The Romans occupied what is today Britain between the late first to mid-fifth centuries. To move their legions from one place to another, they built over pre-existing trackways to form the foundations for the Roman road system that would enable quick transport of troops and equipment. In England, examples of Roman roads include the Ridgeway and its parallel lower neighbor, the Icknield Way, and perhaps most well-known is Mastiles Lane. The latter Roman marching road near Malham and Kilnsey in North Yorkshire later became the Old Monks’ Road along which Cistercian monks transported sheep from Fountains Abbey to summer pastures on higher ground. According to Walking Englishman between 1536 and 1541 King Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in England, Wales, and Ireland, and after the so-called dissolution of the monasteries it is thought Mastiles Lane became a drove route for cattle being brought to England from Scotland, and today it serves as a popular Dales walking trail.
Rural Aberdeenshire, looking from the heights of Bennachie towards the lower-lying land in which Roman camps were situated ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Roman Invasion of Scotland
In 79 AD, under General Agricola, the Romans invaded Scotland and advanced as far as the River Tay, which, originating in western Scotland on the slopes of Ben Lui, is the longest river in Scotland and the seventh-longest in Great Britain. Attempting to colonize the north of Scotland, which they ultimately failed in, the Romans did manage to build a vast network of roads linking their marching camps, forts, watchtowers and beacons. While the main Roman roads in Scotland are well known and were used for hundreds of years after the invaders retreated, many were quickly built and sometimes quicker abandoned, leaving something of an archaeological jigsaw puzzle across Scotland. However, it is known that almost all Roman roads in Scotland follow the courses of pre-Roman native roads, which generally followed more accessible and easier to defend higher ground, along the tops of hill ridge systems.
In 80 AD the first Roman forts were built along the Clyde-Forth line and in 81 AD Agricola moved his troops into the west and southwest of Scotland from where he intended to create an invasion route along the west coast, as well as a point from where to launch an invasion of Ireland.
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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history . www.ashleycowie.com.
Top Image : Singular Roman soldier gazing over the glens ( serpeblu / Adobe Stock )
By: Ashley Cowie