Wade's Causeway

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
Wade's Causeway

Wade's Causeway is a sinuous, linear monument on the North York Moors near Goathland in the North Riding of Yorkshire: probably a Roman road, its origin is unknown and rival theories have extended from its being a mediæval causeway built by monks, to a Neolithic boundary work.

The causeway is known locally as 'Wade's Causeway' but goes by various other names, such as ‘Auld Wife's Trod’ and ‘The Skivick’. Passing over Wheeldale Moor, it is known too as ‘Goathland Roman Road’ and ‘Wheeldale Roman Road’.

The causeway on Wheeldale Moor is a scheduled ancient monument by the name ‘Goathland Roman Road’:[1] this is a length of stone course just over a mile long. There is a postulated extension of this structure over moorland to north and to south incorporating parts of what are also attributed to be Roman roads, and also as scheduled as ancient monuments.[2][3] This would extend the structure to the north and south for up to 25 miles.

The visible course on Wheeldale Moor consists of an embankment of soil, peat, gravel and loose pebbles 2½ feet high and 13 to 23 feet in width. The gently cambered embankment is capped with unmortared and loosely abutted flagstones. Its original form is uncertain since it has been subjected to weathering and damage at the hand of man.

Popular imagination and sober research

The structure has been the subject of folklore in the surrounding area for several hundred years and possibly more than a millennium. Its construction was commonly attributed to a giant known as Wade, a figure from Germanic or Norse mythology.

In the 1720s the causeway was mentioned in a published text and became known outside the local area. Within a few years it became of interest to antiquarians who visited the site and exchanged commentary on its probable historicity. They interpreted the structure as a causeway across marshy ground, attributing its construction to the Roman military, an explanation largely unchallenged throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The stretch of causeway on Wheeldale Moor was cleared of vegetation and excavated in the early twentieth century by a local gamekeeper with an interest in archaeology. Historian Ivan Margary agreed with its identification as a Roman road, and assigned it the catalogue number ‘81b’ in the first edition of his Roman Roads In Britain (1957). The causeway was further excavated and studied by archaeologist Raymond Hayes in the 1950s and 1960s, partially funded by the Council for British Archaeology. The results of his investigation, which concluded that the structure was a Roman road, were published in 1964 by the Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, its identification as a Roman road has been questioned by academics, and alternative interpretations suggested for its purpose and date of construction. The monument's co-manager, English Heritage, in 2012 proposed several avenues of research that might be used to settle some of the questions that have arisen regarding its origins and usage.



Cross-sectional diagram of Wade's Causeway, based on description given in Young (1817)

The causeway's visible section on Wheeldale Moor shows the remains of a continuous surface metalled with closely fitted slabs of sandstone with flat upper surfaces. The average size of a slab is 18 inches square, but some examples are 4.9 feet in breadth.[4] The stone flags are seated on a cambered base of mixed gravel, clay and either rubble, peat or soil that forms a raised embankment. The embankment is from 12 feet to 23 feet wide at its raised surface. Its width in some sections is increased by thre feet of ditch to either side, which may or may not be associated with its original construction, making an approximately uniform total width of 16 feet to 26 feet. Its height above surrounding soil level is approximately 2½ feet.

Thr archaeologist David E Johnston states that the structure is crossed by numerous perpendicular drainage culverts with small becks trickling through them since the ground is often boggy.[5] This could suggest a reason for the embankment, and its early attribution as a causeway—a route across wetland,[6] normally supported on earth or stone in the form of a raised embankment. Nineteenth-century antiquarian Thomas Codrington argued that Roman roads in Britain were generally built on embankments regardless of the underlying ground's drainage.[7] He states that the common appellation of "causeway" in the names of Roman roads may, therefore, relate to their embankments rather than indicate that the ground on which they were constructed was ill-drained.[8]

Statements by the eighteenth-century antiquary Francis Drake]] and nineteenth-century topographer Samuel Lewis]] that the writers found it to be "paved with a flint pebble", which covering is now lost, though with traces reported into the twentieth century.

Extant course

Map showing sections of Wade's Causeway reported as verified extant, by various authorities 1736–2013

The Wheeldale structure is the only section of a postulated greater extent that remains clearly visible to the naked eye. It consists of a 1.2-mile section on the eastern edge of Wheeldale Moor, facing Howl Moor. It runs in an approximately north-northeasterly direction between Expression error: Unrecognized word "inf".&y=Expression error: Unrecognized word "inf".&z=120 SE 80349738 and SE81089870, and is approximately 607 feet to 656 feet above sea level. The presence of large quantities of stone on a raised agger, and the absence of much vegetation on its surface, make the presence of the structure indisputable along this section.

