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Archaeology InSites

'Dere Street' Roman Road - Border-Newstead-Elginhaugh

From the Border to the River Tweed

Early medieval charters indicate that 'Dere Street' was the contemporary name given to the Roman road which passed north through the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Deira into southern Scotland and then on towards Strathmore. The Romans developed this incrementally into a major element of the military infrastructure during the expansionist phase, in order to facilitate the movement of troops and supplies from about 71 AD. Thereafter, it continued to be used as the main highway into eastern Scotland for centuries, but some sections were eventually abandoned as the economic framework of the countryside evolved. Even where lost, the road's general course can still be traced by the incidence of Roman military installations (albeit often only detectable as cropmarks) or through its influence upon later landscape developments.

Dere Street enters Scotland above the north facing scarp of the Cheviots, where its’ metalling is intercut by hollow ways and later tracks. This is a zone of rough grazing and so the Roman roadside quarries, the earthworks of the fortlet on Brownhart Law, together with those of the four camps at Pennymuir are all well-preserved, alongside earlier features such as forts and settlements of various types, swaths of cord rig, cross-ridge dykes, standing stones, cairns and other remains, all of which suggest that the general wayfare was already of some antiquity. A short section of the Anglo-Scottish Border runs parallel to it, while in the lowlands south of the R. Tweed, where the road is characterised by long straight lengths, it frequently marks parish and property boundaries reaching back to medieval times. Fragmentary unenclosed rig-systems tell of intensive cultivation during this period, but the road was an important droving route and so a long stretch was subsequently confined by walls in the 18th-19th centuries, as it passed initially through a country characterised by large geometric enclosures of pasture, to another denoted by smaller arable fields and plantations - most of which were laid-off from its line. This evolution goes far to explain why every Roman site between the Pennymuir camps at the foot of the Cheviots and the crossing of the R. Tweed at Newstead is known only from cropmarks - although sometimes an individual field boundary may recall the line of a rampart as at Millside Wood II. Additionally, stone robbing of the fortlet at Cappuck and the fort at Newstead helped reduce and level more resistant strongholds. A minor road marks a short section of the Roman line between the farmsteads of Whitton Edge and Rennieston, while a length south of St Boswells is coincident with the A68.

From the River Tweed to Edinburgh

After crossing the River Tweed, charters and antiquarian accounts, in addition to cropmarks, signify that Dere Street passed up the west side of the Leader Water to the crossing of the Mountmill Burn at Oxton. However, few traces have been observed and the route has yet to be recovered in detail. Remnants of a camp’s defences at Channelkirk remain visible at Oxton, where the road, the wayside quarries and the trackways reappear on the rising ground to its north as they re-enter a zone of rough grazing centred upon Dun Law. This area is characterised by large geometric enclosures that again have been laid-off from its line. North of this hilly country, the road passes back into an improved landscape distinguished by smaller arable enclosures. It is partly overlain by the A68 as it approaches Pathhead, where cropmarks denote a cluster of camps north and south of the Tyne Water. Beyond this its course is uncertain until the North Esk is reached. Passing west of the fort site at Elginhaugh, its line is denoted by the A7 as it continues through the suburbs of Edinburgh to the foot of Liberton Brae, where it becomes lost in the 18th-19th century street plan. The only clues thereafter are cropmarks of two camps at Gogar and a milestone from Ingliston, but it plainly made for the Flavian fort at Camelon, where it has been observed heading north beyond the Antonine Wall.

Further Reading:

Jones, R H 2011 Roman Camps in Scotland (Edinburgh: The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)

Margary, I. D. 1973 Roman Roads in Britain (3rd ed)

Ordnance Survey 2011 Roman Britain: Historical Map: [6th edition] (Southampton: Ordnance Survey)

RCAHMS 1929 Tenth Report with Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian (Edinburgh: HMSO)

RCAHMS 1956 An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Roxburghshire (Edinburgh: HMSO)
A. T. Welfare
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