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16.5 Miles


None at time of writing

Virosidum (Bainbridge) Pastscape,  Yorkshire Dales HER

Scargill Moor Shrines

Bowes (Lavatris)

Greta Bridge

North Riding of Yorkshire

One reason for Roman interest in the northern Yorkshire Dales may well have been the presence of substantial deposits of lead bearing ore. Whilst there are no known surviving Roman lead workings, presumably all destroyed by the industrial scale mining activities from the 17th to the 19th century mining, the finding of two Roman lead ‘pigs’ provide evidence of Roman mining activity in and around Swaledale, to the north of Bainbridge. The first, possibly Hadrianic, was found in 1855 at Hurst (Whellan 1859 p.503), and a second, bearing an emperors head and a Roman inscription turned up in the 1870s by the side of the lane leading between Summer Lodge and Crackpot (Cooper 1973 p.15), although it was quickly melted down to fix iron crooks into gateposts.

If the function of the fort Virosidum (Bainbridge) was at least in part to control the lead mining industry in this part of the Yorkshire Dales, then a road northwards from Bainbridge close to the main mining areas makes a lot of sense. Such a road was first recorded in 1717 by John Warburton, in a letter to fellow antiquarian Roger Gale:

Codrington, Thomas (1903); Roman Roads in Britain, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London

Cooper, E. (1973); A History of Swaledale; Dalesman, Clapham.

Lukis, W. C. (Ed.) (1885) The family memoirs of the rev William Stukeley and the Antiquarian and other correspondence vol 3 The Publications of the Surtees Society, vol. 80 1885; Andrews & Co., Durham & London; Whittaker & Co, Edinburgh. Available online at https://archive.org/stream/familymemoirsofr03stuk#page/n7/mode/2up accessed 30/11/17

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

Pedley, Robert  (1939); The Brigantes: a study in the early history of the North Pennines; Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online:http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/10308/Toller, H. S. (2013); Askrigg Roman Road (Bainbridge north-east) Britannia 44, 2013, 293-4

Toller, H. S., (2013); Current Research into Roman Roads in Yorkshire Based on Lidar Evidence, Forum Vol 2 pp 141-145; CBA Yorkshire , York

Available at http://www.cba-yorkshire.org.uk/2014/03/the-forum-journal-new-series-volume-2-for-2013/

Toller, H. S. (2013); Askrigg Roman Road (Bainbridge north-east) Britannia 44, pp. 293-4

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

Whellan, T. (1859); History and Topography of the City of York and North Riding of Yorkshire Vol.2 ; Beverley

Fig. 1 Part of Warburton’s Map of Yorkshire, showing a Roman road heading north from Askrigg towards Barnard Castle

Fig. 4  Photo taken in 2013, showing the clear course of RR732 along a terraceway above Summer Lodge, nr. Crackpot

Click Images to enlarge

Fig. 2 Lidar image of the Roman road leaving the east gate of Virosidum, then crossing the R. Ure and heading NNE.

Fig. 5  The road can be seen clearly climbing above the R. Swale at Gallows top, Feetham.

Fig. 3  Lidar image showing RR732 heading towards Horrabank Farm, north east of Askrigg. The road is clearly beneath the medieval field systems.


This opinion is very much strengthened by a new discovered Military Way of the very same dimensions and work with that on which Glanoventa stands, and Galana, and which runs from Ethelburgh (Addlebrough, the hill above Bainbridge) full north over a more called Windgate, and at a small village called Crackpott crosses the river Swale, and soon after enters another named Feetham, where I must leave it at present on account of the season. At my parting with it, it seemed to point at Bernard Castle, and if so, probably Stratford, near that place, was where it crossed the river Teys…..

