How did the Romans get from Ribchester to Lancaster?

Lasers have helped discover a long lost Roman Road

This has been one of Lancashire’s biggest puzzles for over 150 years. These were the county’s most important Roman sites so good communications between them must have been essential. Suggestions of a route were shown on the First Edition Ordnance Survey Maps of c. 1850. These depicted “Ancient Causeways” both over Longridge Fell and approaching Galgate from the village of Street. From that day on there has been endless speculation as to the route taken between these two suggestions but hard evidence was remarkably elusive. The answer was simple – the road took a different course altogether.

Ribchester to Catterall

The solution was provided by Lidar. This new remote sensing technique uses lasers to measure precise ground topology (heights). Lidar is probably most famous for revealing the lost Cambodian city of Angkor, featured in a BBC documentary. However, it is equally relevant to Lancashire and linear features can show up clearly – even roads nearly 2000 years old. Using Lidar imagery from the Environment Agency, David Ratledge was able to discover the actual route of this missing road.

The answer was surprising. Rather than following the Ordnance Survey route, it took a very sensible and economical route via Longridge and Inglewhite to Catterall, near Garstang. Here it joined another Roman Road, the main road from the south heading to Lancaster. The alignments used are typical of Roman engineering, running straight for several miles but cleverly dog-legging up to Longridge to reduce the gradient.

Site visits have confirmed it is real with several stretches surviving albeit somewhat worse for wear. This was to be expected given that the Romans stopped maintaining it over 1600 years ago! There is a previously known Roman milestone adjacent to the route although its provenance is uncertain as it has been moved and re-erected. The detailed route has been deposited with Peter Iles, Lancashire County Council’s specialist advisor for archaeology.

David Ratledge

David Ratledge has been walking and searching for Lancashire’s Roman roads for over 45 years. He wrote and maintained the Roman Roads webpages, which ran for over 12 years on Lancashire County Council’s web site. These now have a new home with the Roman Roads Research Association:-

email:    tel: 01257-481869

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