listed heritage-139-Final from Connor for Paperturn - Flipbook - Page 26
IS THIS AN ANCIENT TRACKWAY?
HOLLOWAYS, RIDGEWAYS, DROVE
ROADS, GREEN LANES, PACKHORSE
TRACKS AND CORPSE ROADS
enable swift movement of additional troops and
supplies.The Romans favoured wheeled vehicles
like the carrus, a fourwheeled, eight-oxen wagon.
Therefore, the new roads needed to be robust
enough to cope with heavy wheeled vehicles
without becoming impassable, even in wintery,
A road-building scheme is also a powerful
political tool – the new roads shaped both the
land and people into a Roman structure.
WHERE TO LOOK
Major settlements, forts and military sites
were all linked by well-made roads, initially
radiating out of south-east England. Evidence of
significant Roman activity also lies surprisingly
far north. Forty years before construction on
Hadrian’s Wall began, Governor Agricola (ad
78–84) established Roman strongholds deep in
Scotland’s tribal territories, as far as Inverness
(a permanent fort was constructed at Cawdor).
There is tentative archaeological evidence for
fortified sites even further north.
KEY DETAILS TO LOOK FOR
Straight lines on maps: Look for marked
sections, with lines that continue in field
boundaries and footpaths.There may be
Roman sites en route.
High points and distinctive features:
Perhaps used by Roman surveyors to map
Evidence of construction techniques:
Look for agger, metalling, ditches and culverts.
Width: Pace out the width of the road between
OTHER THINGS IT MIGHT BE
A PRE-ROMAN ROAD
Some prehistoric tracks, like the 46-mile (74km)
Peddars Way in East Anglia, were improved by
The trackway linking Raedykes camp (NO 842
902) and Normandykes camp (NO 829 993)
in Aberdeenshire follows a gently wandering
route that suggests the soldiers that temporarily
garrisoned at the camps utilised a pre-existing
path. For a stroll with at least 3,000 years of
history, head north-west from Raedykes to
Bawdy Craig (NO 810 921) to NO 807 941.The
route continues north towards Peterculter.
A POST-ROMAN ROAD
There are no roads of comparable quality
constructed either before, or for more than a
thousand years after, the Romans. However, if
dateable material isn’t found in the road or its
associated features (like pottery, coins or other
artefacts), it can be surprisingly difficult to date a
road beyond all reasonable doubt.
The roads that are most likely to feel straight
enough to be Roman, but aren’t, are recent
bypass roads, early modern turnpike roads
or roads created when common land was
enclosed and new. Straight field boundaries
were constructed during the eighteenth and
Listed Heritage Magazine November/December 2021
NOT A ROAD
Long, linear features can sometimes look like
the remains of a Roman road, such as disused
railway lines or banks that have formed
under old hedges (which may have since
been uprooted).The tops of fields, known as
headlands, have sometimes been built up from
stones cleared off the field as well as ploughsoil.
This can be particularly confusing as they appear
to be raised, cambered lines with a stone
foundation layer. Check to see whether the
linear stony feature continues beyond the field
Finest five: Roman Roads
1. THE DEVIL’S HIGHWAY,
CROWTHORNE WOODS, BERKSHIRE
SU 845 643
A fine section of the London to Silchester
(Calleva Atrebatum) road is now a footpath.
Don’t be fooled by nearby Caesar’s Camp
earthworks – they’re the remains of an Iron
Age hillfort that predates the Roman road.
Another stretch of impressive Roman road in
the woods can be found in Puddletown Forest,
Dorchester, Dorset (SY 737 926).
2. WADE’S CAUSEWAY, WHEELDALE
MOOR, NEAR GOATHLAND, NORTH
YORKSHIRE SE 805 975
This mile-long (1.6km) stretch of cambered
ridge with laid stones and parallel ditches has
long been thought to be a Roman road.There
is no definitive dating evidence, however, so it
could potentially be medieval or prehistoric.The
big stones that formed the foundation metalling
are visible, but the kerb stones are now lost
under the moorland growth.
3. OXFORD STREET, CENTRAL
LONDON TQ 290 81
The first and twenty-first centuries overlaid. If
you were a Roman soldier you’d be marching
west out of Londinium towards Pontes
(modern-day Staines, a key crossing of the River
Thames) or turning right at Marble Arch to
head north up the modern-day A5, Edgware
Road (traditionally Watling Street) towards
Verulamium (St Albans) and on towards North
Wales and Deva (Chester).
Some charters describe landowners digging
a wide double-ditch, and throwing the soil
up into banks on either side.The base of the
ditch would then be used as a sunken track,
the parallel banks forming the holloway walls
and boundary line all in one.The holloway
may still run along a modern parish boundary.
Excavations have revealed that timber tracks
were constructed over boggy ground in
prehistoric times as well as more recently – the
earliest is the 1-mile (2km-) long Sweet Track
in Somerset, dated to an impressive 3807–6
BC (a section of which can be seen in the
British Museum in London). However wellconstructed they were in the beginning, most
timber walkways won’t have left any trace in the
The earliest tracks we know
about in Britain date from the
start of the Neolithic, around
4500 BC, when people started
to adopt farming and establish
There are some long distance routes, but
most of the tracks these early farmers used
were ones connecting farms, fields and other
local venues.Tracks weren’t planned or
‘constructed’ with surfacing, drainage ditches
or other systematic methods, they were simply
maintained by regular use.
