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Roman Sites on Route:


23 miles

82 (part)

Pastscape Mon. No. 1031457

Scotch Corner

Carkin Moor

Greta Bridge Fort     Vicus

Bowes (Lavatris) Fort

Vale House Signal Station?

Bowes Moor Camp

Bowes Moor Signal Station

North Riding of Yorkshire, Westmorland

A late Iron Age to Roman period settlement had been identified in 2006-7 to the north of the Scotch Corner Hotel (Howard-Davies et al 2014) but recent archaeological work during the A1 widening scheme has established that there was a much more substantial but short lived Roman settlement, focused around the junction of RR8 (Dere Street) and RR82, the Stainmore road. This major settlement was established at least ten years prior to the supposed Roman conquest of Brigantian territory in c.AD71 and seems to have been occupied for about 20 to 30 years, possibly becoming redundant with the rise of the town at Catterick and the settlement at Piercebridge. The settlement may well have begun as a trading post, positioned to give access to the substantial oppidum at Stanwick as well as the trade routes west and north and established whilst the Brigantes were still a client kingdom of Rome.

Several lengths of ‘new’ road have been discovered at Scotch Corner, most notably a short extension to RR82 to the east of Dere Street, although as yet we do not know where it was heading or exactly when it was built. A short link road was also revealed, cutting the corner between RR8c and RR82 (fig. 2). It is also clear that there many pre-Roman trackways and hollow-ways beneath the Roman period structures but as yet they are not well understood. The dogleg in Dere Street, as first surveyed by MacLauchlan in 1851 (MacLauchlan, 1852), was confirmed by excavation.

The discoveries at Scotch Corner lend support to the idea that the system of survey lines underlying RR8 south of Scotch Corner, a system which seems to start at Bawtry or even further south, were set out whist Brigantia was a Client Kingdom, possibly at the time the settlement was established (see RR8a/b). Whether that is correct or not, the survey that underpinned the lines of the Stainmore road (RR82) was independent of the planning of Dere Street and bears no relation to it.

The line of the road as far as Greta Bridge is not quite on the single straight alignment as is stated by Margary and elsewhere (Margary, 1973, pp. 434). In fact it travels a full mile and a half (fig. 1) from Scotch corner before it joins the alignment, which it then follows most of the way to Greta Bridge, deviating just slightly to the north of the line as it approaches the R. Greta in order to keep to slightly easier ground. This alignment, crucially, does not start on Dere Street at all; rather, it passes through Scotch Corner having been set out from a point on Cades road (RR80a) on Bullamoor, east of Northallerton (SE39649416). This 23 mile long alignment, followed by the road for just six miles, starts at the point on Bullamoor where a known long alignment from York ends (see RR80a) and a new one on a different bearing starts, heading to the Tees. It is possible that they were all surveyed at the same time, in which case it may be that the original plan was for the Stainmore road to branch from RR80 (so called Cade’s Road) at or near Bullamoor, rather than what we now know as Dere Street. There is almost no difference in distance between these two routes.

Just under four miles out from Scotch Corner, at Carkin Moor (NZ 1620 0827), the road passes through, or possibly cuts through, a feature which has been interpreted as a Roman fort although many regard it as uncertain. It is an almost square enclosure, measuring about 107m x 94m, with rounded corners. There is no evidence that the road skirted around it and it is not quite square with the line of the road so, if it was a fort, it had presumably already gone out of use before the road was built. This is at odds with early 2nd century pottery found near the east corner, so clearly there is more to understand about the ‘fort’. The southern part of the site has recently been investigated by Northern Archaeological Associates during the laying of a pipeline, but the results of this work are not yet known.

