Photo Credit: Odejea [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Beginnings of an English Monarchy
King Alfred the Great of Wessex (Present day western England) was the youngest son of five of King Athelwulf, but did not become king at Athelwulf’s death. The throne went through most of his older brothers who promptly died, leaving Alfred. After a series of devastating Viking raids from the north of the English isle, Alfred knew that he was too weak to fight off the Vikings that were on his territory in the 870s, so he made a series of treaties, sealed with large quantities of Danegeld, with the Vikings that they promptly broke. Guthrum, the Danish Viking, knew that the Christian Alfred would be celebrating Epiphany on the 12th night (5/6 January) in 878, so Guthrum struck at Chippenham with the hopes of capturing Alfred as well as taking the important town of Chippenham.
King Alfred the Great on the Run
The attack so soon after a peace treaty surprised the English and drove many to France where they arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some say Alfred was in Chippenham that night and fled with his people. Others say he was in Dorchester. Either way, Guthrum chased King Alfred the Great into the marshes of the Somerset Levels. There Alfred began his guerrilla days fighting out of the marshes and bogs near Athelney. Only a few warriors were with Alfred, but he soon began recruiting local militias throughout modern day Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. By building a resistance force from the ground up, Alfred was able to remain the only major kingdom in modern day England to successfully hold out against the onslaught of the Vikings. This success and eventual victory in southern England is what established the legend of Alfred the Great in Anglo-Saxon history.
Guthrum Chased King Alfred the Great Motorcycle Ride
If you have a full day, try the long circular ride from Chippenham to Box and down to Athelney on the A4, then back up to Melksham and Devizes on the A365 and back to Chippenham on the A342. Good biking roads all. The route to Box and Athelney is a likely route that Alfred could have taken out of Chippenham.If you are in the area of Athelney, also check out this ride around the Battle of Langport from the Battlefield Biker English Civil War series. When near Devizes, you can also zip up to Roundway Down to see the site of the English Civil War battlefield of that name from the Battlefield Biker series.