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Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records

 19.5 Miles

Bainbridge (Virosidum)  Yorkshire Dales HER, Pastscape,


West Riding of Yorkshire

The name “Cam High Road” has changed over the years, being recorded as the Kambe road in medieval monastic charters, and described as “The Devils Causeway” on John Warburton’s map of 1720 (Warburton, 1720, fig. 2). Curiously, Warburton’s map shows the ascent of the southern slope of Wensleydale to Wether Fell as a broken line, ie uncertain, whereas these days it is often regarded as the most certain part of this road.

The line of the Roman road is often believed to be almost entirely preserved by the 1751 Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike road, indeed Ivan Margary’s description of the course of the Roman road is largely that of the turnpike road (Margary 1973, pp 383-4).  The turnpike road was constructed very quickly, a tollgate being established in Bainbridge just two months after Alexander Fothergill was appointed as surveyor of the eastern division of the road (Wright, 1988, p.181). In 1756, Fothergill reported  that the “road is sixty miles in length, Forty of which have been repaired and made good” which clearly suggests that at least two thirds of the road utilised the course of pre-existing roads. If those pre-existing roads included ones following the Roman course, this might explain why not one single section of redundant Roman agger or terrace has yet been identified and how the turnpike road could be opened so quickly. This is certainly true for part of the eastern end of the road, where ditch digging operations on Cam High Road south west of Bainbridge revealed that the metalling of the 18th century turnpike lay upon a layer of hillwash and subsoil, over 60cm deep in places, with a metalled road surface presumed to be the Roman beneath that (Metcalf, 2004). However, whether or not the turnpike road follows the Roman course as it descends to Ingleton is more open to debate.

The stretch of the turnpike between Bainbridge and Gearstones was diverted in 1791 to what is today the B6255 from Hawes up Widdale to Newby Head and down to Gearstones, substantially easing gradients and having a maximum altitude of 438m, some 140m less than the Roman route.

The road left the fort at Bainbridge on a terraceway from the south gate, although this can only be traced today as far as the modern main road (A684). It is probable that it kept straight on as it dropped down to cross the R. Bain and then skirted around the slight hillock south of Bainbridge. It is possible that it crossed the eastern part of the modern Cam High Road at about SD93098987, although this is far from certain, probably keeping a few yards north of the modern lane until the two join at about SD 92548949.  From here the road climbs up the side of Wensleydale in a three mile long alignment to Wether Fell, from whence its route is very skillfully planned as a series of short straight lengths, the longest being only a mile, cleverly utilising the topography to make the easiest possibly crossing (fig. 4). It has suffered major damage from off-road vehicles during the last 15 years, the road surface having been almost completely destroyed in places. The use of such vehicles on the track is now prohibited. On some of the higher stretches, the road runs directly across the limestone bedrock (fig. 5), although whether or not there was originally a metalled structure above is impossible to say.

It reaches a maximum altitude of 577m at Kidhow where it starts it long descent south westwards to Ingleton. After a further four miles the Roman road arrives at Gearstones (SD78538029) where the track is joined by the B6255, the re-routed Richmond to Lancaster turnpike.  For the entire twelve miles to this point, with the exception of the first short section climbing up from the R. Bain, there is no indication at all of there ever having been any deviation from the current course at any time during the last two millenia. South west from Gearstones, that is no longer the case. It is generally assumed that the Roman line is entirely represented by modern roads, but that may not actually be correct and there is just a hint from low resolution lidar imagery that as the modern road skirts round the northern edge of a drumlin at Ribblehead, the Roman road may have passed it to the south. Either way, the magnificent Ribblehead viaduct crosses the valley just north of the road (fig.6) as it continues to descend towards Chapel-le-Dale.  At Chapel-le-Dale, where the modern road keeps south east of the R. Doe, the Roman line is generally held to leave it and keep north west of the river, under the shadow of Ingleborough, following a straight alignment for two and three quarter miles which is now beneath a minor road. If this is correct, it is to be expected that where the modern lane deviates frequently from the alignment, the Roman road will have gone straight on. Unfortunately, there is currently no lidar coverage to help corroborate this. At the end of the straight alignment, the road turns almost due south to head down Oddies Lane to drop down Meal Bank into Ingleton.