From Carkin Moor the road continues straight, followed by the modern road, and where the A66 starts to curve slightly southwards by the Motel at Smallways, the Roman line turns slightly more northwards, heading across the fields to Newsham Grange. The modern road returns to it very briefly, before curving slightly away to the south again near Thorpe Farm. A rescue excavation by the University of Durham in 1973 determined the location of the road at both NZ 0874 1325 and NZ 0871 1327, making the likely position of the bridge over the R. Greta at NZ 0867 1330, immediately south of the current A66 bridge although no trace of possible abutments has been observed (Pastscape Mon no. 19969). To the south of the road, Greta Bridge fort stands upon a levelled spur of land between the R. Greta and the Tutta Beck. The eastern rampart still survives to a height of three metres and, because of the steep slope below it to the river, has no ditch (fig. 3). The northern defences are beneath the Morritt Arms Hotel. It was occupied from the early 2nd century, until the first quarter of the 4th. The fort’s vicus developed for about 500m along the road, both sides of the river, and partly in the area to the north of the fort, and seems to have been occupied for a similar period to the fort, from c.150 AD to the early 4th century, an unusually late date for a vicus (Bidwell & Hodgson, 2009, p.53).

North of the fort, on the north of the road within Rokeby Park, lies a Roman temporary camp, identified from lidar by Bryn Gethin in 2015 and to date not investigated in any way (fig. 3). At least two, and probably three, tituli can be seen along the southern rampart and it is one of a relatively small group of camps with relatively angular corners.

Once it has climbed to the more level ground on the north western side of the river, the road leaves the original alignment to take up a new straight course due west towards Bowes, marked by the A66, for  over two and a half miles (fig. 4), keeping just north of the Tutta Beck. The road climbs towards the high ground above the potential obstruction of Kilmond Scar and, just before the summit, changes direction slightly at Gallow Hill to follow a new alignment slightly south of west aimed directly at the east gate of the fort at Bowes, Lavatris.  Whilst the terrain at this point is gentle, there are occasional sudden awkward undulations which the road surveyors avoided cleverly, leaving the alignment and skirting around them to the south, the route being marked by what used to be the main road before the A66 was re-routed to the north, bypassing Bowes. This lane, known as The Street, may not be quite on the Roman line, as there are intermittent remains of an agger like feature immediately north of it in places.  

Lavatris occurs in both Iter II and Iter V of the Antonine Itineraries, and there can be no doubt that it is the fort at Bowes.  The fort is almost square in plan, and the original timber structure is thought to have been established under the governorship of Petilius Cerealis (Bidwell & Hodgson, 2009, p.55) and no later than that of Agricola (Frere & Fitts 2009, pp 49 - 55), being rebuilt in stone c.131-3. Most of that stone was used to build the medieval castle, the ruins of which stand within the Roman fort. It is likely that the fort was occupied continually until the last quarter of the 4th century, appearing in the Notitia Dignitatum.

The arrangement of roads approaching Bowes is problematic (Fig. 5.). The Street continues to curve round, becoming Bowes’ main street just north of the fort and this was generally assumed to be the course of the road. The discovery during the 1960s of a Flavian period annexe immediately north of the fort made it highly unlikely that this could have been the original route, although not impossible. After the discovery of a road leading directly to the east gate through the vicus east of the fort, the possibility arose that this was the main road approaching the fort and, in effect, an extension of the via decumana (Frere & Fitts, 2009, pp. 39-55). This would have been inconvenient to say the least, as travellers would have been forced to loop around the inside of the fort along the inter-vallum road. Our best guess is that The Street, north of the fort, is in effect a by-pass built when the annexe went out of use (ibid, p.55), although the original course of the main road west of the fort  remains unknown, as does the route of the start of RR820, the road to Vinovium (Binchester, near Bishop Auckland) and the road from the south, possibly from Bainbridge past the Scargill Moor shrines (Richmond & Wright, 1948).

Annis, R. (2001); The Stainmore ‘signal stations’ or tower chain in Vyner et al (2001), pp. 98-111

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

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

Frere, S. S. & Fitts, R. L. (2009); Excavations at Bowes and Lease Rigg Roman Forts - Yorkshire Archaeological Report No. 6; YAS, Leeds

Howard-Davis, C., Newman, R., Stewardson, A., Zant, J.; (2014); Scots Dyke to Turnpike: The Archaeology of the A66. Greta Bridge to Scotch Corner.; Oxford Archaeology North. 2013.

