Lancs Roman Roads

The Roman Road from Lancaster to Burrow (in Lonsdale)

Margary Number: 705

Distance: 13.5 miles

The Lune Valley forts of Lancaster and Burrow-in-Lonsdale were obviously connected by a road but again evidence on the ground for its route has been difficult to pin down until the arrival of Lidar. Virtually all of its route can now be plotted with reasonable certainty.

Crucial to the discovery of the route was the milestone found at Artle Beck, Caton. Not only did it indicate there was a road but it placed strict limitations as to the route it must have taken from Lancaster, at least for its first stretch. Conventional wisdom and most publications suggested a dog-legged route via Quernmore Road, which could never match the distance recorded on the milestone.



Historic County: Lancashire

Current County: Lancashire

HER: Lancashire


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Artle Beck Roman Milestone

The find spot was in the vicinity of Milestone Place, Caton. However, historical research by Andrew White placed the find spot at SD53256427 at 245 yards upstream of bridge (Contrebis 1992). This is a little further south-west than shown on the OS map - see later.

The important last line seems to comprise >I LMPIIII I<. The start and end symbols appear to be embellishments so we are left with: L (must be short for Roman Lancaster's name), MP mille passuum (miles), IIII (4).

The good condition of the milestone indicates that it must have been very close to its original location as if it had been subject to much river movement it would surely have been damaged, which is clearly not the case. The important clue is that the milestone records the distance as 4 (Roman) miles - presumably from Lancaster. The straight line distance to Lancaster fort's eastern gate is approximately 6250 metres or just over 4 Roman miles. The initial route out of Lancaster to Caton must therefore have been very direct.

Despite the milestone clue, a route via Quernmore Road had traditionally been assumed to be its probable route and most books/maps still show that indirect course. However, this would invalidate the milestone distance being almost a mile longer but traces of a road were found south of Caton (near Gresgarth Hall) in 1992 and the indications were of a South-West to North-East alignment (ref. Shotter & White). In the light of what has now been discovered, that is perhaps best explained as a possible branch road to the Quernmore kilns.

The milestone is kept in Lancaster Museum.

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Lidar Image - Lancaster to Old Hall Farm

What Lidar has revealed most convincingly is the route to Caton and possibly through Brookhouse too. It does indeed follow a very direct route. Its initial route is marked by Crag Road before ascending via the Ridge and north of Old Parkside Farm. This area has very little public access which possibly explains why the road was not found earlier.

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lidar oldhall

Route Map - Lancaster to Old Hall Farm

Church Street and the start of St Leonard's Gate almost certainly mark the initial course of the road. First edition OS maps show a hedge line (near the graving dock) aligning with this course and the Lidar route over the Ridge so we can can be reasonably confident in this alignment.

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route old hall

Crag Road - looking towards the Ridge & Caton

The route towards the Ridge is first marked by Crag Road before the road ascends via the Ridge, crossing the M6 motorway and then passing Old Parkside Farm. Despite being clear in the Lidar data this first stretch is all but invisible on the ground.

The old road over the Ridge is a public right of way giving the only public access to this alignment.

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crag road

Excavations, The Ridge, 2020

Two private excavations were carried out in August 2020 by Andy Jackson at the Ridge, just east of the M6 Motorway. The road was proved but had suffered much plough damage making determination of the road's width very difficult.

The left image was the first trench behind the hedge, the right image is of a smaller pit opened about 30 metres further east. In both cases only the foundation stones of the road had survived. As for its width then the road was at least 6 metres wide but without the ditches being identified this should be regarded as approximate. The trowel indicates the road's direction. Please note the field is private.

Images: Andy Jackson

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the ridge 2020

Aerial Photo (Google) - passing Old Parkside Farm

Although it took Lidar to reveal the rote, there are some traces visible on Google Earth aerial photography with probably the most obvious a parch mark across a field near Old Parkside Farm.

