Are you driving on a Roman road?

Roman road in countryside
If you find yourself driving for miles on a long, straight road through the British countryside, there’s a good chance you’re following in the footsteps and cart-tracks of those who lived in our islands up to 2000 years ago. Many modern highways faithfully adhere to routes laid down by the Romans in the years after they invaded in 43AD. When the Romans first arrived in England they had to make do with tracks used by the Britons, but these were often in poor condition – so the Romans set about building their own.

 

The main aim was to enable troops and military supplies to be moved quickly and easily from one place to another, but the roads also provided vital infrastructure for trade and transporting goods. Some of the major routes include London to York (via Lincoln), London to North Wales, London to Dover, and Exeter to York.

Ancient roads you might recognise

The Fosse Way was the first great ancient Roman road to be built in Britain and enabled travellers to go from Exeter to Lincoln via Bath, Gloucester and Leicester. The stretch between Leicester and Lincoln is now better known as the A46. Other modern roads following this route include the A37, the A429 and the B455. Ermine Street was the eastern road north from London to Lincoln and York. Part of it is now the A10, running north from the City of London through Stoke Newington, Tottenham and into Hertfordshire as far as Royston – although a number of bypasses have been put in.

Ironically, when they built a bypass around the Ware villages of Thundridge and Collier’s End to take the strain off the original centuries-old A10 in 2004, the swanky double carriage way only lasted a few months before land-heave meant the surface had to relaid. If you drive from London to Dover you’ll be travelling along the A2, which was once known as Watling Street – the third major Roman road in Britain. Head out of London in the other direction and Watling Street is now known as the A5, taking you through Dunstable, Milton Keynes and on the Shrewsbury and into North Wales. Stane Street linked London to Chichester and today, much of the route is followed by the A3, A24, A29 and A285.

Dere Street near York, meanwhile, has become the A1, while Cade’s Roa,d which once led into Newcastle-upon-Tyne is now known as the A1034/1079 Brough-York. The Fen Causeway in Norfolk is now the A1122 between Downham Market and Swaffham. Icknield Street, also known as Ryknild Street, which once started at Bourton on the Water, is now the A38 from Lichfield to Derby, while the Pye Road in Colchester is now the A140. You might not think it, but even bustling Oxford Street, now brimming with busy shoppers and boutiques, was one of the first Roman roads to be built in Britain.

As Silchester Road it used to carry marching troops between the military headquarters in Colchester and settlements in Hampshire and Berkshire. It is testament to good road-building that these routes have lasted for centuries – and that they also look set to last for many years more.

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