The lies of the land
In a previous post I attempted to trace some of the Roman roads around Ilkley using the definitive source by Ivan D. Margary. Whilst the catalogue is exhaustive, there were lots of speculative points in the route where the description was lacking, or there was just not enough archaeological evidence to say where the route went. In other areas, there are doubts about whether certain roads were planned and built by the Romans, or merely laid over existing Celtic pathways.
I was still thinking about this when I returned to the library, and was very pleased to find John Poulter’s “The Planning of Roman Road and Walls in Northern Britain“, and Charlotte Higgins’ “Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain“. Higgin’s book appears to be more of a travelogue, walking the pathways, and describing the landscape and subsequent history around the route. I will write more of that when I’ve finished Poulter’s book.
Poulter is a retired engineer and archaeologist, and takes a systems engineering approach to tracing the road layout. He notes that often there is a very accurate long distance alignment setting out from point A in the direction of point B, which then diverts off for landmarks and other sites. His theory was that adjustments to the route would come at certain points because the planners climbed to the top of a hill, then spotted a new landmark. Or river crossing points. When you start to look at this on the ground you can see that roads were often planned long before they were built, were planned and constructed at different times and from different directions, hence we get odd deviations at times.
He’s used this principle to good effect, using the long distance planning lines to identify promising archeological sites, as well as explaining why some previous claims for Roman roads don’t always stand up to scrutiny.