MacLauchlan, Henry (1852); Map of the Watling Street: the Chief Line of Roman Communication across the counties of Durham and Northumberland, from the River Swale to the Scotch border……; London

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

Pastscape Mon. No. 19969 (2017); Historic England, http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=19969#aRt; accessed 7/1/18

Railton, M. (2011); Archaeological Evaluation of a Bronze Age Cremation Cemetery on Brackenber Moor, Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria; North Pennines Archaeology Ltd Project report No. CP 1245/11. Download from https://www.altogetherarchaeology.org/reports.php accessed 10/1/18

Richmond, I. A. (1951); A Roman Arterial Siugnalling System in the Stainmore Pass, in Grimes, W. F. (Ed.) Aspects of Archaeology in Britain and beyond, pp. 293-302; H. W. Edwards, London

Richmond, I. A.  & Wright, R. P. (1948); Two Roman Shrines to Vinotonus on Scargill Moor, near Bowes; Yorkshire Archaeological Journal vol. 37 (1948), pp. 107 - 116

Vyner, B. with Robinson, P., Annis, R. & Pickin, J. (2001); Stainmore: The Archaeology of a North Pennine Pass; Tees Archaeology and English Heritage, Hartlepool and London

Woolliscroft, D. J. (2010, first published 2001); Roman Military Signalling; The History Press, Stroud

Fig. 1 Diagram of roads around Scotch Corner revealed by recent excavations by Northern Archaeological Associates during A1 widening  scheme.

Click Images to enlarge

Fig. 2 Roman road revealed during A1 widening at Scotch corner, probably a link road cutting the corner between RR8 (Dere Street) and RR82. © Dr. Jonathan Shipley, all rights reserved


RRRA Forum for RR82 (opens new tab) Margary's Roman Roads in Britain, RR82

Rey Cross Camp

Roper Castle

Maiden Castle

Johnson’s Plain


Augill Bridge

Brough (Verteris)

Scotch Corner to Bowes

Bowes to Maiden Castle

The Stainmore Signal Stations

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Fig. 4  Two and half miles of arrow straight road mark the course of the Roman road from Greta Bridge, heading due west towards Bowes.  ©Mike Haken 2018

Fig. 3 Lidar image showing the  temporary camp at Rokeby Park discovered in 2015 by Bryn Gethin

Very few roads in the UK can be described as iconic, but the modern A66, across the northern Pennines from Scotch Corner to Penrith through the Stainmore pass, is certainly one of them. The road from Scotch Corner as far as the fortlet known as Maiden Castle is discussed here, and the remainder of the road is dealt with by David Ratledge on his Cumbria pages. The two will be united into one page during 2018.

For its first 22 miles the modern road follows closely the course of a Roman road, RR82, testament to the skill of Roman surveyors that our modern highways engineers have not found any better route. It climbs from the productive arable fields of the Vale of Mowbray at Scotch Corner, at 145m OD, to the open windswept moors at Rey Cross at 441m. before descending into the lush pastures of the Eden valley and towards the Solway plain. As anyone who has driven over there knows, a bright sunny day at Scotch Corner can quickly turn into murk and heavy rain by the time you reach Bowes Moor. The A66 is usually the first of England’s major roads to be closed by snow each year. For its variety of landscape, climate and weather, it is unique.  Whilst there are other routes across these hills, it is by far the most direct and its passage through relatively inhospitable terrain lasts only for about three miles as the road reaches the summit of the Stainmore Pass. The sheer number of prehistoric sites found along its course suggest that it has been one of this island’s most important routes since the Mesolithic period.

The Romans were quick to recognise its importance, as exemplified by the number of sites along it, so many in fact that our standard page layout has had to be altered to accommodate all the links to Pastscape pages.

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Fig. 6  Aerial view of Bowes looking east along The Street, showing the remains of the fort platform and the medieval castle upon it.  ©Mike Haken 2018

Fig. 5  Map showing the various roads and proposed roads approaching the fort at Bowes (Lavatris)

