Roman Roads of England


Walking Through Ancient History and Nature

By Glynn Burrows


Glynn Burrows, historian and owner of Norfolk Tours UK, talks about the fascinating Roman history of England, as well as the impressive network of roads they built over 2000 years ago, including his local Peddar’s Way in Norfolk, on Big Blend Radio.


It’s quite amazing that in rural Norfolk, as well as over much of England, it is possible to walk along Roman Roads through many miles of unspoiled, natural beauty.

Although we all know that the Romans had a fantastically advanced way of life, with underfloor heating, baths, mosaics, pottery, glass, houses, farms and had a great love of international food and drink, the main thing which many of us don’t realise is that this all relied upon a fantastic system of communication. The Romans were good sailors but their ability to quickly set up forts and an excellent network of reliable roads meant that they could expand their area of command swiftly and efficiently.


When they first arrived in England, they took over control of some existing towns, such as Colchester in Essex, and built up their empire around those places. They soon established their own major settlements, with the road systems acting as the arteries and veins, to enable these settlements to become their centres of administration – their area capitals. These Roman towns and cities often still exist as our County towns and cities today.

Roman roads were very large structures, typically measuring 16 to 23 feet wide and, because they were always built to be free from mud, reaching a height of around 1 foot 6 inches in the centre. The line of the road was usually set with ranging poles, in a straight line across the countryside, unless natural obstacles made it much easier to deviate and, if on good solid ground, the surface was built up of progressively smaller stones, finishing with gravel, or large flat stones, if available, on the top. If the road was to cross wet ground, the road would often be built on piles and raised well above the surrounding countryside. The road surface would have a camber and there would be ditches either side, to allow good drainage. It is testament to their engineering skills that many of these roads are still in very good condition today, even after nearly two thousand years of weathering, use, and the build-up of debris. Where they have fallen out of use for a long time, some of them are very difficult to spot at ground level but, as they were often used as Parish or property boundaries they can still be spotted on maps and aerial photographs, as straight lines running across the countryside.

England is definitely a long way from Rome and the climate is definitely very different, so I have to spare a thought for the poor Roman Centurions who had to come to this outpost of the Empire to spend time building roads, towns, cities, forts, and converting the locals to the Roman way of life. It is thanks to them and their hard work, that we can take walks through some of our beautiful countryside, enjoying the nature which has sprung up alongside these routes. Many of the hedgerows and the creatures which live in and on them, are the descendants of the flora and fauna which were there two thousand years ago.


Taking a walk along my local Roman road, The Peddar’s Way, couldn’t be easier. All I need to do, is drive about ten miles, park up and walk. There is no charge and it is open 24/7, 365 days a year.


The spot I would go to is where the present road, which for a few miles is built on the Peddar’s Way, veers off to the right, leaving the Roman road to continue on its journey through the fields, and on to the Norfolk coast. Parking the car, I put my back-pack on my back and stroll off, taking in the smell of the freshly cut cereal crop in the field over the hedgerow. The first thing I notice, apart from the smell, is the coolness of the air between the high, overhanging hedgerows. Surprising how the dappled shade of the leaves not only cuts down the sun getting through, but traps the moisture from escaping too, making the air in here a lot cooler and damper than the air where I parked the car.


Quickly leaving the hustle and bustle of the day behind me, I soon enter into a totally different world. There are no signs of modern life, and the scale of the track is much more human than the roads “out there”. Between the hedgerows, the track is about six paces across, the centre does feel a little higher than the edges, and there are slight hollows on either side. The surface is mostly leaves and soil, there are lots of flints, and it feels very solid.   The pattern for building Roman roads was obviously followed here.


The sense of calm and serenity is almost palpable, with nothing but nature all around. Trees, flowers, insects, birds and even deer inhabit this area, along with shrews, mice, badgers and a myriad of other creatures. I am the outsider here, and I show my respect by keeping quiet and walking calmly. It’s not something I would do anyway, but the thought of music blaring out of ear-phones or jogging along this track would just be wrong. This is for a quiet, reflective walk, taking in the atmosphere. Atmosphere which is here by the bucketful.


Walking through the countryside, one gets the odd surprise: A bird flitting from branch to branch, hunting for a meal or looking at this strange creature, invading its space. A field of pigs, quietly enjoying themselves in the muddy corner of the field or just laying in the sun. A farm cottage, originally built for a labourer and his family, but now a holiday home.

Traffic on one of the roads which cross the track, is a reminder that the real world is actually still there, but another reminder of the present day, is the welcome sight of a village in the distance, with an extremely welcome pub, where I can get a bite to eat.


All this walking and fresh air makes me hungry and I must deserve something nice, I have to walk back to my car!

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England. For help or advice about tracing your family history, or if you are thinking about taking a vacation to England visit

Norfolk Tours in England

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Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England. For help or advice about tracing your family history, or if you are thinking about taking a vacation to England visit

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