Roman Roads in Scotland

The road network built by the Roman army during their occupation of Scotland for roughly 100 years, starting in about AD 80, is interesting. Major portions of that road network have been known for centuries. In the mid-1700s, William Roy documented several major routes in Scotland.

However, there are also significant gaps in what is known about the network of roads built in Scotland by the Romans. Some Roman routes are never likely to be discovered, the route from Bothwellhaugh in Motherwell to the western portions of the Antonine Wall being a good example, because the evidence has been destroyed by the development of Glasgow. However, there still seem to be opportunities to add to what is known about the network of Roman roads.

Over a period of two years quite a bit of time was spent researching the route of an apparent Roman road that, as far as has been determined, had not been previously identified.

A five-page summary report was written in 2007 and submitted for publication in the journal Discovery and Excavation in Scotland (DES), published annually by the Council for Scottish Archaeology (since then renamed, Archaeology Scotland). The editor did not include the last two paragraphs of speculation on the purpose of the route, but otherwise revised it in minor ways before printing it in the New Series, Volume 8, 2007, edition of DES, distributed in the summer of 2008. The five-page summary report as originally submitted, plus a revision since the original misnamed Dalserf Burn as Draffan Burn, is in the following PDF file:

Summary report submitted for DES, posted 26 Nov 07, revised 2 Mar 09

A detailed report has also been prepared and submitted for the archives of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). Their on-line data-base of historic sites refers to the report and the report is available to those who inquire. Since the 35-page report was submitted to RCAHMS in May 2008, an error has come to light -- Dalserf Burn was incorrectly referred to as Draffan Burn. Since Dalserf Burn flows parallel to Draffan Road, it is easy to see how the error occurred, but even so, it was checked countless times -- I sometimes can't see my own errors. The corrected 35-page detailed report is in the following PDF file:

Detail Report, Castlehill to Hillhead Connection Route, May 2008, revised March 2009

Pictures have been taken along the route of the possible Roman road. Those pictures, with captions, are in the following photo album:

Pictures along the possible Roman road

I was asked to write an article for a publication of the Stonehouse Historical Society. That article, as I submitted it, is shown in the following document:

An article on Roman roads in Lanarkshire, written in 2010

I was then asked to write a chapter for a book on Stonehouse history. That chapter, as published, is shown in the following document:


A Glossary of Terms:

When a friend looked at the summary report, it occurred to me that some of the terminology would not be clear to someone who is not familiar with Scottish archaeological terms and British maps. Both the summary and the detail reports were written for Scottish archaeologists. So the following paragraphs attempt to clarify some of the terminology for other readers.

The British have superb maps that one can buy in a variety of stores. They are great for hiking and cycling, as well as looking for evidence of ancient roads. The maps show every farm road, path, fence, stream and building, along with contour lines (altitude) and wooded and swampy areas. The Ordnance Survey maps have been published since the mid-1800s, so comparing the old ones (available in a good library and now available on-line) with the current ones shows the history of land usage for 150 years (they show every field, house and barn, as well as marking mining and quarrying sites). I have also down-loaded historic maps from the web that go back 100 years earlier, that have less precision and detail.

The map positions listed in the reports give the location to a resolution of one meter, but the measurements taken are only accurate to about plus-or-minus 10 meters. The route explored is entirely within sector NS, an area 100 kilometres by 100 kilometres. The first five-digit number is the number of meters east of the west edge of that sector. The second five-digit number is the number of meters north of the south edge of the sector. Since the route was traced from the southwest end to the northeast end, both coordinates were increasing as I walked along the route.

Now for my non-Scottish and non-archaeological friends, let me in the following sentences try to define a few terms:

Lanarkshire is a mostly rural county directly southeast of Glasgow.

"Bottoming stones" were quarried stones, about the size that two or three men could lift, that the Romans put down as a foundation for a road, particularly on wet land and when stones were available nearby -- they then put gravel over the bottoming stones to form the road surface.

A "burn" is a small stream or creek.

A "water" is a larger stream that isn't big enough to be called a river.

The River Clyde is the largest river in west-central Scotland, and is normally referred to simply as the Clyde.

A "motorway" is a freeway for North American readers.

A "forestry plantation" is a wooded area planted for future harvesting.

A "turnpike" was an improved road built with the funds of private investors in the later 1700s and early 1800s -- these toll roads all went out of business when the railroads arrived in the mid-1800s.

A "knowe" is a knoll or rounded bump standing out from a hillside or from an otherwise flat area.

"RCAHMS" is Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, the official archive organization for historic sites. They have a fine web site.

An "enclosure" is an intentionally general archaeological term for any evidence of a perimeter structure, including but not limited to a defensive wall or ditch.

Carluke is a town east of the River Clyde and north of the county town of Lanark -- it had been a parish church for centuries but only became an identifiable village in the late 1700s as extensive industrial-revolution mining and quarrying developed in that area.

The Roman Army built several large forts in Scotland, so the archaeologists refer to smaller forts or fortified camps as "fortlets."

The Antonine Wall was a fortified wall built by the Roman Army that went completely across Scotland, starting on the north bank of the Firth of Clyde (tidal bay) west of where Glasgow is today, going along the northern fringe of Glasgow to the Firth of Forth east of todays town of Falkirk.

An "isle" is an island.

A "sea loch" is narrow finger of sea water between two ridges of land, not much different than a Norwegian fiord.