One of the Roman Empire's great legacies was the road infrastructure, which the Roman Legions constructed as they slowly spread out across Britain. Initially intended for military use, but later used extensively for commercial traffic, the road network once covered a distance of approximately 2,000 miles. Despite many of the roads having been robbed out, or subsequently built over, a good deal of our modern roads in Britain still follow the same route through the countryside as they did in Roman times.
As a testament to their builders, several major Roman trunk roads are still very well known to this day. Most British citizens will be familiar with names like Ermine Street, Watling Street, The Fosse Way and Dere Street. These highways would stretch for hundreds of miles to link the major Roman centres, most of which still exist as the modern cities of Exeter, Lincoln, London and York.
On Wheeldale Moor in North Yorkshire, one of the best preserved stretches of Roman road in Britain can still be seen. Now a mere length of 1.25 miles, this was once part of the Wade Causeway that ran from the large Roman fort of 'Derventio' near Malton, to Whitby on the North East coast. Legend suggests that the road was constructed by a giant named 'Wade', who built it to assist his wife Bell in shepherding her sheep to better grazing on the moor.
The Wheeldale Road today comprises a series of large flagstones, which although uneven in appearance would have formed the solid foundations of the road when new. These flagstones would have been covered with a layer of smaller stones and gravel, which have long since been eroded away. The road's camber gives it a very noticeable domed appearance, and allowed rain water to run into drainage ditches either side. In several places, the kerbstones and covered drainage culverts still survive, the best examples of which can be found at the eastern end of the section.
Although it can be a bit of a challenge to locate, Wheeldale Roman Road is something not to be missed for those interested in Roman Britain. If nothing else, the scenic moorland setting is pretty special.