The Roman Road from Watercrook to Ambleside, Margary 70f

A road that Margary strangely did not include in his book. If he had he would probably have numbered it 70f.

I have shown the route dotted on the location plan and over much of the images here. There is no doubt regarding its existence but the precise location is still somewhat vague in places but its general course is perhaps now determined. Topography dictates they would have not have followed a purely direct road but gone via Staveley and the evidence we have confirms this.

The lack of inclusion in Margary's book has not stopped speculation over the years as to its course. Probably the most recent attempts to trace the road were by Arthur Thornton (C&WAAS 1989) and JS & JA Andrews (C&WAAS 1991&92), the latter using the (controversial?) technique of dowsing. For the former there were some Lidar traces but not ones I would consider as sufficiently convincing. Regarding the Andrews route(s) - they found many variations - and, because I was very skeptical of dowsing, I did my searching of Lidar data before re-consulting their articles. The route I independently found from Kendal to Staveley is very similar to what they suggested. Beyond Staveley then routes diverge and their suggestion taking it over the sides slopes of Reston Scar appears somewhat implausible.

Also suggested in the past by both the above sources, is a fort near Broadgate but as we shall see, Lidar does not support that - but more on this later.




3D Lidar Image - Watercrook Fort

The urban sprawl of Kendal means that locating the initial course of the road is all but impossible now. There is perhaps the faintest trace of a road heading out of the north-west gate of the fort but the first real clue is approaching Cunswick Fell - see later.

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3D Lidar

Lidar Image and Route Map - Watercrook to Staveley

North of Underbarrow Road and the quarry, then the Roman agger becomes very clear and certain both south and north of Kendal Bypass. There is also enough intermittent traces beyond Plumgarths and the B5284 to establish the line, which eventually merges with the A591 heading for Staveley.

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Lidar Map

3D Lidar Image - Cunswick Fell

This is the real clincher for the initial line of the Road. It is even clearer in the DTM version but not as realistic!

The rocky Lake District terrain makes it clear why they headed for an easier route via Staveley. Why fight all the rock outcrops? It is surely no coincidence that both the railway and modern day highway heading for the Lakes take the same general route.

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3D Lidar

Lidar Image and Route Map - Staveley

Not a lot of evidence across Staveley but the Roman line must be close to the former A591.

Note: there is an underground pipeline across Staveley which can provided false clues!

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Lidar Map

3D Lidar Image - Broadgate

This stretch heading past the west side of Broadgate came as a complete surprise to me. I had always assumed that the modern country lane from Ings over Mislet Brow was probably the line so this alignment of what appears to be classic Roman alignments was a shock.

Warning: in the vicinity is the Thirlmere Aqueduct which can give false clues! It crosses the Trout Beck at Thickholme Bridge.

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3D Lidar

Lidar Image and Route Map - Broadgate to Troutbeck

Beyond Mislet, the Lidar alignment merges in with the modern lane and heads for the Troutbeck valley.

To get across the Trout Beck it would appear that Town End Footbridge must be close or on the Roman line as this is still one of the best places to get across this deep valley. There are twin bridges and one was swept away in the floods of Storm Desmond. It should have been replaced by now.

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Lidar map

3D Lidar Image - Supposed Broadgate Fort

Without much supporting evidence this "fort" has almost been accepted by default. On the basis of the Lidar data then it has no real Roman characteristics and just appears to be a chance arrangement of field boundaries.

The long straight field boundary to its right is interesting though - enclosure act I assume.

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Lidar Image - Troutbeck to Ambleside

The last run into Ambleside might seem strange compared to the easy route the modern A591 takes but is much more direct and the Romans must have decided that the distance saved was worth the climbing. In the 3D view (below) it looks much more logical.

For the map of this stretch see below.

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Holbeck Lane - zig-zag descent to Briery Close

Very typical Roman zig-zags descending towards Briery Close. These are the zig-zags visible in the 3D Lidar image below.

Image: Google Earth

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Route Map - Troutbeck to Ambleside

When plotted out the route is reasonably obvious - much more so than the oft suggested alternative via High Skelghyll.

Map: Bing Maps


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3D Lidar Image - Road down to Ambleside

It was seeing this view that convinced me the route from Ambleside to Troutbeck via Wansfell Holme, Dove Nest and Holbeck Lane was definitely the Roman line. It has all the characteristics and was obviously a short cut worthy of the climb.

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3D lidar

Full Route Map

I think we now have a route with reasonable confidence for what must have been a strategic link road providing connections via Ambleside to the north via Dunmail Raise (Margary 741) or west to Ravenglass (Margary 740).

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Last update January 2018

© David Ratledge