It’s no secret that parts of the UK’s road network stretch back to the Roman invasion in 43 AD, yet it is far less well-known that remnants of prehistoric roads can still be found here in Britain.
In his latest Channel 4 series Britain’s Ancient Tracks, Tony Robinson has been travelling across the country, learning about the long and straight roads constructed by the Romans, and the even more ancient tracks forged by their predecessors.
Here we’ve collected seven of our favourite old roads in the UK for you to explore.
1. South Downs Way
One of 15 National Trails in England and Wales, the South Downs Way runs for 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne, a route people have been forging for nearly 8,000 years. With an Iron Age hill fort at Old Winchester Hill and the Bignor Roman Villa, this path is a must for history buffs.
2. The Ridgeway
The Icknield Way, featured in the first episode of Britain’s Ancient Tracks, is an ancient track from Norfolk to Wiltshire that is often considered to be the oldest road in Britain that can still be traced. The Ridgeway forms part of this track and passes many ancient sites, including the Avebury Stone Circle, the Uffington White Horse, castles and Iron and Bronze Age forts.
3. Watling Street
First used by the Britons, then paved by the Romans, this long road connects Kent to North Wales and is now more commonly known as the A2 and the A5. It was the site of Boudicca’s defeat to the Romans and the site of many interesting Roman forts, especially on the Welsh border.
4. Fosse Way
From the Latin ‘fossa’ meaning ditch, Fosse Way is a prime example of a Roman road, never deviating more than six miles from the straight line from Lincoln to Ilchester. While most of it is now obscured by modern roads, the stretch from Stoney Bridge to High Cross remains as it was in Roman times, and was the site of an Iron Age settlement.
5. Antonine Wall
Hadrian’s adopted son, Emperor Antoninus Pius, ordered the construction of a turf wall in Scotland 100 miles north of the more famous fortification. It was the northernmost frontier of Roman Britain and runs for 39 miles and was originally 3m high. There are a number of forts and museums along the wall, including the preserved remains of a Roman bath-house.
6. The Shambles
Although The Shambles might not date back quite as far as Roman times, this beautiful street in York is often considered the best-preserved medieval street in England and was featured in the Domesday Book. The winding cobbled street is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
7. Steep Hill
It’s no wonder that Steep Hill is such a popular tourist destination, with a Roman military fort at the top of the hill, and the supposed oldest inhabited house in England, ‘Jew’s House’. The street was awarded Britain’s Best Place by the Academy of Urbanism in 2011, although the 14% gradient can make it a tricky climb for some.
What’s your favourite old road to explore? Tell us in the comments box below.