A Roman Road circular hike .. the oxymoronic post

Pack Horse Trail marker Marsden Moor

Roman roads are (mostly) ‘straight’ (that’s probably not true but let’s go with received wisdom) but I used Viewranger last week to create a circular trip on the moors around Marsden. Since I found out a roman road passed through my village, I’ve been intrigued to find out more and to walk as much of it as modern boundaries allow.

The hike route I ‘created’ navigates (on the southern, home leg) part of a Roman road that once ferried troops between York and Chester and takes in the remains of a fort at Castleshaw (two forts actually, they downsized to a smaller one in the later empty-nester years of the Empire).

Marsden Roman Road circular
My Viewranger route – approx 10 miles – loaded onto my phone to track the Roman road sections where footpaths / access allowed. The red pin is approx where the fort remains are and the red line from there back to Marsden is the road itself.

The actual stretch between Marsden and Castleshaw in neighbouring Saddleworth is about 4 miles, so to make a longer walk of it (making it 10 miles, according to Viewranger), we (myself, son Joe and Brodie Dog) headed out west on the pack horse trail from Marsden over Close Moss and towards March (Haigh) Hill. Which is itself an historic area – neolithic artefacts have been found by March Hill and I imagine that some of the much later Brigante tribe, whilst technically on board with the Empire were prone to uprisings over the years and kept a wary eye on the comings and goings of troops from there and other hills (they had I believe a substantial fort at Castle Hill in Huddersfield for years before the Roman expansion). I found out (from the Castleshaw fort info points) that most of the Roman soldiers traversing the hills in this part of West Yorkshire were eastern european conscripts (from the ‘Pannonia‘ province of the empire) rather than Italian/Roman. Eastern Europeans moving in to the territory of indigenous moors dwellers, shock and outrage. Puts ‘modern’ history and what we mean by ‘local’ into perspective I think 😉

But I’m getting ahead of myself on the fort front.
Before we got to the Castleshaw area we crossed the moors north of Close Moss with a good covering of snow in places. Pule Hill (behind us) looked great in the low cloud and a dusting of snow.

Pule Hill from Close Moss
Pule Hill from Close Moss

The National Trust have started to pave sections of the bridleway / path here and whilst I have mixed feelings about these old mill floor flags (very slippy in damp or icy weather) they were helpful on two of the boggier sections.

Path across Close Moss Marsden
The path across Close Moss Marsden .. un-paved section

In fact, when we (after a couple of hours) got to the intersection with the Oldham Way and Pennine Way and headed  west on the Oldham Way, the peat gulleys and sheer amount of mud slowed us down. And we were wishing for the flagged path then!

Pennine Way and Oldham Way intersection
Rock outcrop at the Pennine Way and Oldham Way intersection.. Castleshaw reservoirs below us.

Despite the peat being sodden, churned mud and very slow going, the views around the Saddleworth area over Castleshaw Moor were great. It was my birthday and had been bought some Liquorice Allsorts as one of my presents (one of my faves) and they sustained Joe and I at this stage! It was also St Patrick’s Day and I’d brought one can of Guinness to share at the end of the walk.

We headed downhill to walk across and between the two reservoirs and found the footpath that took us on to the small, flat hill that houses the larger / original fort and what then became a smaller (more administration and logistics focused) smaller fort. Despite being surrounded by obvious 18th – 20th features in the area, it’s easy to see why the area was chosen and to imagine the soldiers and locals (I’m guessing some of the Brigante mentioned before – but I really should do my homework!), who gathered in a settlement near them, going about their business at the edge of the Empire. There isn’t too much to see other than the shapes of the footings and inner buildings described by raised earth barrows but standing in the middle of it and seeing where the forge and large oven (feeding 500 troops at one point) were was still impressive.

Castleshaw Fort information post
Castleshaw Fort information post – Brodie watching out for ghostly hunting hounds

After our small cohort had its rations (cheese sandwiches and leftover pizza.. no dormice available), we marched uphill towards the Pennine way that runs along Millstone Edge. Unfortunately you can’t follow the exact Roman road as much of it lies within smallholdings, gardens and farmland now. We could track it a few yards from us in places but we followed a road and a couple of moorland paths before meeting up with it again about 30 minutes from the fort and near the Pennine Way on Millstone Edge.

From there we pretty much followed it (avoiding some rougher / boggy areas) across to Marsden, where it crosses the A62 to the south of Pule Hill.

Area near Thieves Clough Marsden
Brodie on a convincing (but actually not the exact route) Roman road .. These ‘modern’ mill floor flags are near the Roman Road (which is a few yards or more to her left in this pic) and were less difficult to walk on! This route did join the Pule Hill ‘actual’ Roman route straight ahead of us.. not the turnpike road / modern day Mount Road describing the straight line but one at 45 degrees from there heading behind the farm house and around behind Pule Hill.

The final stretch down to Marsden that traverses the southern flank of Pule includes the site (at Worlow) where a Roman signal and watch tower would have stood. The tower would have been high enough up the hill to get a good view along both sections of the road between the forts at Castleshaw and Slack / Outlane – further into Yorkshire.

We had the Guinness near Worlow as home was minutes away, very nice it was too, toasting another year for me, St Patrick (well, I am a Kelly) and the end of long but interesting hike.

The Oldham Way quagmire made it a slower hike than it might have been but the circular route was a good leg stretcher!

Additional link:

For a far more authoritative account of the Neolithic, Roman and other periods of population ebb and flow (and to savour his fantastic photography), have a read of Andy Hemingway’s blog :
http://andyhemingway.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/marsden-moor-upper-colne-valley-part-one/

10 thoughts on “A Roman Road circular hike .. the oxymoronic post”

  1. Wow! Interesting stuff Mark. I’ll be looking at the area in a different way next time I’m running round t’moor. Actually, I may run this route, it’s an interesting variation on one I currently do. I know the section of which you speak (beyond the oldham/pennine way intersection) but would still sooner have it naked rather than flagged, though, I must admit if I were walking on it I might have a different view 🙂

    • I think running it (not that I’m a runner) would be easier in some ways Steve, I see what you mean. And I mostly prefer non-fagged across the moors, the flags are a real double edged sword.

  2. Know that area very well after my time in Holme Valley MRT, but never thought about any Roman connection before. Love a bit of history on a walk! I recently did the Peddars Way in Norfolk – another Roman Road – and that was straight………..

    • Thanks Chrissie, my (un-researched) assertion that all Roman Roads are straight holds true then – in two cases at least 🙂 Actually, it wasn’t really that straight even in the west yorkshire section around here as far as I can tell.. more a straight-ish A-road of its time and not one of the longer, straighter motorways (as it were).

  3. The rocky outcrop on the edge is called Terrodactil (can’t remember the correct mis-spelling) it’s a bouldering classic which – once you’ve got half way up it – lives up to its name (half way is all I’ve ever had the bottle to do). Also there’s a scene in Yanks were Richard Gere stands on it.

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