Lancs Roman Roads

The Roman Road from Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster

Margary Number: 70d

Distance: 23 miles

This is one road that virtually everyone had a theory as to where it was located but evidence never seemed to be forthcoming for any of the suggestions so in reality its course was unknown. Lidar has at last revealed its true course and very little of the route found coincides with any of those previous suggestions. Fowler Hill Lane just north of Garstang is probably the only short length that turned out to be correct. Nobody had expected it to go via Cockerham!



Historic County: Lancashire

Current County: Lancashire

HER: Lancashire


route map
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Clues across Preston

At Preston the Ribble was crossed just downstream of London Road Bridge and the line across Preston is probably marked by Swill Brook Lane and Roman Road (that's a clue!) before crossing Church Street near Grimshaw Street.

Lang's map of Preston 1774 names two fields as 'Great Pathway Field' and 'Causeway Meadow', the latter being near the site of St. Ignatius's R.C. Church. It would have changed direction here probably along the line of St. Paul's Road and Brown's map of Preston (c.1890) shows a straight boundary carrying on across what was to become Moor Park.

There are 150 year old reports of the road being discovered when Lower Bank Road in Fulwood was being developed. The exact location was unfortunately not recorded - just "about halfway between Withy Trees and Fulwood Barracks". There is a possible Lidar trace across Moor Park supporting this line.



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3D Lidar Image - Preston

The equivalent view to that shown on the map above. The alignment begun with St Paul's Road is almost certainly heading for the high point of Banister Hill on Durton Lane. - see later.

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3D lidar preston

Lidar Image and Map - Fulwood

Beyond Watling Street Road in Fulwood, the road has been notoriously difficult to ascertain with many theories over the years but with little hard evidence. Lidar has now solved just about everything and most of the route to Lancaster can be plotted with high confidence. Having said that, the route across Fulwood is somewhat joining the dots but there is a logic to it. The alignment from Watling Street Road appears to be aiming for Banister Hill, Durton Lane - typical Roman surveying.

Broughton Bypass is not shown on this map and will have destroyed a good length of the road to the east of Broughton.


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Route Map and Lidar - Barton

The route passing Barton is visible in the Lidar imagery from Dean Brook, Barton as far as Bilsborrow. It is faint but definite. So the A6 at Barton despite looking like a Roman road turns to be not Roman at all. It is in fact a turnpike road.

The "chicane" in the Roman road south of Bilsborrow looks odd but is typical sensible Roman engineering - moving off line to negotiate a stream/valley. There is also a length of Roman agger visible south of Dean Brook heading fro Broughton.

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Hoole Fold, Barton - agger crossing track

The route passing Barton might be clear in the Lidar data but difficult to spot on the ground. However, where the track at Hoole Fold crosses it at right angles the swell of the agger is obvious.

A common occurrence - a minor track crossing a Roman road having to climb up over the agger.



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Agger near Anderton Fold - approaching Bilsborrow

Approaching Bilsborrow there is evidence on the ground for the road in two spots just south of Bacchus Brook, both visible from a public footpath. The first is south of the footpath/track passing Anderton Fold just north of the chicane. The chicane is visible in the distance from here but not accessible - binoculars advised.



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Cutting descending to Bacchus Brook, Bilsborrow

The second is north of the footpath and is the approach to Bacchus Brook - a significant name perhaps? Here the road is in a cutting heading down to the brook. I did take a close look at the brook crossing but could see no evidence of any surviving bridge abutments so perhaps a simple ford.



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bacchus cutting


Across Bilsborrow it is a case of interpolation.

Wyre Archaeology carried out a 2 day excavation in the school playing field at Bilsborrow John Cross C of E Primary School in September 2018. The children were able to get some first hand experience of an archaeological dig but the road proved elusive. See next image.



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Bilsborrow John Cross C of E Primary School Playing Field - looking south.

The playing field had clearly been bull-dozed flat to provide a level football pitch but in the hedge was the most obvious of swells just where the road was assumed to be. David Hampson, Wyre Archaeology, is busy explaining what had been found to the children.



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school playing field

Lidar Image - Stanzaker Hall Farm

This was the key Lidar image that began the process of finding the course of the road from Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster.

What Lidar has now revealed is that the Stanzaker Hall cobbled road (see next image) is just part of an impressive length of straight agger of unmistakable Roman characteristics. It is clear across several fields and a small wood. This settled the argument once and for all and provided a base point to work out from.

From this point the road could be traced both north and south.


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stanzaker lidar

Pipeline excavations 2002, Stanzaker Hall

It was first spotted several years ago by Peter Iles on an aerial photograph. It was in a field just west of the A6 near Stanzaker Hall and, when a pipe line crossed it, a cobbled structure with ditches was found . Yet doubts still remained as to whether this was indeed Roman. There were several other candidates around Garstang - one even with its own cobbled road too.

