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Roman roads

Ermine Street on Walk 88
Ermine Street on Walk 88
Hertfordshire is rich in Roman history, with roads and settlements scattered across the county. Many of the walks on Hertfordshire Walker follow rights of way along routes which were once marched by Roman legionaries. A few are mentioned below.

St Albans (Verulamium) was the first major settlement for travellers heading north from London (Londinium) on the Roman road called Watling Street.

Ermine Street was another major Roman road which headed north from London passing Waltham Cross and Broxbourne before continuing north between Hertford and Ware then passing through Thundridge, Puckeridge, and Buntingford before leaving Hertfordshire at Royston.

Royston grew at the crossing of two ancient thoroughfares, Ermine Street and the Icknield Way (in part known as Ashwell Street). The former was created after the Roman conquest, while the Icknield Way has long been accepted as a prehistoric route-way.

You will pass along many of the county's Roman roads when following some of the free walks on Hertfordshire Walker.

Walk 28: Brickendon Loop follows a long stretch of Ermine Street, as does Walk 66: Danemead Loop and Walk 88: Ermine Street East Loop.

A smaller Roman road is Stane Street which crosses Hertfordshire from west to east through Little Hadham and Bishop's Stortford. This Roman road features on Walk 123: Aspenden South West Loop which follows Stane Street along a stretch of what is now Great Munden BOAT 59 (byway open to all traffic). Stane Street ran for 39 miles (63 km) between Ermine Street at Braughing in Hertfordshire and Colchester in Essex.

Apart from the major Roman roads there were many smaller roads that linked the network.

Roman road going under Devil's Bridge near Frithsden
Roman road going under Devil's Bridge near Frithsden
On Walk 131: Frithsden East Loop you will follow the route of a Roman road called Roman Road which passes under the spooky Devil’s Bridge.

The Roman funeral mound (barrow) on Walk 156
The Roman funeral mound (barrow) on Walk 156
On Walk 156: Old Knebworth North Long Loop you will pass close to a Roman barrow (location - https://w3w.co/decide.jumped.amuse), which, according to Historic England:
"are the most visually spectacular survivals of a wide variety of funerary monuments in Britain dating to the Roman period. Constructed as steep-sided conical mounds, usually of considerable size and occasionally with an encircling bank or ditch, they covered one or more burials, generally believed to be those of high-ranking individuals".
According to Historic England, if a high-ranking officer was buried in a barrow the route nearby could have been a road used by Roman soldiers. If that is the case, what is now the B656, which is 145m south-east of the burial barrow, could have been the road the Roman legionaries were marching along at the time of the officer's death.

The cover of 'Hertfordshire' by Victoria Glendinning
The cover of 'Hertfordshire' by Victoria Glendinning
Victoria Glendinning wrote about the Roman roads of Hertfordshire in her book titled ‘Hertfordshire’ published in 1989. The following text is taken from pages 11-13 of the book which I borrowed online courtesy of The Internet Archive.
“There is nothing new about the unceasing flow of traffic through Hertfordshire. Roads have been fanning out northwards ever since the settlement on the banks of the Thames, which is now London, was established. The roads built by the Romans for the most part followed ancient tracks. There were far more of these tracks than were ever made into roads, and most of them are still there.
“The Romans transformed the tracks into hard roads made from four layers of stone consolidated by ramming, and up to three feet deep. The top layer was a pavement of blocks of fine stone carefully joined - though in barbaric Britain they sometimes made do with a surface of cobbles or hard gravel. In Hertfordshire they probably used flints set in mortar. The paved part was about fourteen feet wide, with unpaved paths on each side, half the width of the road again. The Romans marked their roads with milestones, and put up mansiones - sort of inns, for travellers - along the way.
“It is no exaggeration to say that after the Roman legions left Britain in the early fifth century, Hertfordshire roads did nothing but deteriorate until the 1900s. Saxton's 1577 map of Hertfordshire, like other county maps of the period, is conscientious about towns, villages, rivers, woods, hills and great houses, but does not mark a single road.
“But the great Roman roads that ran through Hertfordshire were never wholly abandoned. The road to Cambridge, now the A10 and formerly the Old North Road, is in part the Roman Ermine Street from London to York. The Roman Watling Street went through St Albans on its way to Chester, and is now the A5183. Akeman Street ran through what is now Bushey and Watford, through Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring, and is now the A41.
“In the Dark Ages the great Roman roads became half-obliterated by earth and grass. Some stretches were lost altogether. Others survive as tracks, reverting to their pre-Roman condition. There is a long walk that you can discover only by looking at the map, and seeing its trajectory there, as you cannot on the ground.
“A minor Roman road survives as the A507 for a few miles out of Baldock towards Buntingford; near Clothall this old route diverges from the metalled road and continues as a track called Back Lane - one of several Back Lanes in these parts - which runs across country to Hare Street, between Ardeley and Cottered.
“Hare Street is not a street at all, but two extremely old farmhouses at a crossroads, one of them with a square brick dovecote, crawling with white doves. Just to make things difficult, there is a village called Hare Street about three miles to the east, on the other side of Buntingford.
“Half a mile south of this second Hare Street you come to a village called Hay Street. You need not worry about any of this. But it makes map-reading in this patch of the county a little surreal, for strangers.
“Back Lane, which we abandoned for a moment at the first Hare Street, carries on through the fields in a dead straight line south-east till it peters out near Cherry Green. It's about ten miles from Clothall - a perfect day's walk.”
The following is a list of the Roman roads in Hertfordshire with information adapted from Wikipedia and other sources.

Watling Street: The route linked Dover and London in the southeast, and continued northwest via St Albans to Wroxeter.

Ermine Street: A major Roman road in England that ran from London to Lincoln passing through Hertfordshire via Royston.

The Icknield Way: An ancient trackway that runs from Norfolk to Wiltshire via northern Hertfordshire. It existed before the Roman occupation but was developed and used by the Romans.

Stane Street: Joins the A120 just east of Standon then heads east through Little Hadham and into Bishop's Stortford.

Camlet Way: Ran east–west between Colchester in Essex and Silchester in Hampshire via St Albans

Akeman Street: Runs between Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire linking Watling Street just north of the modern St Albans with the Fosse Way at Cirencester.

Map of Roman Britain courtesy of Wikimedia
Map of Roman Britain courtesy of Wikimedia

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