4. STANEGATE AT VINDOLANDA FORT,
BARDON MILL, NORTHUMBERLAND
NY 770 664
Stanegate crosses England from sea to sea,
linking Carlisle to Corbridge via Vindolanda Fort.
Incredibly, there are still some milestones in
position.The base of one is about a mile west of
Vindolanda on the north side of the Stanegate,
now a minor modern road (NY 757 662).
The other is no longer in its original position
but sits at NY 771 664 alongside Bradley Burn.
Neither stone appears to have been inscribed,
suggesting they were painted with the distance
5. THE GASK ROAD, GASK RIDGE,
PERTHSHIRE, AROUND NN 946 187
For a short period during the reign of Agricola
(ad 78–84), efforts were made to secure the
Gask Ridge, a line of high ground some 37 miles
(60km) north of Edinburgh. Signal stations and
watchtowers were built every Roman mile
(5,000 pedes, 1.48km), along with numerous
fortlets and bigger fortified defences, including
Inchtuthil legionary fortress.The towers were
constructed of wood, on a rectangular or
circular platform with a surrounding earthen
ditch and bank.The earthworks remain.
Recreate your own march along the Gask Road,
spotting signal stations every Roman mile. Five
accessible stations run between Ardunie signal
station (NN 946 187) and Muir o’ Fauld signal
station (NN 982 189) along what is now a
forest track.The signal towers maximise the
high ground, and the woodland must have been
cleared heavily to give a good view of the road
and potential attackers.
There aren’t any significant differences between
an unsurfaced track with its origins in the Middle
Ages and one with a much earlier provenance.
Excavation evidence can provide datable
samples, and detailed surveys can indicate that
the track joins settlements or field systems with
prehistoric origins. But when encountered in
the landscape, a 500-year-old track looks pretty
much like a 5,000-year-old track.
The key indicators which show a track is at least
Medieval, are the nature of the surface, and the
route it takes. Its width may also give some clues
as to its primary uses.
Over time, the ground on an unsurfaced track
gets trampled hard, vegetation begins to grow
lower or not at all, and the tread
of feet and hooves and rainwater running
down the surface wear down the land surface,
eventually creating a sunken lane,
or holloway (hollow-way).
Holloways are usually at least 300 years old,
but many in the south-west, South Wales and
borders, East Anglia and the Weald probably
have their origins in prehistory.The deepest
holloways in Britain are sometimes as much as
20ft (6m) below the ground surface, with steeply
banked sides, and well-established hedgerows
creating an almost tunnel-like form. Holloways
are most conspicuous where there’s a slope
that increases the amount of surface water that
runs down the track, and where the edges are
hedged, which limits the amount of soil which
would otherwise slip down the banks and fill
the holloway. If a track has worn down to hard
bedrock, like granite, the rock surface will be
polished but the track won’t become more
sunken. In open country, the track can appear
as a wide grassy furrow, where the holloway has
partly filled over the centuries by soil creep.
You may still be able to trace the line – look for
shorter or paler vegetation. In wetter or steeper
areas tracks can be very wide or diverge into
multiple lines, created by travellers stepping
around boggy, rutted or otherwise impassable
sections, as they were entitled to do if the route
had become ‘foundrous’. If you’re on a steep
country lane, look in the adjoining fields for
ribbon-like depressions – before the road was
metalled: these may have been some of many
unsurfaced tracks used to get up the hill. Again,
vegetation may be paler or lower than the
Discernable track networks leading to or
around deserted medieval villages have been
frozen in time, making them valuable examples
of what local trackways were like in the Middle
Ancient paths always lead somewhere – look for
traces of deserted settlements, farm buildings or
seasonal grazing, or areas of natural resources
like ancient woodland, rivers or commons.
Although not planned from the outset, a well
used track may have been improved over the
generations. Some trackways may have ditches
dug alongside them, to improve drainage and
prevent animals from straying. Tracks may have
been cut down into a hill to reduce the slope’s
gradient, especially if erosion was affecting the
track unequally; if a track ran along or down a
steep slope, sections may be terraced – with
the track surface flattened and the edge banked
up. Although most early tracks were unplanned,
a few holloways were intentionally created to
mark land boundaries.
Prehistoric long-distance routes definitely
existed but their survival is patchy.The bestknown ancient tracks in England are the
ridgeways that follow spines of high ground.
Routes established before 2000 BC include the
Harroway (running across southern England,
from near Dover to the south Dorset coast),
the Icknield Way (from Norfolk to Wiltshire,
through the Chiltern Hills and Berkshire
Downs) and the Ridgeway (from near Avebury,
Wiltshire towards Hertfordshire).
There doesn’t seem to be any consistent
relationship between how close tracks run
to prehistoric sites like burial chambers and
circles. Some are clearly on the route and others
appear to be ignored.
Listed Heritage Magazine November/December 2021