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Between 19 & 28 miles - to be established


Virosidum (Bainbridge) Pastscape

Wensley Pastscape

Cataractonium (Catterick) Pastscape

North Riding of Yorkshire

The key word in Robert White’s sentence is “must”. The fort at Bainbridge, almost certainly the location of Virosidum as recorded in the Notitia Dignitatum (Rivet & Smith, 1979, pp. 506-7), appears to have been established in the late Flavian period, probably some time after c.85AD (Bidwell & Hodgson, 2009, p.108). There was a brief period of abandonment  between c.120 A.D. and c.160 A.D. (ibid.) after which it appears to have been occupied pretty much continuously until the end of the Roman period. It stands in the heart of Wensleydale, some 20 miles west of RR8b, usually known these days as Dere Street, but the only confirmed roads are RR73 to the south west joining it to RR7 and the western network near Over Burrow (Kirkby Lonsdale) and the recently confirmed RR732(x) (Toller, 2013) to the north linking it to the Stainmore pass (RR82) and the main road north (RR8). It seems almost inconceivable that Virosidum would not have had a reasonably direct road link down Wensleydale to the legionary fortress and later provincial capital at York (York became capital of the new province, Britannia Inferior, some time between 193 and 216 A.D.). In truth, there was little option but to include it.

The existence of the road and its route has been the subject of much debate for 300 years. The most complete summary of all the various claims and counter claims appears in Robert Pedley’s Doctorate thesis (Pedley 1939, pp. 230-237), and the only recent discovery impacting his assessment is that in 1975 of a Roman fort at Wensley. A road linking Bainbridge to Dere Street (Leeming lane) is first known to have been mentioned by Roger Gale in a letter to John Warburton in August 1717 (Pedley, 1938, p.230). Warburton’s reply describes the route, and he subsequently marked it on his map of Yorkshire (fig.1)

Bidwell, P. & Hodgson, N. (2009);  The Roman Army in Northern England; The Arbeia Society, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Drake, Francis (1736); Eboracum: or the History and Antiquities of the City of York, London.Kitson-Clark, Mary (1935); Roman Roads in East Yorkshire in Roman Malton & District Report No. 5

Lukis, W. C. (Ed.) (1887) The family memoirs of the rev William Stukeley and the Antiquarian and other correspondence vol 3 The Publications of the Surtees Society, vol. 80 for 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

Pearson, F. R. (1936); Roman Yorkshire; A Brown & Sons, 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/

Rivet, A. L. F. & Smith, C. (1979);

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

White, R. F. (1988); Pennine Gap? The Roman Period in the North Yorkshire Dales in Recent Research in Roman Yorkshire Studies in honour of Mary Kitson Clark (Mrs Derwas Chitty) edited by J. Price and P. R. Wilson with C. S. Briggs and S. J. Hardman; BAR British Series no. 193 1988

Fig. 1 A portion of Warburton’s Map of Yorkshire, 1720, showing a supposed Roman road from Bainbridge along Wensleydale. Bainbridge is marked erroneously as Brachium

Click Images to enlarge

Fig. 2 Cropmark showing cropmark of Roman road east of Wensley Roman Fort


The decision as to whether or not to include this ‘road’ in the gazetteer was a difficult one. As Robert White pointed out, there is

…no firm evidence for the road which must have run down Wensleydale connecting Bainbridge with Wensley and the main Tadcaster-Scotch Corner road.

White, R. (1988)