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Descent near the Pumping Station

Continuing on, the road passes north of a OS triangulation column before turning southwards to angle down the slope - descending to just south of a new Pumping Station. This descent is visible from Caton Green using binoculars but needs the light in the right direction for it to become obvious. Escowbeck House is the fabulous country house visible - see below.


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escowbeck ho

Lidar Image and Route Map - Escow Beck

Thanks to Mark Johnson we can now be reasonably confident in the route passing Escowbeck House and down the steep slope to Escow Beck.

The alignment approaching Escowbeck House and that continuing on across Caton appear to have been set out from Escowbeck Knoll - marked with a blue cross. This was to be expected and represents typical Roman engineering. Once the obstacle was passed then the road would return to the alignment.

To get down to the beck an incline was used - see images below.

Note Escowbeck House is private with no public access.

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lidar- route

Escowbeck House - Descent Incline 1

We are looking down the incline to Escow Beck - Escowbeck House is behind us.

The incline would appear to have been somewhat landscaped but it is likely that the Roman route down was simply "improved". Escow Beck is in the trees.

Image: Mark Johnson


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incline down

Escowbeck House - Descent Incline 2

We are looking back up the incline towards Escowbeck House.

It is rather too neat and tidy to be original but the Roman road is probably under there somewhere!

Image: Mark Johnson


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incline down

Escowbeck House - Escow Beck Crossing

At the bottom of the incline our road turns to the east to cross Escow Beck. Very much disturbed here but the Roman crossing would have been hereabouts.

Passing Escowbeck Farm there are some faint traces which would fit with heading back to the setting-out alignment.

Image: Mark Johnson


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escow beck

Lidar Image & Route Map - Caton and Brookhouse

Across Caton and Brookhouse clues are intermittent but that milestone find spot - marked with a big M - was a big clue. I had plotted the route here using the Lidar data before I found Andrew White's corrected position for its find spot. Reassuringly the two coincided exactly - see below for the corrected milestone position..


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lidar route map

Caton Artle Beck Milestone - Location Map

The two possible milestone locations are in reality fairly close together so really don't invalidate the Roman road's suggested course. They do however, rule out the Gresgarth road - it is simply too far away upstream. For Andrew White's location for the milestone see Contrebis 1992 . Suggestions that the milestone was washed down from Gresgarth just don't fit with its excellent condition. To have moved that far by floods then it would have been badly disfigured at best but much more likely it would have broken up..

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milestone map

Rejoining the Caton Green Road - approaching Caton Green (SD547 648)

Beyond St Paul's Primary School at Brookhouse traces of the Roman agger are visible in the Lidar data heading back to join the modern road through Caton Green. This is the point where old and modern join but perhaps the Roman line is slightly south (right) of the modern road here.


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caton green



For a fly-over along this Roman road from Lancaster Fort as far as Caton Green then click on the video below. For full screen playing then click on the icon bottom right.



Lidar Image - Caton Green to Hornby

Through Caton Green the modern road probably overlies much of the Roman line. Shortly after where the road from Brookhouse joins the A683 at Rose Bank then the agger is again evident (see later).

Old and modern routes merge again for a short stretch at Claughton but then diverge at Farleton. Here the Roman route heads south-east to find drier ground around a boggy low lying area.

Modern and Roman lines rejoin at the old Toll Cottage and head towards Hornby. Just after the old railway line then the Roman alignment keeps straight on whereas the modern route head off to the south.

Projecting the Roman alignments from north of Hornby and south of Hornby indicates that the Roman bridge over the River Wenning was at or very near to the modern bridge.

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Route Map - Caton Green to Hornby

A pretty direct section of the road with clearly the crossing of the River Wenning being its target.


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Roman Road north-east of Rose Bank

Beyond Caton Green and visible from the A683 are clear indications of the agger north-east of Rose Bank at SD559660. It also shows clearly in the Lidar data - especially how the agger is built up on its northern side.


