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on 9 February 1999
"The Old Straight Track" probably has influenced more seekers of "true" Britannia than any single book. It single-handedly began the ley-line craze, and probably is responsible for most of the current interest in barrows, megaliths, and "mysterious Britain." It's still readable, too. Good photos. Good arguments. Cool conclusions. Even if you don't believe, Watkins will make you WANT to believe. The truth is out there ... and it's been under our feet all the time!
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on 19 October 2009
Alfred Watkins' previous work 'Early British Trackways' has been extended upon and we are presented with a compelling case for the evidence of leys in which straight lines link various ancient sites, such as mounds, mark stones, beacons, churches and castles etc. Whether by human design or coincidence, the principles behind this system of ley lines still remains a mystery - were they a network of tracks used in prehistoric times and was there a sacred aspect to their use? We do not know and it is for the reader to explore the evidence and decide for themself. This remarkable little book is beautifully illustrated with line diagrams, maps and photographs and Watkins' visionary system of 'old straight tracks' seems a sound and sensible theory.
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on 14 February 2002
Excellent, early-century guide to the fascinating ley lines that criss cross Britain. These lines were amply pushed by creating notches in mountains, clearing land to view old church centers and of course the pagan mounds we all know so little about. Watkins's book is a delight and inspiring. Go back in time when people had to rely on contours and landmarks from many miles away. Sometimes older is better. Check it out!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 June 2013
Assuming I've identified it correctly (check with the seller by all means) this is the Garnstone Press edition, a facsimile of the original 1925 printing with high quality paper and really good clear photographs printed on plain paper and set in the text. It is far superior to the Fontana edition which is cheap and nasty by comparison.

Quality of the edition aside, this is a difficult book to pin down. First of all, Watkins was not a crank. He didn't beleive in supernatural forces, and his 'ley lines' are simply ways of navigating about the contryside with no magical powers or starnge energies in sight. He brought together his theory as a result of many years travelling round the countryside, often on horseback. His thesis is that our ancestors, who didn't use wheeled transport all that much, laid out direct routes from place to place for those on foot or with pack horses to find their way along ancient trading routes. Salt is the main commodity he sees as being taken round the countryside by pedlars, but other products, such as flint and pottery are also cited.

So far, so plausible. When we get to the detail, however, it all starts to fall apart rather. We must forgive Watkins for not knowing things about archaeology that weren't discovered till after his time, but even so, claiming that ley lines must go back to 25,000 years ago (ie well before the last Ice Age) is pushing things well beyond where they'll go. The problems go deeper than that. Instead of suggesting a network of main tracks, off which the little-used paths to small hamlets branched, Watkins decides everyone must go straight across country, over hill and dale. As a result, the number of criss-crossing tracks becomes unfeasibly complex and entangled; no pedlar could remember which path to take when dozens crossed every valley or hill, heading off in different directions to link tiny settlements.

We can believe that salt and indeed flint (remember Grimes Graves) may have been traded across long distances. But Watkins argues that every use of the word "white" in a placename indicates a link with the salt trade, which is far from convincing. It gets worse; next he is claiming that every reference to "red" in a placename is proof of long-distance trade in pottery - while as any fule kno pottery, being both heavy and breakable, was generally traded the minimum possible distance from home until the coming of the canals.

One aspect of Watkins' theories I have no trouble acceptin is that laying out roads was the job of an elite class who claimed magical powers. That is just the way our ancestors would have done things, in the days when knowledge was kept secret and magic, rather than science, invoked to explain things. His construction of a whole theology and priestly class is, however, again taking things a bit too far.

Watkins was self-taught and his lack of academic rigour isn't too surprising. There are interesting ideas in here, but the later confusion with those who claim a different knid of ley line- one which focuses supernatural energies and may, or may not, have a connection with crop circles and aliens, has muddied the waters. As a result, little serious consideration has been given to the core of Watkins' theories, which is a shame.
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on 8 March 2002
A thorough and fascinating investigation of ley lines in Britain, particularly Herefordshire. This is a classic in all senses of the word: it's an old book (written in 1925), the first to cover its subject (Alfred Watkins coined the term 'ley lines'), and doing it so comprehensively and logically that any other book on ley lines is almost superfluous.
The chapters and snippets on the origin and derivation of words, place-names and surnames are particularly interesting. For example, the modern meaning of the word 'black' is completely opposite to its ancient meaning!
This is the best book on history - ancient or modern - I've ever read.
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on 31 July 2007
This delightful and easy-to-read book outlines the author's gradual realisation that certain well known, yet ancient, features of the (mainly) English landscape, link up to form straight lines called 'leys'. This leads to the author wondering who built them and why? Alfred Watkins presents his findings in a down-to-earth and thought provoking way, inviting the reader to join him in the quest for answers. Anyone with a love of nature and social history will not be disappointed.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 May 2013
This is the first edition of the Old Straight Track which I ever had, and it isn't an especially pleasant book to handle. Far better, if you can get it, is the 1970 facsimile edition produced by Garnstone Press.

Quality of the edition aside, this is a difficult book to pin down. First of all, Watkins was not a crank. He didn't beleive in supernatural forces, and his 'ley lines' are simply ways of navigating about the contryside with no magical powers or starnge energies in sight. He brought together his theory as a result of many years travelling round the countryside, often on horseback. His thesis is that our ancestors, who didn't use wheeled transport all that much, laid out direct routes from place to place for those on foot or with pack horses to find their way along ancient trading routes. Salt is the main commodity he sees as being taken round the countryside by pedlars, but other products, such as flint and pottery are also cited.

