Ruminating on Roman Roads

Wade's Causeway on Wheeldale Moor

I’ve always wondered where some of the names of Roman Roads in Britain came from; they’re obviously not Latin – Watling Street, Dere Street, the Stanegate, etc. Today I was doing some research and found an answer in the book, Roman Roads in Britain by Hugh Davies.

We don’t actually know what the Romans called their roads in Britain but the names we do have derive from the Anglo-Saxon and Norse invaders who came after the Romans. Watling Street evolved over the centuries to its present form from the Anglo-Saxon Waclinga straete, meaning road leading to the Waclinga tribe. The Stanegate near Hadrian’s Wall comes from stane meaning stone and gate, the Norse for road, so it was known as the stone road.

The section of Roman road on the Wheeldale Moor in North Yorkshire that I visited in late 2010 is part of Wade’s Causeway that travels from Whitby on the east coast. Its name may come from a Norse legend about the sea giant, Wada or Wade. The sign at the site tells us that “he is said to have built the road for his wife, Bell, to herd her sheep along the way to moorland pastures.”

Some of Bell's Sheep on the North York Moors?

We certainly saw a lot of sheep on the moors that day, perhaps they were some of hers.

Fording the modern road on Wheeldale Moor

We also forded several streams going through the desolate, heather-covered moors. There is always lots of adventure and great scenery to discover along ancient Roman roads.

 

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