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rosebank agger

A683 - approaching Hornby

The modern road overlies the Roman line approaching Hornby - aligned just left of the Castle. It is aiming for a crossing of the River Wenning at or very close to the modern bridge site. This photo is taken from where the old railway used to cross and shading added to show the Roman line..


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Lidar Image - Hornby to the River Greta

The Lidar evidence resumes north of Hornby and the A683 coincides for a couple of short spells before the Roman line diverges off at Holme Head and again approaching Lune View at Melling.

Beyond Melling and the railway bridge then opposite Sockburn House then an agger is again visible. Hedgerows follow it a further but eventually it reaches the flood plain of the River Greta and all traces end. Projecting a straight line onwards is probably the best guess but this does align with the road at Tunstall so is probably correct.

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Route Map - Hornby to the River Greta

The Roman line through Hornby is to the rear of the properties on the A683.

At Melling the Roman line is north-west of the A683 again to the rear of modern properties.


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Hornby - looking from the north side of Hornby back to the village (SD 5853 6928)

The Roman agger is indicated by the arrow and is seen here on the north side of Hornby. The A683 is on the right of this photo and bends off the the Roman line to join the road from Loyn Bridge.


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Hornby - SD 5853 6928

Same spot as above but looking around the tree to see the large agger. Some stones from the road are also evident.


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agger hornby

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - approaching Melling

The Roman line is north of the A683 approaching Lune View and Melling. This stretch is a bit disturbed but is still prominent - see below.


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3D lidar

Agger north of A683 - approaching Lune View, Melling

The agger is even clear on the ground and can be seen opposite a layby providing the hedge is cut low. There is no verge on the north side of the road so viewing this stretch is somewhat risky.


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lune view

Sockburn House

Clear in the Lidar data this straight length of Roman agger is alongside the modern road on the opposite side of the road to Sockburn House.


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sockburn ho

Lidar Image - River Greta to Burrow Fort

The active River Great has washed away all trace of the River Greta crossing.

Lancashire doesn't have many straight modern roads marking Roman roads but the A683 from Tunstall to Burrow is one of them.


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Route Map - River Greta to Burrow Fort

Beyond Tunstall then the A683 marks the roads course aiming squarely at Burrow. A feature of this length is the number of "wobbles" in the modern road. From a distance it looks dead starlight but close up it wanders about either side of the line of the straight Roman line. This shows a roads age and is indicative of the road post Roman moving to avoid a worn-out length..When the road has shifted to one side then the temptation is for the land owner on the other side to move his boundary and get a bit more land.


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A683 - Tunstall looking towards Burrow Fort

Those post-Roman wobbles are very evident in this shot down the road.




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Burrow Fort - Road Arrangement and Vicus

The modern road and the Roman line probably coincide north of Leck Beck bridge approaching the fort. This seems to circumvent an annex of the fort. The rampart of this is visible from the A683.

However, what shows up most clearly is the western vicus of the fort located along a road heading for the River Lune.


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burrow fort

3D Oblique Lidar Image - Burrow Fort and Vicus

Vicus and annex again obvious in this view.


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3D lidar

Possible Watch Tower - Sellet Bank

Looking from the west gate of Burrow Fort then the high spot of Sellet Bank is prominent. This is the highest spot easily visible from the fort and with its superb views up and down the Lune valley would have been an ideal site for a watch tower. The inset is a close-up lidar view of the top of the hill. There appears to be a circular ditch with a single southern entrance and a squarish feature in the centre. Slightly worryingly, the Lancashire HER has reference to a possible belvedere here.


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sellet bank

Route Map - Modern Map

It is obvious with the arrangement of the Roman roads at Burrow that the Roman road from Lancaster cannot have been the first here. The Lancaster road does not continue straight on but links across to the road from Ribchester, It is clearly predated by the Ribchester road. This must cast considerable doubt on the theory that the first road through Lancashire, the invasion route, was from Warrington to Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster to Burrow and then northwards. Or at least in means the Burrow stretch was not part of it. The invasion route could have continued due north from Lancaster to Watercrook.


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Last update: May 2020

© David Ratledge