The causeway's course is linear along its visible section on Wheeldale Moor, consisting of several short, straight sections that pivot occasionally onto new alignments in a way not clearly demanded by the landscape.[9] In 1855, several overgrown fragments of the structure were also reported visible at several points in the vicinity: near Morley Cross; east of Keys Beck; near Hazle houses; at July Park; and at Castle Hill.[10]

Possible extended course

The structure is said by postulated by several writers to extend far beyond its visible portion, but no significant sections of its conjectured course remain visible to the naked eye or have been excavated or extensively surveyed, and there is little agreement on an exact course that an extension may have taken. The total original length of the structure is therefore unknown, but may have been up to 25 miles.

Early records of the causeway's course to the north, when its remains were apparently more readily visible than today, differ considerably from one another. The early geologist and natural historian George Young, who wrote in relation to the causeway in his History of Whitby, makes no clear mention of the route of the structure north of Wheeldale Moor; it is unmarked on the 1854 Ordnance Survey map of the area; and eighteenth-century historian Thomas Hinderwell's mention of it passing near Hunt House suggests a greatly differing route from that marked on 2012 Ordnance Survey mapping. At least one source states that a "conjectural" continuation to the north is visible in vertical aerial photography. Hayes reports that in his survey in the 1950s, he found "trace of the embankment" in one short section and "a patch of the metalling" in four additional sections along a route past Hazle Head and Julian Park.[11]

Beyond Julian Park, it has been conjectured that the structure originally continued to the Roman garrison fort at Lease Rigg, south-west of Sleights, based on reports from antiquarians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that fragments were visible at numerous points along this course. Hayes and Rutter appear confident of the structure's extent as far as Lease Rigg, but admit that its extent is conjectural from well short of that point, from Dowson Garth Quarry northwards.

Surviving ditch and embankment in Cawthorn Roman Camp

It has also been suggested that the structure originally extended southwards from Wheeldale Moor to link up to the Roman Cawthorne Camp. In the twentieth century, English Heritage identified two sections of ground on Flamborough Rigg and Pickering Moor as extensions of the Wheeldale structure.

There is further conjecture that the original structure's course may have gone beyond Cawthorne Camp to the Roman settlement of Derventio Brigantum (possibly either Stamford Bridge or modern-day Amotherby near Malton). Any postulated extension further south than Cawthorn is contested. Hinderwell reports in 1811 that the late Robert King had found evidence of a continuation of the causeway between "Newsom-bridge" and Broughton but twentieth century exploration found no trace.

Legendary interpretations

Oral folklore in the North York Moors area from the Early Middle Ages has not generally survived into the modern era, but social historian Adam Fox states that the attribution of the causeway to Wade existed in oral folklore dating from at least as early as the Renaissance era.[12] The folklore held that the causeway was built by a giant called Wade[13] for his wife to take her cow to either market or pasture. In 1890, the historian Thomas Bulmer records that:

[Wade] is represented as having been of gigantic stature ... His wife ... was also of enormous size, and, according to the legend, carried in her apron the stones with which her husband made the causeway that still bears his name.
—Thomas Bulmer, 1890

The legend of Wade and his wife are reflected in alternative names for the structure that include "Old Wife's Trod", "Auld Wife's Trod" and "Wade's Wife's Causey".[14] The folklore of Wade was still common locally in the early nineteenth century.

Origins and purpose

A wide variety of interpretations for the structure have led, in the absence of any hard evidence, to a broad range of proposed dates for its construction, from 4,500 BC to around 1485 AD. In archaeological excavations, no coins or other artefacts have been found on or around the structure to aid its dating, and no evidence has been gathered through radiometric surveys. This has led to great difficulty in establishing even an approximate date for the causeway's construction. Attempts to date the structure have therefore relied on less precise means, such as the structure's probable relationship in the landscape to other structures of more precisely established date and function, and the comparison of the causeway's structure and fabrication to structures such as Roman roads.

