their heads) outside Aldreth Village Hall. (image courtesey: Simon Stirrup). Bottom left): Historians Doctor Sean Lang, Professor David Roffe, David Maile, Mike Petty and Re-enactor Nigel Amos at the 'An Evening Remembering Hereward' event at Aldreth Village Hall. (image: Kelly ann Maile). Bottom right): Hereward (Rory Gibson) and his Band of Men (Grantanbrycg) preparing to defend Aldreth against William the Conqueror at the 'Hereward's Last Stand!' event at Aldreth. (image courtesy DKNG photography).
Aldreth Causeway and Belsars Hill are featured in the forthcoming Documentary Film 'On the Conqueror's Trail' presented by David Maile.
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Hereward v The Conqueror on the Causeway
The significance of this historical event acted out in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands is that it was the last act of rebellion in a series of revolts by the English against the French-Norman King William 'the Conqueror' during his conquest of England, that the king had to mobilise his army and deal with himself. After the defeat of Hereward's forces on the Isle of Ely on 27th October 1071, over five years after his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066, King William marched north with his army and turned his attention to Malcolm Canmore the King of Scotland, soon bringing the Scots under his allegiance, knowing his back was covered and he had control over all England.
After being exiled from England at the age of 18 Hereward returned to his homeland in early September of 1067 to find a contingent of Normans occupying his family home and his younger brother murdered through decapitation. Hereward gathered together a small army and began his rebellion against England's new king which lasted around five years climaxing on his defeat on the Isle of Ely from which he escaped
with a band of followers.
The difficulty for King William had been the impassable terrain of swamp, marsh and fenland, unsuitable for horsed cavalry and shipforce. After failed attempts from different points on the compass, William's final assault began from Cambridge Castle, a fortification built in 1068 as a garrison controlling the Fens. He island-hopped along an ancient pathway between Cambridge and Ely eventually settling troops on an ancient hillfort called Belsars Hill, just over two miles from Aldreth, the southern-most point of the Isle of Ely. Gathering timber brought in to Cottenham, William's army began building, or rebuilding, parts of Aldreth Causeway and erecting trebuchets to bombard the fortification at Aldreth.
It is at this point the story becomes even more confusing and over which historians have been at loggerheads since the academic study of Anglo-Norman history began. What was the final route William took to gain access onto the Isle of Ely?
Did he succeed in crossing into Aldreth or did he follow a secret pathway onto the Isle after Hereward had been betrayed by the monks of Ely? This is one of the many questions the project and the documentary seeks to answer.
Image: Hereward fighting on Aldreth Causeway by A.A.Dixon
Belsars Hill showing its North West Ramparts, bisected by the Aldreth Causeway to the right. Image by Ed Chambers for the documentary 'On the Conqueror's Trail' copyright Hereward the Wake Ltd
Belsars Hill has never been excavated and interpretations of its date and function still rely upon the superficial appearance of the earthwork. It is purported to be a hillfort perhaps of Iron Age provenance. Its name is speculated as originating from a Roman general to a commander in the army of William the Conqueror. We simply do not know. It is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is purported to have been used as an encampment and fortification by William the Conquer during his assault on the Fens in 1071 due to its attachment with the Aldreth Causeway, which William is said to have built, rebuilt or repaired in order to get onto the Isle of Ely at the local rebels led by Hereward. The fort is sub-circular, 250 m by 225 m in overall dimensions. Its longer axis is orientated northwest to southeast, and it has an internal area of 2.57 hectares. The ramparts are best preserved along the northern and western sides, where they reach 2 m in height. Well preserved ridge and furrow cultivation surrounds the site, which is rare for Cambridgeshire. The site is on private farmland and is inaccesible to the public but can be partially seen through the hedgerows that line the causeway which cuts through it.
The Aldreth Causeway and Belsars Hill form the middle section of 'The Conqueror's Trail' a proposed Hiking and Rambling pathway designed and developed by the WakeHereward Project under its Hereward Country programme. The objective is to establish a routeway for the public to follow in the footsteps of William the Conqueror and the route he took from Cambridge to Ely during his assault on the Isle of Ely which culminated in the defeat of Hereward's rebel forces on the 27th October 1071. Along the route people will be able to learn the story of England's last stand led by Hereward at the most cataclysmic time in English history by visiting places and sites appertaining to the historical event and other places and sites of historical interest for the edification, entertainment and education of all. As a work in progress Hikes have already taken place, a commemoration event the Aldreth 950 has taken place, and a plaque has been put in place commemorating Hereward and the historical moment on the wall of Aldreth Village Hall. A public waymarker is currently under design to be installed on the route. The programme includes the filming of a documentary which will feature Historians and Archaeologists and other knowledgeable people on the subject complete with a publication 'On the Conqueror's Trail'. Many individuals and partners are involved and have been involved in this programme along with local non-government organisations and academic institutions, which originated ten years ago and began in October 2020. It partners similar projects under the Hereward Country programme currently in progress with other partners in Bourne and Crowland and current long-term associations under development in Peterborough, Ely and other significant locations.
The Conqueror's Trail is designed to promote Cultural Heritage Tourism, Health and Wellbeing, Active Citizenship, Lifelong Learning, and a sense of place for the Communities it passes through.
The Conqueror's Trail is a WakeHereward Project initiative designed for sustainable growth under its Hereward Country programme and all rights are hereby reserved.
Hereward the Wake Ltd.