So far, so plausible. When we get to the detail, however, it all starts to fall apart rather. We must forgive Watkins for not knowing things about archaeology that weren't discovered till after his time, but even so, claiming that ley lines must go back to 25,000 years ago (ie well before the last Ice Age) is pushing things well beyond where they'll go. The problems go deeper than that. Instead of suggesting a network of main tracks, off which the little-used paths to small hamlets branched, Watkins decides everyone must go straight across country, over hill and dale. As a result, the number of criss-crossing tracks becomes unfeasibly complex and entangled; no pedlar could remember which path to take when dozens crossed every valley or hill, heading off in different directions to link tiny settlements.

We can believe that salt and indeed flint (remember Grimes Graves) may have been traded across long distances. But Watkins argues that every use of the word "white" in a placename indicates a link with the salt trade, which is far from convincing. It gets worse; next he is claiming that every reference to "red" in a placename is proof of long-distance trade in pottery - while as any fule kno pottery, being both heavy and breakable, was generally traded the minimum possible distance from home until the coming of the canals.

One aspect of Watkins' theories I have no trouble acceptin is that laying out roads was the job of an elite class who claimed magical powers. That is just the way our ancestors would have done things, in the days when knowledge was kept secret and magic, rather than science, invoked to explain things. His construction of a whole theology and priestly class is, however, again taking things a bit too far.

Watkins was self-taught and his lack of academic rigour isn't too surprising. There are interesting ideas in here, but the later confusion with those who claim a different knid of ley line- one which focuses supernatural energies and may, or may not, have a connection with crop circles and aliens, has muddied the waters. As a result, little serious consideration has been given to the core of Watkins' theories, which is a shame.
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on 8 November 2015
There has been some acrid comment about the message in this book; clearly not read sufficiently thoroughly, or simply misunderstood. Alfred Watkins simply propose possibilities based upon what he saw and heard. Anyone who looks around them and wonders why things are where they are, or about place & road names would find this of interest. I'm looking forward to a second reading - there's a lot of detail. Given that it was written almost a century ago, and in the light of accelerating developments in information technology today, one wonders what people might think in the future (or even if they will think). But there is immense pleasure to be gained by exploring our British surroundings, albeit from a book. Sadly such an activity rarely gets encouraged in schools...or by the established church. It's added value to our heritage. Fortunately, in retirement, one gets allowed time to ponder on such matters and so much information is at one's fingertips today.
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VINE VOICEon 21 June 2009
My casual interest in ley-lines stems from my teenage years, when I, like others, found it possible to connect ancient sites on OS maps in the way Alfred Watkins describes. I found it worth investigating, and discovered 'The Old Straight Track' to be far more coherent in explanation of ley-lines, and related features, than much of what has been written since.
I believe man in prehistoric times to have been more sophisticated and well-travelled than customarily thought, although in consideration of ley-lines as so-called 'energy conductors', I rate with alien visitation and black magic, a bogus hindrance to honest investigation.
Alfred Watkins writes with clarity and a love of the Herefordshire countryside he lived in, and thus in reading his book, you have the bonus of almost stepping back to a gentler era. He paints a broad and sweeping picture that is hard to criticize. I cannot see the point of highlighting errors, for the simple reason it is so easy today, with the internet, to compare other sources. He is never dogmatic in any case, often giving alternatives to his preferred explanation. It is interesting that he sees in British place-names a link with the ancient near-east, particularly Babylon, this fits well with more recent investigators, such as Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. A worthwhile read.
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on 7 October 2010
Fascinating if over-detailed book (Watkins' 'The Ley Hunter's Manual' is I think better). Poor Watkins is misrepresented by both friends and enemies - the latter mostly professional archaeologists.

Trying to summarise: Watkins realised (he was among other things a commercial traveller around Herefordshire, and was well aware of the problems of finding one's way round, and the importance of landmarks) that prehistoric man had a problem of transport. To take one example: salt. There are local deposits of this in Britain; but projecting time backwards, how could the stuff be moved around? There were no motorways, or even roads; no tarmac; no motor traffic; no bikes; no maps; not even weedkiller to keep paths clear... obvious points which many people seem unable to grasp.

Watkins' theory was simply that straight tracks were laid out by line-of-sight and marked by whatever method was feasible - dug-out notches on the skyline (early man could do earthmoving on quite a scale), upright stones arranged in pairs to point the way, perhaps church steeples, large stones by the pathside - of types not found locally, to remove doubt. Watkins thought some large flat stones marked with cup and ball marks might be in effect maps of local 'hill forts'. He thought Silbury Hill was built specifically as a landmark. Trees were another possibility, though obviously they would be visible now, if at all, only by traces.

Another of Watkins's examples was water: springs of clean water were presumably a useful asset (and some contained health assisting minerals, though obviously we're in eras predating chemical knowledge). Paths to them might be marked out.

And much more in this vein, including signalling by means of beacon fires.

His SUPPORTERS have often taken a description by Watkins of a sudden insight into this possibility ('wires.. across the countryside') in an electrical sense, adding a whole assemblage of material on sacred sites, lights, currents, electric charges and shocks, and what have you. And of course there was a temptation to rule lines on the then-new Ordnance Survey maps. They also renamed as 'ley lines' what Watkins christened 'leys'.

His OPPONENTS generally laid into the detail - place-names for example obviously are a high-risk source of evidence. So are buildings - many 19th century churches are built in mock-old styles, many manor houses aren't reliable indicators of archaeological precedents, etc.

I think there was also a class element here: archaeologists like, or liked, to look at palaces, military structures, cathedrals, massive megaliths, impressive graves, treasure hoards, and generally high status things. Watkins tried to redirect attention to humble practical tracks and paths.
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