Sunday, 15 September 2013

In the footsteps of the legionaries

Having just got back from a rather damp expedition to the Lake District to walk in the footsteps of the legionaries I was reminded of an expedition earlier this summer in better weather to trek another Roman road. We were on holiday and took a day to visit the Roman road on Wheeldale Moor on the North York Moors.

After some initial exploratory clearing in the 1890’s, the currently extant section was uncovered by archaeologists between 1912 and 1920 and runs for approximately 1.2 miles (just under 2km).

There is no clear consensus on the route of any portion of the structure extending beyond that already excavated. It is most commonly conjectured that the structure originally linked the Roman practice forts at Cawthorne Camps with the Roman garrison fort at Lease Rigg, south west of Sleights. However, there is little if any archaeological evidence for this since it has not been excavated. Even more uncertainly, it is conjectured that the original length of the road may have stretched all the way from Derventio Brigantum (possibly modern-day Amotherby near Malton) to Roman coastal fortifications and signal stations near Whitby, possibly passing northward from Malton via Stape and crossing the River Esk at Grosmont.

The extant secition of the structure appears to show a continuous surface metalled with closely fitted slabs of dolomitic limestone with flat upper surfaces, sitting on top of cut turf over black peat. The use of dressed stone rather than gravel as a surface dressing is held to be either a sign against its Roman construction (it being instead either very late Roman when standards of construction were slipping, or else pre-Roman), or alternatively a fact that can be explained by the original gravel surface having washed away through weathering and the stones that remain representing what was originally underlying support rather than the original surface dressing.

Due to the boggy nature of the ground, the structure is crossed by numerous drainage culverts with small becks and water runoff trickling through them.