Roman Road

Old Man Exploring

Monday 6 May 2019

Roman Road

Many weeks ago, on a crisp day in winter, I decided to try to trace the line of what might be a Roman Road across a nearby part of the New Forest.

I first learnt about the existence of this road at a “New Forest Knowledge” conference, where there was an almost heated discussion between a number of historians and archaeologists, disputing whether this feature was Roman, or a road at all. Opinions have varied over time, all based on the same evidence (or lack of it). There is definitely a linear feature in the landscape at various points between Totton and Lepe, which in places is the right width and shape to be the remains of a Roman road. It cannot be traced through the whole distance, with newer roads or buildings on top of the obvious line, or simply little or no trace on the ground. Local streets are called “Roman Road” but this is probably a reflection of the 18th Century antiquaries’ views than of any firm reality.

I was able to find the feature (marked on the modern ordnance survey map simply as “earthworks”) easily and to trace it across Blackwell Common without much effort. There does seem to be a central raised area with a “ditch” either side (one side shown in the photo) and pacing it out, it does look feasible as the remains of a standard Roman road. There’s nothing definitive, though, unless someone was to excavate, which does not seem to have been done. In places there is a visible “ditch” on only one side and even in a short distance across the common, there are places where it is hard to see any “earthwork”. What areas there are do align, accurately. The straightness of Roman roads is legendary.

The same conference heard about excavations at Lepe which showed clear evidence of Roman occupation aligned with the road at Lepe. Lepe is an obvious possible ferry point across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and some industry there seems entirely possible. It’s perfectly reasonable to see that there might be a Roman Road across this side of the Forest to serve a small port there. The definitive account of the road is from 2013 which argues very strongly (but maybe optimistically) that there is a road.

I did find a place where a recent ditch cut through the line of the road. While the sides of this ditch were gravel along almost all of its length, there was a section of clayey material where the line of the road was: maybe the core of a roman road, and certainly not natural. I could not see any obious pottery or anything else in the section, and was not going to touch anything is this special and highly protected landscape, but by the end of a pleasant walk, I had convinced myself that this was a Roman road and that, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman army and all sorts of other people, were travelling through where I now live.