Letter from Mr J. Warburton to Roger Gale, Bedale, Nov. 21, 1717

Lukis, 1885, pp. 79-80

Whilst many writers such as Codrington (Codrington 1903, p. 123) have referred to Warburton’s description and his depiction of the road on his Map of Yorkshire (Warburton, 1720), none have provided any evidence for this road for almost three centuries, and as a result many have doubted Warburton’s description.  For example It has been suggested (Pedley 1938, p.238) that his letter to Gale is inconsistent with a dotted line shown on Warburton’s map from Bainbridge to Feetham - in fact the line on the map is only broken in places, being shown as certain from Windgate past Crackpott and almost to Feetham, just as Warburton described. As with so many Roman roads, LiDAR has changed everything, and in 2012 Hugh Toller demonstrated that the road does exist (Toller, 2012 & 2013), and that it lay for the most part exactly where Warburton described.

The road leaves Virosidum through its east gate, passes through the Annexe, then the vicus, then descends towards the R. Ure, making a slight dogleg turn to get down the steep slope on the south bank of the river. This all shows well in lidar (fig. 2). The river has probably moved northwards slightly since the Roman period, so it possible that the southern bridge abutment survives buried beneath alluvium. The road’s course north can just be made out on lidar aligned on the high point of West End, overlooking the modern village of Askrigg, before it disappears beneath the village. It can soon be seen again, along a short alignment heading north east from West End, clearly visible on lidar beneath the medieval ploughmarks and field systems (fig. 3). The course is lost at Horrabank Farm, where the engineers were now faced with descending almost a sheer drop to the Newbiggin beck. The presence of a deep gully on the opposite bank, exactly on the same alignment, suggests strongly that the road descended by means of a zigzag terrace, long since collapsed into the valley.

From the Newbiggin Beck there is no evidence visible on lidar and multiple tracks that have formed over centuries make locating the correct course tricky. A course can just be traced on the ground which, after leaving the gully (which presumably started life as a cutting), heads straight up the slope for another 70m. It then  turns slightly north west for 90m to ease the gradient, before returning to a north north easterly course parallel to, but 60m east of, the modern road. It then appears to keep to a straight course, with two zigzags to ease steep slopes, as it climbs to Windgate Greets. The modern road probably represents its course for the next mile, along the stretch known as Long Band, taking quite a pragmatic course across the moor. At the top of Scurvy Scar, where the modern road begins to bear east keeping to the south east slopes of Swaledale, the Roman line heads down the west of Summer Lodge Beck, emerging as a clear agger and terraceway at about SD9625 9549, the course of which is best viewed from across the valley (fig. 4).

The terraceway keeps north west of Summer Lodge, before it is eventually rejoined by the modern lane below Crackpot Side. It is in this vicinity, very near the road, that the pig of lead was found in 1855. The lane leaves it at Gill Plantation, where the agger is again visible on lidar for a short distance, keeping just south east of Crackpot. There are a few indications of it alongside the lane for half a mile after Crackpot, but then the line is lost , although it probably crossed the R.Swale near the current bridge (Isles Bridge). Our current best guess is that it stayed close to the valley floor passing below Low Row for just under a mile, before it climbs out of the valley at Feetham, along a terraceway clearly identifiable on lidar and visible from across the valley (fig 5). It continues to climb obliquely up the slope until the gradient suddenly eases at about SD 9922 9903, when there is a major change of direction to now head just west of north, in order to cross the Mill Gill at the only sensible point, where the modern road crosses at Surrender Bridge, at which point the line is briefly lost, possibly beneath the modern road. This section is all certain and is clear on lidar, although largely not visible on the ground.

From Surrender Bridge, as the modern road bears northwards again, the Roman road can just be made out to the west cutting the corner of the modern road, before the two coincide again for a quarter of a mile. Where the modern road does a slight bend to the east, the Roman line keeps straight on and is just visible. On this bend, the Roman road turns very slightly more northwards, and the modern road leaves it. It can be seen on the moor very clearly on lidar (fig. 6), but the heather hides it totally at ground level, even when stood right on top of it. After another quarter mile, a dog-leg would be needed to traverse Fore Gill, but the steep terraced descent has long since eroded away. North of Fore Gill Gate a straight feature can be seen again on lidar past Bouldershaw Old House and  along straight field boundary to Bouldershaw House, but this is probably not the Roman line. More likely is a course just west of it, a few metres west of the modern road as it passes Bouldershaw Old House. The modern road then bears away east from the probable Roman line, which keeps arrow straight across Turf Moor, becoming visible again on lidar at about NY 9968 0266, passing Cocker House and descending towards the Arkle Beck in Arkengarthdale. At NY 9983 0321 the road makes a slight change of direction then passes through a well preserved cutting before crossing the modern main road and heading straight down to Eskeleth Bridge, a few metres east of the modern road.