It has to be noted that whilst Warburton’s route seems to be based on little more than a perceived chain of Roman sites eastwards from Bainbridge, the western part of his route does make a lot of sense (if Bolton Park is omitted, which is on the wrong side of the river!) climbing as it does to the top of Brough Scar then following an easy route to Aysgarth, avoiding the rapidly undulating glacial debris lower down the valley side. East from Aysgarth, Warburton has it climbing again to more level ground further up the valley side, and eventually traversing Middleham Low Moor where the modern racehorse gallops are, before dropping down to cross the Ure at Ullshaw Bridge. If a Roman road were to have existed south of the Ure, this is where we would expect to find it. At no point however, has any tangible evidence of a Roman road ever been found and the eastern part of Warburton’s route is purely speculative, meeting RR8b near Wath. The nearest Roman site is at Healam Bridge, four miles to the north. Despite the lack of evidence or even logic to that part of Warburton’s route, in 1911 the Leyburn antiquarian William Horne assumed it was correct, but proposed a new route west of Ullshaw Bridge claiming that to the west of Middleham “the farmer always finds the road when ploughing” but  without stating exactly where that was. His road recrossed the Ure at Wensley, passed in front of Bolton Hall then south of Carperby, through the Rabbit Warren and past Nappa Mill to cross the river yet again south of Askrigg, and so on to Bainbridge. Despite objections from Percival Ross amongst others, the Ordnance Survey officer in charge, Captain Mozley,  prefered Horne’s route. Horne had apparently shown him “credible pieces of road” (Pedley, 1938, p.234). Pedley himself favoured Warburton’s route and claimed to have located the Roman road crossing the foot of Bishopdale near Edgley (ibid., p. 235), and then on Penhill above West Witton as far as Spigot Lodge, but this has never been confirmed.

An alternative route was proposed by Francis Villy (ibid. p.236) who noted an overgrown length of road, locally reputed to be Roman, south of Bolton Castle (Pearson, 1936, p.115). Villy suggested that this stretch of disused road could be part of a Roman road road from Bainbridge to Catterick. His proposed route crossed Preston Scar close to the line of the modern road across Preston Pasture and then over Leyburn Moor as far as Halfpenny House, where the modern road leaves it and the supposed Roman line heads direct for Catterick across the Army firing Range, through Catterick Garrison and to Cataractonium roughly marked by the modern A6136.  

Lidar coverage is patchy in Wensleydale, but given that arable farming is rare and so many medieval agricultural marks survive, some sign of a Roman road would be expected to show, even if only faintly, but there is no sign of a Roman road along any of the three routes. Indeed, the one thing all three have in common is a complete lack of any archaeological evidence. It should also be noted, however, that no excavations have ever been carried out on any of the routes, so it is impossible to know which, if any, of the three supposed routes has any validity.

There is, however, one single piece of actual evidence that might just point to a road running along the northern side of the dale. The little known Roman fort at Wensley on the northern bank of the R.Ure was revealed by aerial photography in 1975, with two ditches and tituli opposite the gateways, and is assumed to be of Flavian date (Bidwell & Hodgson 2009, p.111) possibly pre-dating the fort at Bainbridge. On one aerial photograph however (fig. 2), what looks very much like a road can be seen running almost due North-South just to the east of the fort. There is no obvious destination in either direction, and the obvious conclusion is that it is actually an access road running past the fort as far as the river, from a west-east aligned road just to the north.  

In conclusion, it is probably fair to say that most archaeologists and Romanists in Yorkshire strongly suspect the former presence of a Roman road heading down the dale from Bainbridge. The short length of probable road next to Wensley fort does suggest that this is more likely to be on the northern side of the dale rather than the south. Whether any of the suggested routes is correct remains to be seen, and can only be established by carefully selected fieldwork. Geophysical surveys working north along the course of the road at Wensley with the aim of identifying where it joins a west-east road would be a good place to start.

I have traced the Roman way that comes from Ethelburgh [Addlebrough, the hill above Bainbridge] into Leeming Lane [Dere Street], and find that it passes through Thornton, Assgarth, Bolton Park, Middleham, to Ulshaw Bridge, where it crosses the Ure and continues its course by Danby, Thornton Steward, Walasse Church [Thornton Watlass], and over Watlasse-more to where there are several tumuli of different sizes, to the west side of Canswick Park; thence it goes to Thornborough, to Middleton Quernhow, and enters Leeming lane about half a mile south-east of the last place.

John Warburton to Roger Gale, Bedale, Nov. 21 1717 (Lukis 1885 p.77)

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Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records

Entry compiled by Mike Haken, last updated, 2 June  2017