The Romans are often given too much credit for the creation of roads in Britain, but it cannot be denied that an expansion and formalisation of the road network occurred during the period. Many Roman roads are known in Lincolnshire, from major national routes such as Ermine Street and the Fosse Way to local trackways running through what are now fields identified through aerial photography. This page is far from exhaustive, but highlights some of the modern roads in the county which still follow ancient routes.
1a. Ermine Street north of Lincoln
Ermine Street famously ran between London and York via Lincoln, but though an early Roman road – built by the IX Legion as part of their advance northwards in the AD40s and 50s – the section north of Lincoln may have later become secondary to other routes (see Tillbridge Lane, below). One of the best straight sections of the road still in use is the A15 between Lincoln and the River Humber. The unvarying straightness of the road combined with deceptive hidden dips actually make it something of an accident blackspot.
One noticeable section of the road that deviates from the Roman route is where the modern line was changed in the 1950s to allow for the extension of the runway of RAF Scampton. Satellite imagery shows the Roman line preserved beneath the runway.
1b. Ermine Street south of Lincoln
The route of Ermine Street south of Lincoln is not now as major as it is north of Lincoln, and travellers should not fall into the trap of thinking that the modern A15 south of Lincoln still follows the route of Ermine Street as it does to the north – see (7) for more on that. The line of Ermine Street can be picked up just east of Harmston as the tiny single track road known as Rose Cottage Lane. It virtually vanishes by Boothby Graffoe but can be picked up again as the High Dike at Navenby before again vanishing into a tiny track too small to drive down. South of the A17, the B6403 regains the route and takes it straight through the centre of the Roman walled town at Ancaster. From here the B6403 follows the line of Ermine Street for about 11 miles and then, after a small break of around 2 miles around Easton during which it heads across modern fields, the A1 picks up the route and it heads south out of the county and towards London.
2. Tillbridge Lane
Tillbridge Lane linked Lincoln with the River Trent and the small town of Segelocum (Littleborough on Trent). The point where the road split from Ermine Street north of Lincoln is close to the location of the grand villa at Scampton, providing dramatic views across to the Trent Valley.
The significance of the route, which enabled travellers to go north avoiding the Humber estuary, is evidenced by the fact that it is repeatedly mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary as the major route between London and the north. Although not as famous as Ermine Street, it seems likely therefore that travellers heading to the north of the province from Lincoln would have used it rather than Ermine Street. This is also highlighted by the milestone which once stood prominently outside Lincoln’s forum, noting that Segelocum was 14 miles away – clearly a significant and common destination.
3. Fosse Way
The Fosse Way is one of the great Roman roads of Britain, connecting Lincoln with Exeter and many places in between. The section of the route between Lincoln and Newark can be driven on in its entirety, starting with the point that the Fosse Way and Ermine Street diverge on Lincoln’s modern High Street, at the junction with King Street (see (18) on my Roman Lincoln page for a plan).
From here, the Fosse Way follows the line of High Street, then Newark Road (crossing the River Witham at Bracebridge), and then the dual carriageway A46. The modern road only diverts from the Roman route at Brough (Roman Crococalana) which has been bypassed in recent years, but the Roman road line can still be followed if the turnoff to the hamlet is used.
4a and b. Lincoln to Burgh le Marsh (A158 / A1028)
The road which exited the upper east gate of Lincoln headed eastwards across the county to eventually reach Burgh le Marsh. Although most of the route is well attested archaeologically, much of the road in the central and eastern parts of the county does not now align with modern roads. It is the Lincoln end of the route (4a) which still aligns with the ancient road rather than the more rural stretches. The length of road starting with Wragby Road by the Lindum Sports Ground and heading like an arrow out of the city as far as Langworth 8 miles away directly follows the Roman line, and even retains some of the raised agger of the Roman route, the road higher than the surrounding fields.
The second section of the route that can still be driven on (4b) can be found just south of Ulceby Cross, on the modern A1028. Here, as the Roman road nears Burgh Le Marsh, it coincides with the modern road for just over 2 miles.
5. King Street
King Street is the modern name given to the Roman road which ran northwards from Durobrivae (near Peterborough) to Bourne, and then past Sapperton to join Ermine Street near Ancaster. The straight section of the road running from just south of Helpston up to Baston is now the best surviving section that can still be driven on.
6. Mareham Lane
Mareham Lane is a minor Roman road which originally ran from Bourne to Sleaford. The section from Grasby to Sleaford can still be driven on, though the southern part of that stretch, between Grasby and Threekingham, is a very minor, single track road. The road enters Sleaford to the east of the modern town centre, towards the focus of the Iron Age and Roman settlement (see this post for more).
7. Lincoln to Sleaford (A15 / B1188)
Two broadly parallel Roman roads run between Lincoln and Sleaford, both of which have been described as being the continuation of Mareham Lane (6). The first is still followed by the modern A15 northwards from the Holdingham roundabout until it crosses the line of Ermine Street just south of Lincoln’s south common.
The second route heads northwards from the east end of Sleaford, but runs across modern fields until Metheringham Fen, when it is reflected in the line of the B1188 (known locally as Bloxholm Lane). It joined the other Roman road just south of Bracebridge Heath, at the point when the modern B1188 joins the A15.
8. Caistor High Street (B1225)
It is easy to forget that Iron Age Britain had an established system of roads which, although perhaps not as well engineered and maintained as Roman roads, or as centrally structured, continued to be valuable routes into the Roman period and beyond. One such route in Lincolnshire is the Caistor High Street, a prehistoric trackway running along the eastern edge of the Wolds but which continued to be an important Roman route, linking settlements at Horncastle, Ludford, Caistor and Kirmington as well as a host of smaller villages and farms along the way. This most ancient of roads is a wonderful route to drive along today, taking in some pretty scenery and villages.