Ancient trackway

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See also: Historic roads

A replica of a short section of the Sweet Track. The wooden trackway was originally constructed in 3606 BC to cross a marsh.

Ancient trackway refers to an ancient track, road, or trail that existed in "the period of history before the fall of the Western Roman Empire" in 476 A.D.[1] Such paths existed from the earliest prehistoric times and in every inhabited part of the world. Many ancient trails can still be seen and followed.


Corlea Trackway, Ireland

In Ireland, in the Iron Age, the Corlea Trackway is an ancient road built on a bog consisting of packed hazel, birch and alder planks placed lengthways across the track, and occasional cross timbers for support. Other bog trackways or "toghers" have also been discovered dating to around 4000 BC. The Corlea trackway dates from approx 148 BC and was excavated in 1994. It is the largest trackway of its kind to be uncovered in Europe. Other examples of this type of trackway can be seen in England (Somerset Levels) and Germany.[2]

Great Britain

In Roman Britain, many trackways were built upon by the Romans to form the foundations for their roads. Prior to this, people used trackways to travel between settlements but this was unsuitable for the swift movement of troops and equipment.[3]

Icknield Way near Lewknor in Oxfordshire, England

These settlements were connected with each other by the ancient trackways, sometimes referred to as green ways. The tracks often followed natural contours in the landscape, and evolved over time as animals were driven from place to place and people walked to and from neighbouring settlements. Much of the land was forested; the lower valleys provided fertile land and were ideal places for fishing, agriculture and the rearing of cattle. The trackways provided links between farmsteads and fields, other farmsteads, and neighbouring long barrow tombs. Trackways also joined the separate localities to the camp meeting places and cross-country flint roads. Others were more likely to have been processional ways, such as the one leading to the gigantic temple at Avebury in Wiltshire. Long distance ways included those now known as

The Pilgrims' Way climbing St Martha's Hill, near Guildford, England

Some trackways followed the tops of higher land, whilst others progressed along the lower slopes. The lowland areas were thickly forested and poorly drained and for long distance travel there was an advantage in following the top of a line of hills or ridgeways. The Ridgeway in fact probably ran from The Wash along the chalk escarpment across Britain via Avebury to the English Channel across Salisbury Plain.

Ancient military trackways & drovers' roads

Timber tracks

The skills needed to develop tracks across boglands, such as those in the Somerset Levels, were learnt by early people. These causeways or timber trackways formed when quantities of alder poles and brushwood were used to link the fen islands across the marshes. The Post Track and Sweet Track, in the Somerset levels, near Glastonbury, believed to be the oldest purpose built roads in the world and has been dated to the 3800s BC.

The Lindholme Trackway[5] is later and dates to around 2900–2500 BC. It fits within a trend of narrowing width and increased sophistication during the third millennium BC. Some argue that this shift could relate to the growing complexity of wheeled transport at the time.[6]

Crossroads at rivers

On occasion, where rivers caused an obstacle to progress, several trackways met at a ford, or bridge. Major settlements grew around these cross roads, providing sustenance to travellers and their animals using the trackways. The following are examples:

  • Wallingford

The original settlement at Wallingford in Oxfordshire dates back to the dawn of British history, when its founders showed remarkable discrimination in choosing its site. Nestling in a fertile valley on the banks of the River Thames, it was an ideal place for fishing, agriculture and the rearing of cattle. The ancient trackways,[which?] in particular the Icknield Way, provided lines of communication converging on its ford. The remains of the ramparts still surround the town and are the successors of the rudimentary fortifications of the old British settlement, which were adapted in turn by Roman, Anglo Saxon and Norman conquerors.

  • Brownhills

A similar site is Brownhills in West Midlands. Brownhills has been a meeting point for ancient roads and trackways[which?] since prehistoric times. It is thought that the Watling Street was in use before the Romans came and predates Roman roads; what were later called the Chester Road and Coventry Road are also thought to have been ancient trackways.

  • Cadbury Castle and South Cadbury Village

Cadbury Castle in Somerset is an Iron Age camp covering some 18 acres (73,000 m²) and is considered to be one of the most impressive Iron Age sites in Britain.[7] It is the focal point of many ancient trackways[which?] and is guarded by four huge banks with a height 40 meters from the zenith of the inner rampart to the bottom of the outer rampart.[8]


Wittmoor Bog Trackway. Photo taken during an excavation by the Archaeological Museum Hamburg, Hamburg-Harburg, Germany.

The Wittmoor Bog Trackways are two prehistoric trackways discovered in Wittmoor in northern Hamburg. The trackways date to the 4th and 7th century AD, both linked the eastern and western shores of the formerly inaccessible, swampy bog. A part of the older trackway No. II dating to the period of the Roman Empire is on display at the permanent exhibition of the Archaeological Museum Hamburg in Harburg, Hamburg.[9][10]

List of ancient and historical roads



See Gallery road and Stone Cattle Road, and the Silk road.


The existence of leylines and their relationship with ancient trackways was first suggested in 1921 by the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins, in his books Early British Trackways and The Old Straight Track. Watkins theorized that these alignments were created for ease of overland trekking on ancient trackways during neolithic times and had persisted in the landscape over millennia.[11][12]

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ Corlea Trackway
  3. ^ Dartford Town Archive - Roman and Saxon Roads and Transport
  4. ^ Mariners Way, [1]
  5. ^ Whitehouse, Nicki (ed.), "Papers", Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum, 7, archived from the original on 20 August 2014, retrieved 20 August 2014
  6. ^ Chapman, Henry. "A Neolithic Trackway on Hatfield Moors – a significant discovery" (PDF). Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  7. ^ Miller, Hamish; Broadhurst, Paul (1989). The Sun and the Serpent. Launceton, Cornwall: Pendragon Press. p. 68. ISBN 0951518305.
  8. ^ "Cadbury Castle". Historic England: Pastscape. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE).
  9. ^ Topic Mobility, Show case no. 80.
  10. ^ Articus, Rüdiger; Brandt, Jochen; Först, Elke; Krause, Yvonne; Merkel, Michael; Mertens, Kathrin; Weiss, Rainer-Maria (2013). Archaeological Museum Hamburg Helms-Museum: A short guide to the Tour of the Times. Archaeological Museum Hamburg publication - Helms-Museum. 103. Hamburg. p. 108. ISBN 978-3-931429-24-9.
  11. ^ Watkins, Alfred Watkins (1925). The old straight track: its mounds, beacons, moats, sites, and mark stones. Methuen & Co Ltd.
  12. ^ BBC Hereford and Worcester - Ley Lines explored

External links

  • Neolithic wooden trackways and bog hydrology
  • Timber features - trackways and logboats
  • A medieval timber trackway and industrial complex at llangynfelyn, Cors Fochno
  • London's Earliest Timber Structure Found During Belmarsh Prison Dig
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