As a Roman causeway

The first antiquarians to discuss the site in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, dismissing folklore, considered the causeway most like a Roman road and sought to explain it in the context of Roman activity on the North York Moors, perhaps to connect the Roman Cawthorne Camp to the south with the Roman garrison fort at Lease Rigg near Grosmont to the north. The excavated section of the structure does lie in a linear fashion approximately between these two sites, lending credence to the theory. The Causeway's average reported width of approximately 17 feet plus three-foot wide lateral ditches flanking either side match closely the width of other Roman roads in Britain and internationally. John Bigland, writing in 1812, states that there is no other plausible alternative for the structure's scale and method of construction than "Roman industry and labour".[15]

One objection to identifying the road as Roman was that, based on readings of the Iter Britanniarum, the section of the 4th-century Itinerary of Antoninus]] that lists major Roman Roads and stations within Britain, there had never been any major Roman roads in the area. In 1817, Young attempted to address this problem by arguing that the course of one of the identified iters (iter 1) had been misinterpreted and ran between Malton and Dunsley, passing through Wheeldale.[16] Alternatively, it might simply not have been important enough to list. There were few other objections at the time to the causeway's identification as a Roman road and by the twentieth century the causeway was commonly being referred to as the "Wheeldale Roman Road", or "Goathland Roman Road".

Several authorities attempted to make more precise estimates of the date of its construction by identifying periods of Roman military activity in the region, since the majority of Roman roads were of military construction: Albert Norman, writing in 1960, states that the Wheeldale structure most probably dates from either the first or fourth century AD[17] but most sources appear to favour a first-century date: both historian Brian Hartley and Hayes & Rutter estimate around 80 AD. Earliy dates assume that the road was built as part of the campaigns of Gnaeus Julius Agricola to assert control over lands of the Brigantes tribes (and who is thought to have ordered the construction of nearby Lease Rigg fort). The fourth-century estimates, by contrast, assume that the tribes in the North York Moors area were either bypassed or subdued in the first century but that, being of little importance strategically, their lands were not subject to Roman occupation or construction until the fourth century. A second wave of Roman military activity appears to have occurred in the region during this later period in response to new military incursions and raiding by Saxons, Picti, Scoti and Attacotti.

Another suggestion, by the landscape author Michael Dunn and others, is that it may have been constructed for the transport of jet inland from Whitby, although whether that trade alone would have supported the expense of the road is doubtful.

The use of dressed stone rather than gravel as a surface dressing was also occasionally held to be a sign against the causeway being of Roman construction: the majority of Roman roads that were finished with a material other than simple packed earth were dressed in either packed gravel or pebbles, though there are other examples of Roman roads paved with stone blocks, including eleven miles of the Via Appia itself in Italy.

As a pre-Roman or mediæval road

The late twentieth-century challenged earlier assumptions of Roman origin. After an early allowance by Phillips in 1853 that the causeway could be British rather than Roman[18] there was little further investigation of such a possibility. In 1994, the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England began a review of the date or origin for the Wheeldale causeway.[19] Detailed air photography of the Cawthorn camps in 1999 site failed to find evidence of a road leading towards Wheeldale Moor from the camps to which it is historically related, and the causeway does not obviously connect to the main Roman road network. Twenty-first century archaeologists then found several exemplars of other cambered, metalled roads that pre-date the Roman presence in Britain, setting a precedent for the possibility of a pre-Roman, Iron Age, origin for the Wheeldale causeway.

Blood and Markham (1992) proposed an interpretation of the structure as a later, mediæval, road, possibly relating to the wool trade. English Heritage state that it is "quite possible" that the causeway was used as a road during the Middle Ages even if built much earlier. Similarly Hartley, whilst accepting the structure as a Roman military road, believes it is unlikely that the causeway immediately fell out of use once its military use ceased. Drake recorded that by 1736 the causeway was "not now made use of", but there is no historical record covering its possible use as a road during the mediæval period.

As a Neolithic boundary structure

Several burial cists along the structure's course protrude through its surface by up to a foot and a half; highly unusual for a later road surface. Since 1997, English Heritage have accepted the possibility that the structure may not be a road and the archaeological consultant Blaise Vyner went as far as to suggest in 1997 that the structure may be the collapsed and heavily robbed remains of a Neolithic or Bronze Age boundary wall or dyke.[20] While there are other Neolithic remains on the North York Moors, including boundary dikes, the later Neolithic is very poorly represented archaeologically on the North York Moors, though Bronze Age earthworks are better represented generally in the archaeology of the area. Evidence against the identification of the causeway as a Stone Age structure includes the observation by Elgee in 1912 that the causeway had been identified as cutting across an earlier British earthwork just north of Julian Park, suggesting that it must post-date it.

