The North York Moors are known for their sweeping vistas and hardy sheep. But one lesser known fact is that the national park contains what some archaeologists believe to be the best-preserved piece of Roman road in northern Europe.
Indented in the moorland, and still with its hard core and drainage ditches, Wheeldale Roman road is considered part of a thoroughfare that originally ran for about 25 miles – linking the Roman forts of Cawthorn and Lease Rigg and possibly stretching to the coast.
However, its origins remain far from certain. Some think it may even pre-date the Roman occupation. Indeed, according to local legend, the road was constructed by a giant called Wade who wanted to help his wife, Bell, shepherd her sheep to better grazing on the moor.
A Retracing ancient steps
Begin at the information board about Wheeldale Roman road just up from the bridge over Wheeldale Beck. Now managed by English Heritage, the ancient track here is understood to have been part of the Wade Causeway constructed in the late Roman era.
Go through a gate on to the moor to find the start of the surviving foundations of the Roman road extending for just over a mile. There is a path running next to the road but it’s more fun to walk along the uneven flagstones of the road itself, imagining the boots of the invading Roman legions marching along it. As well as the forts, there were also two Roman villas in the area and five signal stations along the coast.
B River crossing
Walk to the end of the road and into the field ahead. After crossing a stile between dry stone walls, the track winds downhill through the middle of another field. Leave the track at the bottom and walk straight ahead to the river – Wheeldale Gill. Cross the wooden footbridge over the river then head up a grassy track that climbs between trees.
C Heartbeat country
At the top you enter a farmyard. Continue ahead to a tarmac lane offering beautiful views to the village of Goathland, better known as Aidensfield in the TV series Heartbeat. The steam trains of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway – one of the earliest lines in the country – still regularly puff their way out of this rural station. August is the best time of year for taking in the views of the heather here, as it erupts into a thick carpet of purple and pink flowers.
Walk down the lane before turning right into a field over a ladder stile at a public bridleway sign. Follow the path then turn left and walk along the top end of another field. Cross into the next field and then turn right, heading downhill. Walk through trees and you’ll eventually come to a stream that runs parallel to the track.
D Stepping stones
When you spot a footbridge, cross the stream and continue on a small track. Turn right and head up to the road, then right again and follow the road for a few metres before turning right on to a path. Follow this path through bracken.
The path emerges on to a quiet road and then turns into a track that eventually heads down to the river. Cross Wheeldale Beck on the large, flat stepping stones. The steep climb up the other
side of the craggy valley cuts diagonally across.
At the top you’ll find yourself back near the Roman road. Admire the wild, beautiful moorland surrounding the sandstone slabs in what is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest while retracing your steps to the start.
How To Get There
Wheeldale Roman Road is 5.5 miles north of the village of Newton-on-Rawcliffe. Take the A64 from York, turning onto the A169 at Malton. Park on the verge near the bridge over Wheeldale Beck.
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