Southwest of Ingleton, the route has never been satisfactorily established. Warburton (Warburton, 1720) marked the road in a direct line to the fort at Over Burrow, south of Kirby Lonsdale, but there is no sign of it today. Shotter and White suggested a branch from the Lune valley road keeping north of the R. Greta  crosseding the western main road (RR7) east of Cantsfield and headeding direct to Ingleton, although without any evidence on the ground to back it up (Shotter & White, 1995, p.60). Margary on the other hand (Margary, 1973, p384), suggested a more southerly route, joining RR7 somewhere near Low Bentham. Donald Haigh and D.J.A. Taylor later claimed to have established this route (Burnham, 2004, p.275) but close inspection by the author of all the supposed bits of agger and terraceway revealed nothing that could not be interpreted as relatively modern and unconnected farm tracks. A final suggestion was made by Keith Horsfield (Horsfield, 1999), taking RR73 direct to Lancaster, although the the route is most un-Roman in planning, being indirect, not making good use of the terrain and being very sinuous.

In short, we simply don’t known whether RR73 joined RR7 near low Bentham, turned more north west at Ingleton to head to Over Burrow, or crossed RR7 to join the Lune Valley road, RR705, somewhere near Melling.

RR73 is certainly an unusual upland road, in that for its entire length it is traditionally thought to lie beneath more recent roads and tracks - even the RR82 over the Stainmore pass (A66) has some sections where the more recent roads are known to deviate from it. In this regard it can probably be best considered as a road of two halves.

The north-eastern half, from Bainbridge to Gearstones, displays the very clear hallmarks of being a well surveyed and engineered road, that we know for certain was constructed before the 1751 turnpike was built on top of it. Given that the long first alignment appears to have been set out from the fort and that a probable Roman surface was discovered deep beneath the later turnpike, there can be no doubt that this half of the road is of Roman origin. There are certainly questions to be answered, such as whether or not there was ever a metalled surface over what is now exposed limestone (fig 5.) on the higher stretch, but the origin of its construction and its route are both clear.

Burnham, Barry, (Ed.) (2004); Roman Britain in 2003; Britannia  pp.275-286

Collingwood, R. G. (1928); Excavations at Brough-by-Bainbridge in 1925 ; Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Soc., Literary and Historical Section, Vol. 1, (1928), 261-284

Horsfield, Keith (1999); An Old Road from Lancaster towards Ingleton: A Possible Roman Route?; Contrebis vol. 23 pp. 14-22; Lancaster Archaeological and Historical Society

Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London

Metcalf V; (2004); Cam High Road, Wether Fell to Bainbridge. Archetype Archaeological Consultancy [assessment & evaluation reports].

Warburton, John (1720); A New and Correct Map of Yorkshire in All its Divisions, London

Wright, Geoffrey N. (1985); Roads and Trackways of the Yorkshire Dales; Moorland Publishing Company Ltd., Ashbourne

Click Images to enlarge

Fig. 5 . Exposed limestone bedrock on the Cam High Road © Phillip Rees, 2018. All Rights Reserved

RRRA Forum for RR73


Fig. 1 Looking across Wensleydale from RR732(x) - the Cam High Road can be seen cutting a diagonal line across the fell.

© Mike Haken 2013

Fig. 2  Portion of John Warburton’s Map of Yorkshire, 1720. Curiously, he has the famous section in Wensleydale as dotted (ie uncertain), and the rest of it solid (certain)

Unlike our red rose neighbour to the west, Yorkshire is not blessed with many Roman roads whose remains can be described as spectacular. The road that heads south west out of Wensleydale, from Virosidum, the fort at Bainbridge, is the undoubted exception.

The so-called Cam High Road, which runs in a south-westerly direction up the fellside for close on four miles in a straight line from the fort, is well known as one of the finest specimens of Roman road in England and needs no•description here, apart from the fact that it seems to have been laid out by sighting on the central point of the fort—the gateway of the headquarters building, where the groma was set up.

R,G. Collingwood 1928, p.263

Fig. 3  the iconic image of Cam High Road climbing towards Wether Fell.

Fig. 4 1954 OS map 1:25000, illustrating how the road is skilfully planned to take the easiest but still direct course.

Historic Counties:

Roman Sites on Route:

Fig. 6 The Ribblehead Viaduct, taken from just north of the probable course of the Roman road.© Paul Davis 2014   

Margary's Roman Roads in Britain, road 73

The south-western half, on the other hand is quite different. From Gearstones down to Ingleton the landscape changes quite suddenly from showing few signs of human activity other than stone walls and sheep, to one that is littered with the signs of mineral extraction, quarrying, farming and former settlement. In this half, it is no longer possible to be certain that a modern road follows the Roman line, indeed from Chapel-le-Dale to Ingleton there are two straight modern roads, one on each side of the valley, not to mention the multiple trackways that weave across the valley sides. It is to be hoped that the new lidar survey being conducted by the Environment Agency, due to be completed in 2020, might reveal some indication of the true course of RR73, both from Gearstones to Ingleton and beyond Ingleton to its connection with the western main road, RR7.

Entry prepared by Mike Haken.  Last updated, 14 October 2020

14 Oct. 2020