Image: Peter Iles



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stanzaker road

Bowgreave Excavation 2016

Northward from Stanzaker Hall, the road would have headed over over Bowgreave Hill - a very probable alignment point. It probably coincides with Garstang Road (B6430) at Gryersdale Bridge/Calder Bridge and again beyond Bowgreave Hill passing Bowgreave Rise Care Home towards the canal bridge.

On this alignment, in 2016 near to Garstang Community Academy, probable traces of the road were located using ground penetrating radar (GPR) carried out by Wigan Archaeological Society on behalf of Wyre Archaeology. Two parallel features were recorded which were interpreted as the ditches of the road (grid ref withheld at Landowner's request).

A subsequent excavation by Wyre Archaeology confirmed the direction of the features matched the Roman road alignment but surviving traces of the road were fragmentary. It would appear not much had survived ploughing here.

GPR image: courtesy of Wigan AS

Excavation image: courtesy of Wyre AS


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3D Lidar Image Garstang - looking south

Continuing this alignment on towards Garstang, there is a very prominent agger visible in the lidar data north of Bowgreave Hill and Castle Lane approaching the Wyre (SD4947 4508).

Movements of the Wyre over the centuries means the Roman bridge site was most likely further south-east than where the river is today (SD4942 4520). It does appear, on the basis of the Lidar image, that the bridge's south abutment could have survived.


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3d lidar

Route Map, Garstang

Detailed map of the route across Garstang. North of the Wyre it probably crossed the football pitch near the riverside picnic spot and then continued on or near to the modern road to Cabus.


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garstang map

Roman Milestone, Cabus Toll House

The confirmation of the route towards Fowler Hill Lane lead to the penny dropping as to the nature of the west gate post of the Turnpike Cottage at Cabus. Hiding is full view was a Roman Milestone! It so typically Roman with a square base and round top. The east gatepost here is totally different and appears banded. It looks like the turnpike trust simply commandeered the Roman milestone for use as a gate post - all they had to do was add a gate stop visible in the picture. Peter Iles was in agreement with my interpretation and has applied for it to be scheduled.

Because of its proximity to the hedge it very difficult to see in summer.

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Cabus Cross Crossroads

At the top of Fowler Hill Lane, near Cabus Cross, the agger becomes visible in the hedge bottom. It also obvious in the field behind the hedge. Strangely the modern track to the canal does not follow it but runs to one side. The (re-erected) cross (shaft) is visible sticking up above the hedge on the right.


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bus cross

Kiln Trees Lane

Beyond the canal, the Kiln Trees Lane marks the course approximately. This has been so worn away by traffic over the centuries that it is now a hollow way. It is hard to believe that for probably over 1000 years after the Romans had left this was the main road to Scotland! Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 would almost certainly have used this road in his failed bid for the crown..


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kiln trees

3D Lidar Image - Cabus to Lancaster

The reason for the turn at Fowler Hill Lane now becomes obvious - it is aiming for Cockerham. It was the tracing of the course of the road south from Lancaster that independently confirmed this as the destination as that too was directed on Cockerham. It still took me over 12 months to believe what I was finding as all conventional wisdom said the road went via Galgate.

In fact, if the direction of this road all the way from Fulwood is considered (see map at top of page), it is not directed towards Lancaster at all but Cockerham. Only after Cockerham does it change direction and take aim for Lancaster.



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Leland's Itinerary, c. 1540

It shouldn't have come as such a surprise. Leland's account of journey around Britain in 1539/40 includes his route through Lancashire. He was clearly still following the Roman road and his route from Garstang to Lancaster went via Cockerham. It also confirms that Cockerham village was at that time by the sea ("sandes").

Thanks are due to Bill Shannon for bringing this to my attention.


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Agger at Forton Hall

Before Lidar, the next clue was the presence of re-located milestone at Forton Cross Roads. We now know the route passes within about 200 metres of where is has been re-located (see below). Lidar shows the line of the agger at Forton Hall Farm and for once it is easily visible on the ground too.

To see this stretch park near the milestone and walk down the public footpath through the farm yard.


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forton hall

Roman Road foundation stones in hedge at Forton Hall

The public footpath is along this farm track which appears to have been remade and concreted over. In the south hedge there are clear signs of the foundation stones of the road agger. There are no stones in the hedge away from where the road crosses - only where the agger shown in the above image reaches the hedge. Best viewed in winter - the stones disappear in summer.


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forton hall

3D Lidar Image - Roman road agger turning towards Cocker Bridge

The turn at Forton Hall can be seen to be following dry ground and passes as close to what would have been marsh or even sea in Roman times. The line indicates it would have crossed the River Cocker at or close to the modern bridge - crossing the "Goker" river as Leland called it..


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forton lidar

Forton Hall Milestone (re-erected at Forton Crossroads)

The stump of a Roman milestone has been re-erected to Forton Crossroads next to a cross base. Its position now is 200 metres from the Roman road and if originally from Forton Hall then this is a relatively easy move to make in order to place it somewhere where it is clearly visible.

