The geology of our area of South Herefordshire, with its rich soil overlaying bedrock, seems to have given us many hollow ways or sunken roads. They were considered to be of medieval origin, before the common use of wheeled carts and carriages, when traffic consisted of a walking traveller, horseback rider, pack animals, and drovers with their attendant animals. In those days travellers on foot would not be put off by a hill or two and prefer to take a more direct route, whereas later, it would be necessary for carts and carriages to use easier gradients and wider tracks or roads.
The Romans would have found these routes already in existence serving, not only local needs, which for the most part was all that was necessary, but linked together forming a larger network of trade routes with the possibility of national coverage. Whilst Romans were famed for building their own special roads they undoubtedly made use of these as well. Regrettably most hollow ways have not have fallen into complete disuse and disappeared having been replaced by roads and later turnpikes along more convenient routes, although a few are still in use today often as green roads or footpaths.
Their constant use over centuries has worn them down through the soil often to the bedrock, forming a narrow track between deep, steep banks topped by hedges with the occasional gateway or entrance into the surrounding fields. They have become so overgrown by the great variety of trees, bushes and brambles that so often characterise old hedges that they often run underneath a green tunnel of branches with the odd gateway or entrance to a field on either side. The occasional hollow way can be recognised that has survived and become a tarmac single track road today although probably widened slightly along the course of time.
Whereas it used to be thought that hollow ways dated back to Roman times it is now considered that many of them would already have been in use for a thousand years when the Romans arrived on our shores. This makes them our oldest surviving relic or antiquity still in use today and as such there is good reason for them to be given legal protection against modern farming methods and hedge destruction and closure, so that they can be kept open for our enjoyment for centuries to come. So recognise and respect them for what they are and get involved in their preservation when required.
Could it be significant that Hewlin’s Lane lies more or less on a direct a direct line between the ancient Roman smelting works at Daff y Nant and the Great Doward with its mines and quarries?
Peter Hunt. 2016.