Ascending the other side of the Arkle Beck the modern Stang Lane appears to sit on top of the Roman line for just under a mile until Dry Gill Bottom when Stang Lane does a slight westerly kink and the Roman road keeps straight on. It shows on lidar, and can be seen on the ground when it has a light covering of snow (fig. 7).

Now things start to get less clear. Lidar coverage finishes just north of Dry Gill Bottom, and whilst Stang Lane resumes the same alignment for a short distance, it leaves the probable Roman line at about NZ 0083 0547. From here, there is a terraceway, with some quarry pits on its eastern side which Hugh Toller interpreted as the Roman road. That would have meant a quite difficult crossing of two steep narrow ravines on Stang Side, and it is not clear if a road ever actually crossed here, or whether the terraceway is just accessing a small quarry. A little higher up the slope however there is another terraceway, which makes a much easier crossing of the ravine, passing through at least two cuttings, and is laid out in short straight lengths. The remains of rough masonry from a bridge abutment can be seen in the bottom of the Gill. That is possibly a slightly more likely route although it is far from certain and could be a later re-routing.

From this point on Stang Side onwards, the road is lost. If we reject Warburton’s notion of it going to Barnard Castle because there is no Roman site there, and it would have to cross RR82 to get there, the possible destinations are either Bowes or Greta Bridge. Given the general direction in which it is heading, Hugh Toller favoured a destination of Greta Bridge (Toller, 2013), although against that is the fact that lidar coverage resumes just south of the R. Greta and it shows no clear evidence of a road heading to Greta Bridge. The other option would be Bowes, which would involve a change of alignment of about forty degrees on Stang Side. Despite that, it can be argued this this would still represent the most efficient route from Bainbridge to Bowes, the more direct alternative requiring the negotiation of steeper slopes and longer stretches of boggy moor, on Scargill High Moor.

There is one large piece of evidence pointing to Bowes being the destination, that being a mile long straight agger-like feature starting at the foot of the steep slopes near Green Fell Plantation, running in a straight line past Gilmonby Farm and heading for a crossing of the R. Greta just to the western side of Lavatris (Bowes).  The feature has been known for over forty years but does not appear on the Durham HER and has been largely forgotten (fig. 8). If it is a road, it would have to pass extremely close to the Roman shrines on Scargill Moor, and is in an almost perfect alignment with Stang Side.

Given that the entire length of this road has been identified either on lidar or visually, from an aircraft or on the ground, an excavation in one or two points is needed. This would give confirmation, although in reality this  16.5 mile cannot really be anything other than Roman, given that its construction in a series of straight lengths which pass beneath medieval agriculture in at least one place (Horrabank, Askrigg). From Stang Side northwards, absence of lidar coverage on Scargill Moor used to mean that our only chance of filling the missing link was from good old fashioned boots on the ground.  The news in late 2017 that the Environment Agency is to conduct a new lidar survey of England and Wales by 2020, this time with no gaps, could mean that we will soon have some indications of where to aim those boots!

Historic Counties:

Roman Sites on Route:

Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records

Fig. 6  The road can be seen clearly on LiDAR approaching Bleaberry Gill and Fore Gill Gate

Fig. 7 LiDAR image showing the Roman road cutting the corner of Stang Lane.

Fig. 8 Aerial image of the probable Roman road heading south from Bowes

Entry by Mike Haken, last updated, 2 January  2018