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Walking Roman Roads in Lonsdale and the Eden Valley

Walking Roman Roads in Lonsdale and the Eden Valley is the fourth and final volume of Philip Graystone's exploration of roman roads in north-west England; it brings to a conclusion his account of the great Roman military highway from Chester (the base of Legion XX) to Hadrian's Wall.

The author provides an invaluable guide to tracing this ancient route along its final, and arguably most interesting, section, through the dramatic scenery of the Tebay Gorge and over the fells around Crosby Ravensworth. Considerable stretches of this road are visible as earthworks, and some parts remain metalled roads still in use today. Major Roman sites, such as Low Borrow Bridge, Brougham and Old Penrith, are linked by it.

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Walking Roman Roads in Lonsdale and the Eden Valley contains 16 sketch maps and 48 photographs, which show the route and highlight to the walker what may be seen along the way. The text supplies directions and useful notes on access, in addition to fascinating historical background. It provides a fitting climax to Philip Graystone's excellent series of Guides, just as Roman Carlisle - fort, town and civitas-capital - emerges as a fitting destination for the road itself.

Philip Graystone's interest in the Roman roads of north-west England dates from the 1950s, when, as a Marist priest, he was headmaster of St. Mary's College, Blackburn, and spent many happy out-of-school hours exploring these roads. Since then he has frequently revisited the area to observe and record, and has studied much of what has been written, by bygone antiquarians and by contemporary historians and archaeologists, about these roads and the people who planned and built them.

Extract from the Introduction

This is the fourth volume in a series of studies designed to cover the network of Roman roads in north-west England (excluding the Lake District). The first, Walking Roman Roads in Bowland was published in 1992; the second Walking Roman Roads in East Cumbria appeared in 1994, and the third Walking Roman Roads in the Fylde and the Ribble Valley in 1996.

Romans roads are perhaps the most substantial, the most widespread and certainly amongst the best known, of the many traces left by the Romans during the four centuries when this country formed part of their far-flung empire. Many people feel a thrill when travelling a road first laid out by Roman engineers nearly 2,000 years ago, even when this stretch is now no more than a rigidly straight portion of modern motorway. Far more interesting are those lengths unaffected by modernisation, and represented now by minor roads or footpaths or simply lines of hedgerows. Such stretches abound in north-west England, and it is not surprising that they form a magnet for people who enjoy a walk with an archaeological flavour.

While this study is primarily intended for such active amateurs, I have tried to make it as accurate as possible. This has entailed many hours of research into the proceedings of the various antiquarian societies of the area. It might be mentioned that these very often record the investigations and observations of non-professionals as far as Roman roads (as distinct from forts, settlements, etc) are concerned, confirming that knowledge of the existence and present condition of Roman routes owes much to exploration by interested amateurs. Also that browsing through these records can also be almost of fascinating as striding the roads themselves.

A secondary objective of this brief volume and its companions - perhaps not originally intended but increasingly adopted in the light of experience - is to record the state of the Roman roads in the north west at the close of the millennium. The picture is constantly changing. On the one hand modern farming techniques - for example deep ploughing and field enlargement, often involving hedge destruction - have frequently obscured traces of Roman roads. On the other hand the construction of new roads, especially the recent development of motorways in Lancashire, has obliterated whole tracts. It is only too likely that this process will continue, hence the importance of recording the state of play, so to speak, at frequent intervals.

The centrepiece of this series was originally meant to be the Roman road from Ribchester to Carlisle by way of Burrow-in-Lonsdale, Low Borrow Bridge and Brougham, this being the generally accepted main Roman route to the north west of the Pennines - road number 7 in Margary's classification (Margary 1957). The road actually commenced, not at Ribcehster but further south, in (modern) Manchester. The omission of the section from Manchester to Ribchester from the original plan for these four volumes was not thought serious, since this stretch, to a great extend, passes through urban surroundings where all visible traces are obliterated and which are certainly not walking territory.

However, in researching for, and writing, these books, I have become more and more strongly convinced that the road from Manchester to Carlisle should be considered as a single unit, even if it was not originally planned and constructed as such. Certainly the first two sections, Manchester/ Ribchester and Ribchester/ Burrow-in-Lonsdale are not discontinuous; the alignment of the first section extends beyond Ribchester (which it by-passes) to a point over three miles north of the Ribble. The situation at Burrow-in-Lonsdale implies even less discontinuity; once again the fort itself is bypassed, this time as a greater distance, and the alignment is uninterrupted.

The upshot of this is that I would feel this group of studies to be incomplete if it did not take note of the southernmost section of the main road - the section from Manchester to Ribchester - and since this was omitted from the first volume (where it would have fitted best), and in subsequent volumes, it should at least be included as an appendix to this fourth volume. I am well aware that this will appear illogical and clumsy, and apologise accordingly. Moreover this section, as already mentioned, traverses at least for the first few miles, urban and suburban districts where there is little or nothing of interest visible and where walking is not the most attractive of pursuits. Even, so , the section beyond Tottington and Edgeworth, where the road emerges on to the moors and crosses difficult country, is certainly not without interest, and the final stretch across the Ribble valley is well worth detailed investigation.

Furthermore, points of interest do arise even in tracing Roman routes through modern urbanised areas. Fir instance, the particular road considered here is followed very closely by Bury New Road throughout its urban length. Margary points out that Bury New Road is a turnpike construction and opines that it was probably laid out along a path or bridleway which succeeded the Roman road. It would be interesting to have confirmation of this, also to find out about possible discoveries in the course of laying out the turnpike and about possible reuse of Roman materials as metalling.

Some further explanation is called for regarding parts of the main body of the work - the road north of Burrow-in-Lonsdale and its branch roads. Section Four, for example, which sees the main road arrive at Low Borrow Bridge, moves away for a few pages from the road itself and looks around the environs of the Roman fort. In particular it has something to say, by way of description and illustration, about the acqueduct which supplied the fort and remains a well-preserved and spectacular relic. The only explanation I can offer is my own fascination with this area of Roman Britain - remote and unexplored for centuries, and now traversed by a mail rail link and by the roaring traffic of the frantically busy M6.

The reader will also doubtless note the extra attention given, in Section Eleven, to the branch road which led south-westwards, across Whinfell, from this same fort of Low Borrow Bridge. This is a road about which little seems to have been recorded, but in its early stages it is one of the most interesting I have ever encountered. I hope the extra pictures I have included will help to explain this. It is a pity that so little has so far been discovered about the later sections of this route.

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