Continuing westwards from Lavatris, the road probably left along The Street at least after the fort’s annexe had gone out of use (fig. 5) and its line can be seen on fig. 6 represented by a short redundant piece of modern road at the western edge of Bowes which aligns with the modern dual carriageway a little further on. After almost exactly one mile, at about NY97591319, the road then takes up an alignment from the west gate of Lavatris, which it follows for 560m and then leaves it for almost a mile past Mount Pleasant and Pasture House in order to make an easier crossing of the Rove Gill. The road was revealed at Mount Pleasant Farm during the construction of the dual carriageway, and the road surface was found to be 4.9m wide (Vyner et al, 2001, p.88). RR82 then returns to the alignment for another two and three quarter miles passing Vale House, 100m west of which two cylindrical Roman milestones were found, one dedicated to the Emperor Florian (AD 276) with a secondary inscription to his successor Probus (276 - 82) (RIB 2280) and the second stone dedicated to Carus (282 - 83) (RIB 2281).  Both are now in the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes. A third stone, with its inscription erased, was found within a hundred yards of the other two was found in 1927, current whereabouts unknown. There is also a possible signal station site at Vale House, discussed in more detail a separate section, with a further signal station at Bowes Moor, a mile further on.

The alignment continues as far as Old Spital, the name coming from the medieval hospital which used to be on the site, being given by Ralph de Moulton to the nuns of Marrick Priory in Swaledale  in 1171, continuing in their ownership until the Dissolution (Vyner et al 2001, p.124). Roadworks on the modern A66 revealed the Roman road here too, comprising two cobbled road surfaces separated by a peaty layer 0.3m thick, both surfaces interpreted as Roman. It was assumed that the peaty layer reflected a deliberate desire to raise the height of the road, as a similar arrangement with sand instead of peat was found further west at Rey Cross. Alternatively, the lower could be Roman and the upper surface postmedieval, presumably the 1743 Bowes to Brough turnpike road. From Old Spital the road turns to just north of west, still followed by the modern road, and assumes a more typical Roman upland style of shorter straight lengths utilising the terrain, without any obvious use of longer alignments. It cuts through the Roman temporary camp at Rey Cross (fig. 8), where  the road was again found during road construction. The name of the camp comes from the medieval cross that once stood within the camp on the southern side of the road (ibid. p.4), now moved to a site at the layby on the east bound carriageway a little further east. The stone carries an association with Erik Bloodaxe, last Viking king of Northumbria, supposedly marking his grave, although no bones were found when it was moved. It once marked the boundary between the territories of William the conqueror and Malcolm of Scotland, then more recently between Yorkshire and Westmorland. The camp itself is well preserved thanks to the altitude and lack of ploughing, with ramparts standing on average 1.2m high, and covering 8.5 hectares with eleven entrances,  protected by almost circular tituli.

Less than a mile west of the camp, the modern road departs slightly south from the Roman line. The 1743 turnpike kept to the Roman line and, as at Rey Cross and Spital, was built on top of the Roman at least as far as the fortlet of Maiden Castle, presenting as a broad agger (fig. 9) remaining today as a bridleway. Before reaching Maiden Castle, a road branches off down the hill south of the road, which is erroneously marked as Roman in some publications. The Maiden Castle fortlet was defended by a stone wall some 2m thick, the robbed out remains of which present today more like an earthwork or rubble mound. The Ordnance Survey marks the Roman road as keeping to the north of the fortlet, the line certainly followed by the 18th century turnpike road as can be seen in fig. 9 and marked on the plan (fig. 11). There is a hollow-way, marked in blue in fig. 11 that leads directly through the fortlet following a relatively straight course. It is narrow, only 1.6m across at the base, and excavation outside the west gate in 1963 showed it to be a well paved packhorse road, but that does not preclude the possibility that it was cut into the denuded remains of a former Roman structure. David Ratledge has identified another descent from the west gate, marked in green on fig.11, which certainly shows signs of being well engineered. The fact that there is a clear trackway looping around the fortlet tends to support the idea that one of those two routes is Roman. There would be no need for it unless the fortlet were in operation and there was a road on either side. Against the idea that the main road went through the fort, however, is the fact that the fortlet measures only about 45m x 36m, and a road passing through it would have seriously disrupted the minimal internal space.

One final possibility is that the turnpike followed the Roman line as far as the bend westwards, except that the Roman line didn’t bend as sharply, and there are the remains of a very denuded trackway to support this idea.

The reality is that without excavation of the various alternatives the chronology and function of the trackways around Maiden Castle will never be understood.

