Day Three - In Search of Alfred - CycleBlaze

April 2, 2017

Day Three

Beginnings and Endings

The overnight bivi, sheltered by thorny scrub.
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Awake at 05:00, brewing coffee in darkness as the dawn chorus got its act together and skylarks started lofting into a light breeze. It was only as sunrise approached that I realised just how thorny the ground was where I was lying. Somehow, my tyres and airbed made it through unscathed, and I was packed and away by the time the sun was touching the top of the hillfort.

Deserted country lanes took me through tiny villages on my way, largely downhill, towards Chippenham.

Nice places to live round here if you have a couple of million going spare.
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I was there by 08:30, with an hour to kill, waiting on the 09:29 train I'd booked my bike onto the previous day.

Chippenham town centre, looking forlorn on a Sunday morning.
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Chippenham seemed a pleasant enough, if unremarkable town. But it has a Greggs bakery, so that was my breakfast sorted. It was probably a less pleasant location in 878 AD, when the Saxon population would've been living in the patched and disintegrating buildings left behind by the Romans.What must it have been like, living in the shadow of a culture and civilisation manifestly more sophisticated and technologically advanced than your own? Given my jaundiced views on the trajectory of the human race, I suspect the next generation or two may find out...

Guthrum's forces had been based in Chippenham since routing Alfred's court in their surprise attack just after the New Year. But now it became their prison as, having fled back following their defeat at Ethandun, they were besieged by the Saxon army. After two weeks they capitulated and surrendered. Hostages were taken, vows exchanged that the Danes would cease their attacks upon Wessex, and King Guthrum promised to convert to Christianity.

And that was about it. But not quite...

Taking the train west via Bristol, I changed for the service through to Highbridge and Burnham, Brummie Paradise. This is my local station 24km away from where I live across the Levels. I blasted my way back home on autopilot, passing through the village of Wedmore en route, perhaps 20km from Athelney as the crow flies. These days it's an expensive place to live, populated by retirees and commuters, but in 878 it was the location of Guthrum's final acknowledgement of Alfred's mastery. It was here he accepted the Saxon king as his adoptive father and converted to Christianity, before retreating to East Anglia with his forces and subsequently marrying into Alfred's family.

Was Alfred a great king? Well, against the odds he saved the last Christian territory in the British Isles from being swallowed by the pagan Danish tide. Having done so, he and his descendants used the Kingdom of Wessex as a core from which to expand and reconquer the lands taken by the Danes. It was perhaps a Golden Age for the Saxons, formulating the essential idea of a unified English nation rather than a patchwork of warring states. That could be interpreted as being quite an achievement - depends on your viewpoint, I guess.

Britain following the Treaty of Wedmore; the Saxon lands are coloured pink, Danish blue, and Celtic green.
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Today's ride: 47 km (29 miles)
Total: 280 km (174 miles)

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