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The Stanegate Roman Road, Corbridge to Throp via Vindolanda & Carvoran, Margary 85

This describes the Northumberland section of the Stanegate road.

The route no doubt began as a fast cross-country road linking the two strategic border sites of Corbridge and Carlisle, either side of the Pennines. Following the abandonment of the campaign to conquer what is now Scotland, it was adapted and probably the route adjusted here and there when it became a frontier. It was strengthened with a fort system that appears to repeat in a pattern of large - small - large - small etc.. Note that a small fort at Crosby would be expected but one has not been found (yet). Note the Stanegate preceded Hadrian's Wall by about 50 years.

  • Corbridge
  • Newbrough (date uncertain)
  • Vindolanda
  • Haltwhistle Burn
  • Carvoran
  • Throp
  • Nether Denton
  • Boothby
  • Old Church, Brampton
  • Crosby (lost?)
  • Carlisle

However, the route of the Stanegate from Corbridge to Fourstones was lost. Hadrian's Wall Map showed the road from Fourstones heading to north of Warden Hill where it disappeared. I had found the missing section (not north of Warden Hill) several years ago but was requested to keep the findings secret until a forthcoming book was published. Fortunately that embargo is now lifted and what I found and the logic behind it is given below.

location


 

Lidar Image - Corbridge to Vindolanda

A direct line would have necessitated crossing the South Tyne and River Tyne twice whereas a route via Fourstones involved just a single crossing of the North Tyne - sensible road surveying typical of the Romans.

Remember this road was created around 50 years before Hadrian's Wall came into existence and the goal was undoubtedly the most practical route linking Corbridge and Carlisle..

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lidar route

Route Map - Corbridge to Vindolanda

Modern map equivalent to the above.

 

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route map

Oblique 3D Lidar - Corbridge towards Fourstones

The route of the Stanegate to Fourstones was lost but in reality it followed a typically direct and practical route to Fourstones where it could turn and aim directly to Carlisle via Vindolanda.

 

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Oblique 3D Lidar - Acomb and the Tyne Crossing

It was this view that confirmed the route went via High Warden. Neither the OS route north of Warden Hill nor a low route to the North Tyne crossing point from Fourstones are commensurate with the clear Lidar evidence visible.

 

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acomb lidar

Traditional OS Route

This is the route depicted on modern OS maps including the Hadrian's Wall Map. Coming from the Vindolanda direction it is very logical to Fourstones but the route depicted then illogically heads north-east around the north of Warden Hill before coming to an abrupt end. Not only that it is not a sensible line but dog-leg and has to go over a hillock where a more direct option was clearly available. There had to be a simple explanation!

Note there were excavations carried on this line north Warden Hill and they did find a road but its Roman authenticity is now doubtful in the light of a much more likely direct route.

Mapping: Openstreetmap

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OS route

Oblique 3D Lidar - Fourstones looking East

This view I think shows how illogical the supposed OS route around the north side of Warden Hill was. For a start - why turn off the alignment before Fourstones and turn left (north-east). It isn't even straight when it could have been. It is a dogleg route and as a consequence has to cross a ridge. A straighter and easier option was plainly possible.

As we shall later there was a turn off to the north-east at this spot but not go around Warden Hill. Note at the top left is Chesters Fort - this turn off was the start of a link road to Chesters! It was not the Stanegate, which can be seen heading to the right (south of Warden Hill fort) towards Corbridge.

The following sequence should make it all clear.

 

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fourstones lidar

Fourstones to Corbridge - Stanegate Stage 1

Stanegate on its own - before Hadrian's Wall and Cheters fort. A very logically laid out road heading around the south Tyne at Fourstones. It is the shortest practical route.

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Fourstones to Corbridge - Stanegate Stage 1 + Hadrian's Wall

Initially Hadrian's Wall did not have wall forts - they were an after thought. So the link roads up the Wall were most likely to come later.

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Fourstones to Corbridge - Stanegate Stage 2 + Chesters Fort

When Chester Fort was added to the Wall then there would have been need for it to be connected to the Stanegate. Two link roads appear to have been provided. The beginning of the westerly one was known from geophys heading south-south-west at Chesters.

The dogleg at Fourstones thought to be the Stanegate heading north of Warden Hill now makes sense. It was not the Stanegate but the link road to Chesters.

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Lidar Image - Chesters Link Roads

The westerly road was known- or at least the start of it - from geophys work around Chester fort. The route to Fourstones was not a simple straight line but sensibly went around small hillocks there,

The easterly road is clear approaching the North Tyne bridge at Chesters. There is also a section visible further south where the modern road wanders off line (bottom edge of this image).

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Map - Final Arrangement at Corbridge

So once Hadrian's Wall and Chester fort arrived then this was the final arrangement of the roads. A very logical and practical solution.

Mapping: Openstreetmap

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final map

Settlingstones - Road revealed in Water Main Excavation 2020

The remains were discovered by Northumbrian Water in December 2020, when they undertook improvement works on the line of he Stanegate road in Settlingstones. Philippa Hunter, from Archaeological Research Services Ltd, which worked on the site, was quoted as saying "While monitoring the excavation pit, our archaeologist identified a deposit of compacted cobbles thought to be the remains of the Roman road's foundations."

Images: Northumberland Water

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sttlingstones

Lidar Image & Route Map - Vindolanda

The "dual carriageway" east of Vindolanda is not unique. It just means within the lifetime of the Stanegate it was re-routed for some reason. Perhaps from too marshy ground or too steep a gradient. Just think how often we upgrade roads.

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vindolanda route

Lidar Image & Route Map - Vindolanda to Haltwhistle Burn

If you have visited Vindolanda then you will have driven down the Stanegate to get into the carpark. The section of the Stanegate passing Vindolanda is unique in that there are/were 4 milestones in succession. This would tend to suggest that the Stanegate did have milestones every mile along its length otherwise why put just 4 together?.

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Lidar Image & Route Map - Haltwhistle Burn to Carvoran

There appears to be another "dual carriageway" across Haltwhistle Common where perhaps again the road was re-positioned sometime its lifetime.

 

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Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Carvoran

The actual crossing point of the Tipalt Burn at Greenhead is uncertain. In this 3D view I show 2 options. The southern (left) one actually has a sloping terrace down to the burn on the west (far) bank so perhaps more likely?

 

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greenhead

Lidar Image & Route Map - Carvoran to Throp

The actual crossing point of the Tipalt Burn at Greenhead is debatable. There are several options to get down from Carvoran to the Burn but I have shown what I think is the most likely. See above for another option.

Similarly the crossing of Poltross Burn is confusing. The OS Wall map is dotted and there is a cutting on the east bank but not so convincing on the east bank. My guess is the vallum interfered with the original route and possibly the OS line was a later replacement?

 

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See our separate section on the Cumbrian section of the Stanegate.


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Last update: June 2022

© David Ratledge