|Mike Haken, of the Roman Roads Research Association, returned to talk to SWAAG about the Roman road, which runs across Swaledale from the fort at Bainbridge. He began by explaining that there were three classes of routeways in Roman times and pointed out that the cross-section of a ‘typical’ Roman road, with a paved stone surface and trench alongside, isn’t found by archaeologists in this country.
One of the earliest maps showing the Roman road is John Warburton’s map from 1720, which shows the route of the road as four straight lines. Recent knowledge of its exact route comes from analysis of LiDAR and from field observations. Most of the route can now be traced, with exception of the section between Crackpot and Feetham. Modern roads and trackways follow its line, although road ‘drift’ has occurred over time.
Having looked at the likely sight lines used by the Roman surveyors, Mike thinks the road was probably surveyed from north to south and that it began from Binchester, rather than Bowes. It was planned about 40 years before Hadrian’s Wall. The purpose of the fort at Bainbridge and the road itself is uncertain. Did Bainbridge occupy a strategic spot in the valley, controlling movement between the agricultural land downstream to the Vale of York and the more rugged upland to the west? There does not appear to be a routeway down Wensleydale to the Roman fort at Catterick. The assumption is that Roman roads connected places, but they were also built to obtain resources. Mike didn’t think the Romans wanted lead from this part of the Dales, but they might have needed peat to use as a fuel in the fort, in the absence or scarcity of timber. The Cam High Road runs south west from Bainbridge towards Wether Fell, where peat excavation is known to have taken place in the 19th century.
Mike will be returning to talk to us about routeways across Stainmore in the Autumn.