Fig. 7  Aerial view of Bowes looking east along The Street, showing the remains of the fort platform and the medieval castle upon it.  ©Mike Haken 2018

Fig. 8  Aerial view of Bowes looking east along The Street, showing the remains of the fort platform and the medieval castle upon it.  ©Mike Haken 2018

Fig. 9  Aerial view of the Bowes - Brough Turnpike road with Maiden Castle fort just below it.  ©Mike Haken 2018

Fig. 10  View of Maiden Castle showing the packhorse track heading through the fortlet.  ©Mike Haken 2018

Fig. 11  Aerial view of Maiden Castle showing the various roads and trackways descending around the fortlet  ©Mike Haken 2018

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It was Ian Richmond who first recognised that there was a series of Roman signal stations along the course of RR82 (Richmond 1951), which he proposed were part of a long distance system stretching from Stanwix, at Carlisle, to the legionary fortress at York. He identified seven sites which he interpreted as two fortlets, Castrigg (NY 6748 2216)  and Maiden Castle (NY 8722 1315), and five signal stations, Barrock Fell (NY 4647 4690) , Brackenber, Roper Castle (NY 8820 1115), Bowes Moor (NY 9298 1250) and Vale House (NY 94701279). Whilst there is now be no doubt that there were signal towers at points along the route, the evidence for them being part of such a long distance system is weak at best.

Fig. 12  The signal towers and forts of the Stainmore pass

Entry compiled by Mike Haken, last updated 29/1/18

The intervals between the known sites appear to be no more than a mile, so between Bowes and York, allowing for Roman sites at Greta Bridge, Carkin Moor, Catterick, Healam  Bridge and Roecliffe/Aldborough, there would need to be at least 64 towers, and yet there isn’t evidence for a single one, which seems hardly credible.  Furthermore, if Richmond’s sites were part of a cohesive system it would be reasonable to assume that there would be some consistency of design, yet no two of Richmond’s sites are of the same design. Of Richmond’s five towers, Barrock Fell is uncertain, although it has yielded a few pieces of late 4th century pottery, Brackenber has been shown to be a Bronze Age burial mound (Railton, 2011), and we cannot be sure that Roper Castle is actually Roman, let alone a signal station (Woolliscroft, 2010, p.98). Vale House has not been excavated, but has yielded samples from beneath its bank that have been carbon dated to between 267-560 AD, pointing towards the same late 4th century construction as the excavated and confirmed signal tower at Bowes Moor. A further site on the Brougham to Carlisle road at Wreay Hall was excavated in 1951 (NY 4483 4831), 2.2km from Barrock Fell and has been interpreted as a late 4th century signal station.

More recently, four further sites have been identified by aerial survey. Keith St. Joseph identified a signal tower at Castrigg (NY675222) adjacent to the fortlet in 1951, and three other sites were found in the 1970s by Dr. Nick Higham and Prof. Barri Jones, at Augill Bridge (NY818147), Punchbowl (NY829148) and Johnson’s Plain (NY844149). All of them are of a form similar to a late 1st century or early 2nd century watchtower, and are almost identical to those at the southern end of the Gask frontier in Scotland (ibid, p.99). A further possible site at Augill Castle was excavated by David Woolliscroft and discredited (ibid.), and one more has been mooted on a mound within the temporary camp at Rey Cross (Annis, 2001, p.107).

There is little to link the two 4th century sites on the Brougham to Carlisle road, Barrock Fell and Wreay Hall, to the sites on the Stainmore Pass. The gap between them is simply too great. Not that this makes understanding the function of the Stainmore sites any easier. On the western side, there seem to be gaps between Brough and Augill Bridge, and between Johnson’s Plain and Maiden castle, and there are similar gaps between Maiden Castle and Rey Cross, and between Vale House and Bowes. The sites also appear to belong to two distinct periods, the three towers between Brough and Maiden Castle being late 1st or early 2nd century, and all the others being potentially as much as three centuries later.  

With regard to understanding their purpose, all possibilities remain open. There could potentially be a 4th century chain between Brough and Bowes, possibly to facilitate communications over the Pennines when weather conditions made travel difficult, or perhaps just serving as watch posts guarding the road, whereas the early sites on the west could potentially represent part of some form of pre-Agricolan frontier through Northern England (ibid. p.100), given their similarity to the sites on the Gask Ridge. It remains possible that further sites await discovery, and it is to be hoped that future lidar survey may reveal potential sites, that might finally give enough information to understand these sites more fully .

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