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3D Lidar Image, Cockerham - looking North

The modern road (Main Street) marks the approximate course of the road passing Wallings Ice Cream Cafe (recommended!) and heading on through Cockerham so finding traces is somewhat difficult. Projecting the alignment south from Lancaster (see later) would indicate that the Roman road must turn off the modern road and head for Lancaster somewhere near Broad Gate - surely a significant name.

The colour scheme here has been set to show what was probably the sea in Roman times. All the land west of Cockerham is reclaimed with Hillam an island once. This fits with Leland's description of Cockerham "sandes". The road would therefore have made a coastal connection here.


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Agger in woods opposite Thurnham RC Church

After the turn for Lancaster at or near Broad Gate then the next visible agger is in the woods at Thurnham RC Church (SD46615433). It is in remarkable condition probably as good as anything on the whole length.

There are further lengths of the agger through the wood but undergrowth makes access, and photography, difficult.

Where the road emerges from the wood there is a definite scatter of stones.

There is parking at Thurnham RC church but the site is best visited in mid-winter. The woods are full of bluebells in spring and trampling in there to see the road wouldn't go down well.

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Lidar and Route Map at Thurnham

When the canal was constructed the River Conder was diverted into a straight new course. The old river meanders are just about visible in the lidar plot (left) and this is most likely where the Roman bridge would have been. This point is marked with an arrow (right).



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River Conder Crossing

Either side of the new river course, on the line of the road, there is a swell in the ground. These mounds are visible in the Lidar image above and either are the remains of the agger or perhaps indicate that when they cut the new river channel there was plenty of road stones to dump. Either way they confirm the line.

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Lidar and Map - Ashton

The agger at Ashton was the first one I spotted but I could not believe what I was seeing - the road should not have been heading towards Cockerham. All published wisdom had stated the road went east of Burrow Heights heading due south for Galgate. Only when I realised the road coming north from Garstang was also heading for Cockerham did everything suddenly click into place.

The evidence for this section is overwhelming. The lidar image (left) shows the road very clearly and is convincing enough on its own. In addition, in the field "adjoining the canal" at Ashton was found a milestone dedicated to the Emperor Philippus. The recorded a distance of 3 MP (miles) obviously from Lancaster. This all fits perfectly this road and definitely not with the previously assumed route east of Burrow Heights.


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The Roman Road crossing the Mausoleum Field

The evidence gets even stronger. Just north of this spot when excavating the canal in 1794 the famous collection of statuary was unearthed. These are taken to be from a cemetery and/or mausoleum which were commonly sited alongside roads. The find spot is given by Watkin as in the pasture "...on the east side of the canal and the south side of the lane leading from Broken Back Bridge".

This locates the find field and the cemetery without any doubt. Attempts to "move" it to Burrow Heights so as to be next to the previously thought location of the road are groundless. The road and cemetery are on the west side of Burrow Heights.

Note 1: the belief that the road ran east of Burrow Heights was partially based on aerial photography that seemed to show a straight feature heading for Galgate. Study of the Lidar data indicates that this is actually a glacial striation - a natural feature caused by ice movement and is not uncommon in our area.

Note 2 -the name "Broken Back Bridge": the canal passing the field is in a huge deep cutting. It must have broken several navies backs digging it!


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Mausoleum Field viewed from Burrow Heights

Was the cemetery site chosen to be visible from Burrow Heights? Cemeteries were always alongside roads and outside settlement areas but it does seem a long way from Lancaster (2 miles plus).

The nature of Burrow Heights is subject to much debate. Having walked all over the site and studied the Lidar of it and other "enclosures" and "hillforts" around the country then to me it does look like a small hillfort. Officially it is an enclosure. The location of the cemetery in full view of the "hillfort" would to some extant explain its location over 2 miles from Lancaster.

Note: Burrow Heights and the cemetery field have been included as development areas in the Bailrigg Garden Village by Lancaster City Council. They were included without any inspection of the HER or consultation with the the Specialist Adviser for Archaeology for Lancashire.


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Aldcliffe Road Rescue Excavation, Lancaster

Heading into Lancaster, the traditional route is rejoined where the remains of the road were found at the Royal Albert Hospital and Ripley Heights.

The alignment is not to the fort but along Penny Street and Cheapside. This was confirmed in 2005 with the discovery of the road (and a magnificent tombstone) on a development site just north of the canal at Aldcliffe Road (see right).

Image: Peter Iles



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Detailed Route Map - Garstang to Lancaster

We can at long last be certain of the route of the Roman road from Garstang to Lancaster. No doubt books and maps for several years to come will still show it heading through Galgate but we know better!


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Roman Road Map Lancaster

The location of the various Roman roads in Lancaster can now be inferred with high confidence. The position of the Lune Bridge would have been where the old river course was, south of the current one, and just to the east of the bus station. An area still prone to flooding today.

To reach the fort from the road coming in from Walton-le-Dale then King Street almost certainly marks the line of a connecting road.

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lancaster RR

3D Lidar videos available for this road

Section 1: Broughton to Catterall

Section 2: Across Garstang

Section 3: Cabus to Lancaster

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Last update: April 2018

© David Ratledge