Blog Post

Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels

Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels – these landscape features have been the product of mythology throughout history.


Standing on the worn, weathered path of a holloway, enveloped by the towering earthen walls on either side, I often contemplate the origins of these enigmatic features. As a wanderer drawn to these ancient pathways, I’ve always been fascinated by the layers of history and mystery that seem to permeate the very soil beneath my feet. Holloways, these sunken roads carved into the landscape, carry with them the aura of countless stories, but their formation captivates my curiosity the most. (Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels)

Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels
Far too high to be foot treaded by tyraffic or carts – probably quarrying

Holloways are found primarily in the rural landscapes of Europe, with many prominent examples in the UK. These paths are often etched into the bedrock, composed of resilient materials like sandstone and chalk. Commonly held beliefs suggest that these sunken roads were formed by the relentless tread of human and animal traffic over centuries. The romantic notion is appealing, conjuring images of medieval pilgrims, bustling traders, and local villagers using these routes daily, gradually wearing down the earth. However, as I walk these secluded paths, far from any major urban center, the narrative begins to feel a bit disjointed.

The solitude of these holloways contradicts the idea of heavy, consistent traffic. Many of these paths lie hidden, nestled away from the bustling life of cities and even small towns. They weave through the countryside, often only known to locals and those few who seek them out for their historic and aesthetic appeal. This observation leads me to question: Could human activity alone have really caused such significant erosion in such durable geological materials?

 (Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels)
Chinnock Hollow – Yeovil

Case Study – Chinnock Hollow

My skepticism grows as I consider the geological and environmental factors at play. It seems more plausible that these paths are not solely the product of human endeavor but also, and perhaps more so, of natural processes. Indeed, some of the holloways show signs of being man-made, likely the result of historical quarrying activities. These paths are narrower, carved with a precision that suggests deliberate human intervention, perhaps as part of resource extraction practices in ancient times. The straight, purposeful lines contrast with the more organic shapes of other holloways. (Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels)

More intriguing to me are the holloways with rounded, sinuous forms, which suggest the sculpting hand of natural forces. The hypothesis that resonates with me involves the actions of water—powerful, persistent water. During the last ice age, melting glaciers could have dramatically altered the landscape, with meltwater raising water tables and creating new streams and rivers. Over millennia, these waterways could have carved out the initial shapes of what would become holloways, with subsequent water flow deepening and defining their courses. As the climate warmed and the ice retreated, these temporary torrents may have dried up, leaving behind the hollowed-out paths we see today.

Chinnock Hollow Map
On Old OS Map looks like it might be associated with town footfall?

This theory aligns with my observations of the holloways’ locations and forms. Those shaped by water exhibit a rounded, undulating profile that mirrors the natural flow of streams and rivers, a stark contrast to the angular, deliberate cuts of man-made paths. Moreover, the presence of dried-up springs and altered watercourses in the vicinity of many holloways supports this idea, suggesting a historical environmental context far different from today’s. (Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels)

Yet, despite these insights, the allure of the mystical and the mythical still clings to these ancient roads. There is a certain romanticism in imagining the holloways as arteries of the old world, teeming with life and stories. But as much as I appreciate the charm of these tales, my quest for understanding leans on science. The true story of the holloways, I believe, lies at the intersection of human history and natural history—a narrative crafted not just by the footsteps of our ancestors but by the powerful, sculpting hands of the earth itself.

Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels - Lidar Channock Hollow
Chinniock Hollow on LiDAR clearly shows it is a natural Palaeochannel and not man-made

It’s clear that more comprehensive geological and historical research is needed to fully unravel the origins of these fascinating features. Geologists and historians together could shed light on how these paths were formed and evolved over time, providing a clearer picture that marries the mythical with the empirical. Such investigations could not only satisfy the curiosity of those like myself but also enhance our appreciation of how deeply intertwined our history is with the natural world. As I continue to explore these paths, the desire for knowledge only grows, driving me to advocate for deeper studies that might finally illuminate the full story of these hollowed roads, etched so indelibly into the landscape. (Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels)

Further Reading

For information about British Prehistory, visit for the most extensive archaeology blogs and investigations collection, including modern LiDAR reports.  This site also includes extracts and articles from the Robert John Langdon Trilogy about Britain in the Prehistoric period, including titles such as The Stonehenge Enigma, Dawn of the Lost Civilisation and the ultimate proof of Post Glacial Flooding and the landscape we see today.

Robert John Langdon has also created a YouTube web channel with over 100 investigations and video documentaries to support his classic trilogy (Prehistoric Britain). He has also released a collection of strange coincidences that he calls ‘13 Things that Don’t Make Sense in History’ and his recent discovery of a lost Stone Avenue at Avebury in Wiltshire called ‘Silbury Avenue – the Lost Stone Avenue’.

Langdon has also produced a series of ‘shorts’, which are extracts from his main body of books:

The Ancient Mariners

Stonehenge Built 8300 BCE

Old Sarum

Prehistoric Rivers

Dykes ditches and Earthworks

Echoes of Atlantis

Homo Superior

(Hollows, Sunken Lanes and Palaeochannels)