Walking a Lake District Roman Road

On previous blogs I’ve written about some of our walks on High Street, the Roman road from Brougham to Ambleside which crosses some of the highest ground in the Lake District.

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Walking the course of High Street (c) John Bainbridge 2017

I first encountered the road itself over twenty years ago, walking the ridge route known as the Kentmere Horseshoe, when I walked over the top of the mountain called High Street after the road.

High Street is, I believe, the highest Roman road in Britain. It has always fascinated me. The first time I ever heard it mentioned was as a child, in Arthur Ransome’s wonderful novel Swallowdale. The name sparked something in my imagination, and it has been interesting to explore the actual High Street over the past couple of decades.

It’s at its best and most dramatic between High Street itself , to the point where it descends towards Troutbeck.

Further north, the section climbing south from Askham Fell is very wet and boggy, and the track is often difficult to make out.

In the area west of Heughscar Hill, more modern tracks cross the landscape, making it difficult to actually define the route of the Roman road, though it is sometimes incorporated in them.

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The new signpost (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Many of us are familiar with Roman roads such as the Fosse Way, great clear lines across the English landscape. High Street is nothing like this. Although it crosses the Lakeland fells in a very clear direction, it is by no means straight and, I think, might never have been maintained in the efficient Roman tradition.

I believe it’s almost certain that the present course of High Street suggests a track that goes further back in time than the Roman occupation. For me, this is a typical long prehistoric track across the Lake District, adapted and possibly altered by Roman road engineers.

Just over a week ago, we set out to walk the line of the Roman Road between the prehistoric stone circle known as The Cockpit to the vicinity of Winder Hall.

A fine day too, as we set out from Askham walking across Askham Fell to The Cockpit stone circle – an antiquity older than the Roman road itself. Cloud inversions filled some of the distant mountain valleys, but the tops were very clear on a beautiful day of blue skies. Ullswater looked magnificent in this clear light.

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On High Street (c) John Bainbridge 2017

It was pleasing to see that, since our last visit to these moorlands, someone had put up a signpost in Latin, marking out the distances in true Roman fashion. You can march in step with the Roman soldiers, left right, left right – or should that be sinister dexter, sinister dexter…

Many of the Romans stationed in the Lake District came from the Roman Empire, rather than Rome itself – places like modern day Yugoslavia. They must have been a hardy breed as they tramped from fort to fort.

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Winder Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Around Winder Hall, the Roman road becomes just a path and then a “course of Roman road” line across enclosed fields. We left further explorations to another day and followed the lane back to Askham.

It must have been quite a sight – those Romans marching along such a high-level route across the countryside.

In my next blog I’ll look at some of the other archaeology of Askham Fell and Moor Divock – much of it a lot older than the Roman road.

 

 

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