From Trackway To Motorway

Most of us all know that historically Leicester was built where the River Soar could be forded and later, bridged. The Romans drove their long distance route from the Devon coast across Britain to Holton-Beckering near Lincoln using this crossing point to establish the town of Ratae Corieltauvorum as a key point along what they called the Fosse Way.

Romans marchingTrackways had, however, existed in Britain long before the Romans arrived and it may well be that parts of the Fosse Way had existed as ancient trackways many centuries before.

Water transport had become important long before land travel to central areas of the country like Leicestershire became popular. Thus we can still trace the route of an ancient trackway leading out of Leicester, by way of what is now Scraptoft Lane, up over the Tilton plateau making its way to Stamford and the River Welland. In other parts of the county we also find traces of old pathways linking up with rivers such as the Wreake and the Soar.

Gartree Road, running south east out of the city towards the Welland, was certainly used by the Romans but is in reality a good bit older.  Its route is not only traceable but still largely in use either as a road or pathway along almost its entire length.

Not quite as easy to trace is the road which the Romans used to link their town of Ratae Corieltauvorum to their fort near Mancetter on the Watling Street which we now know as the A5. This route passed through the vicinity of Glenfield and Ratby but the exact route is difficult to determine. We do know however that the forts along the stretch of border between current day Leicestershire and Warwickshire were well fortified. This was done in the aftermath of the famous rebellion of Queen Boadicea (or Boudicca) who met her end somewhere near Nuneaton.

High up on this border country, further to the south, we find High Cross, where the Fosse Way traverses Watling Street. In Roman times many regarded this point as the dead centre of England, though the commemorative monument there is of a much later date.

Today we live in the age of rapid road transport, yet Fosseway and Watling Street are still in use. The M1 and the M69 are entirely twentieth century creations but still follow in the cart ruts of those ancient trackways.                   

Roger Blackmore