1. In a 1720 may Wheeldale Roman Road was described as ‘Wade’s Road - a Roman Road’ and was traced for various distances along a route from Amotherby in the south towards the coast north of Whitby. Those arguing for the pre-Roman or post-Roman construction of the road have ignored this and other earlier accounts.
A mile-long stretch of ancient road or perhaps not? Despite significant circumstantial evidence (including its direction of travel between known forts) suggesting Wheeldale Road is a Roman construction, some modern historians argue the case for pre-Roman or even Saxon or Medieval origins.
HISTORY OF WHEELDALE ROMAN ROAD
Wheeldale Roman Road is a mile long stretch of hard core and drainage ditches indicative of a late Roman era road. However a lack of conformity to Roman engineering standards including many changes of direction and a lack of gutters have led some historians to suggest alternatives. Some propose the road could be Saxon or Medieval and was built to enable the religious houses of Yorkshire to exploit the mineral resources of the Moors; but there is no substantive evidence to support this theory. Other authors propose the road pre-dated the Romans and was a boundary marker built in the early Bronze Age; again there is little to support this argument given that an equally effective marker could have been built with significantly less effort. On top of these local legend suggests it was built by the giant Wade so that he and his wife, Bell, could take their sheep to their pasture more easily.
By far the most established and accepted theory is that this was a late Roman era road. Declining military numbers in England, due to sustaining wars elsewhere in the Roman Empire, may well explain the non-conformity to standard Roman military engineering. Furthermore military logic makes a compelling case that the road is Roman as it would link the known forts of Cawthorn and Lease Rigg as well as possibly stretching to the coast in support of the Saxon Shore defences against the raiders from overseas. The road also makes sense logistically as construction, even to the reduced standards of this road, would require significant resource which would have been difficult to source outside of an established and available military force. Next there is some written evidence to suggest the path of the road was to the fort at Cawthorn. Finally, whilst the majority of Roman roads were defined by straightness, this was not an absolute norm as evidenced, for example, by the Stanegate Road in Cumbria and Northumberland.