Site management in the modern era

The surviving section of the causeway on Wheeldale Moor was reported by 1903 to be overgrown with heather and up to a foot of soil. After being cleared of debris and overgrowth during excavations from 1910, it was by 1920 "stripped ... of the growth of turf and heather and ... perfectly clear for miles". The Office of Works then employed a labourer to keep the section of causeway on Wheeldale Moor clear of vegetation, though by 1994 the visible section of the causeway had been left to be covered by vegetation once more.

Hayes and Rutter propose that the greater postulated portion of the structure beyond that visible on Wheeldale Moor is difficult to trace due to its having been greatly damaged over the years by natural erosion, which they state has completely destroyed some sections. The structure as a whole has also been greatly damaged both deliberately and inadvertently by man: as Ward writes, it is often the fate of historic structures such as roads to have "been levelled by the plough and plundered of their materials". There are specific mentions of damage to the causeway through ploughing, tree felling, the laying of water mains, attempts to clear vegetation and even, in the twentieth century, by the activity of both tracked and armoured vehicles. The structure has also been heavily and deliberately robbed of stone for use in local construction, such as roads, dry-stone walls, dikes and farm buildings. Young, writing in 1817, laments the robbing of stone from the causeway for use in the construction of a modern field boundary, writing:

pernicious ... contemptible ... our venerable military causeway has been unmercifully torn up ... It is almost enough to break the heart of an antiquary, to see a monument that has withstood the ravages of time for 16 centuries wantonly destroyed, to erect a paltry dike
—George Young, 1817

Today the site is managed by the North York Moors National Park Authority, in cooperation with English Heritage, through a Local Management Agreement. English Heritage do not man the site and permit free access at any reasonable time. The site receives up to a thousand visitors a month.

In fiction

The author Michael Scott Rohan drew on the legend of Wade's Causeway, as well as wider English, Germanic and Norse mythology, when he wrote his Winter of the World trilogy while living in Yorkshire. The books feature mention of a legendary giant, Vayde, who ordered to be built a causeway across the marshes.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Wade's Causeway)


  1. National Heritage List 1004876: Goathland Roman Road
  2. National Heritage List 1004108: Two sections of Roman road on Pickering Moor
  3. National Heritage List 1004104: Two sections of Roman road on Flamborough Rigg
  4. Hayes 1964, p. 85.
  5. Johnston 2002, p. 119.
  6. Merriam-Webster (2) 2013.
  7. Codrington 1903, p. 13.
  8. Codrington 1903, p. 31.
  9. Johnston 1979, p. 137.
  10. Knox 1855, p. 157.
  11. Hayes 1964, pp. 58–61.
  12. Fox 2000, p. 241.
  13. WNC Annual Reports 1956, p. 23.
  14. Young 1817, p. 725.
  15. Bigland 1812, p. 14.
  16. Young 1817, p. 717.
  17. Norman 1960, p. 5.
  18. Phillips 1853, p. 41.
  19. WNC Annual Reports 1994, p. 10.
  20. Vyner 1997.


  • Arnold, Thomas, ed (1882). Symeon of Durham's Historia Regum Anglorum et Dacorum, Vol. II. 
  • Atherden, Margaret (1992). Upland Britain: A Natural History. St Martin's Press. ISBN 0-7190-3493-0. 
  • Atkinson, John (1894). Memorials of Old Whitby. Macmillan and co.. 
  • Atkinson, John (1891). Forty Years In a Moorland Parish: Reminiscences and Researches in Danby in Cleveland. Macmillan and Co. 
  • Barker, Malcolm (1977). Yorkshire: The North Riding. Batsford. 
  • Bigland, John (1815). Beauties of England and Wales, Vol. 16, Yorkshire: Or Original Delineations Of That County. J Harris. 
  • Bjork, Robert E, ed (2010). The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866262-4. 
  • Brown, Alfred (1948). Broad Acres: A Yorkshire Miscellany. Country Life. 
  • Bulmer, Thomas (1890). History, Topography and Directory of North Yorkshire. S and N Publishing. ISBN 1-86150-299-0. 
  • Burchfield, Alex, ed (1987). Oxford English Dictionary. Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-861212-5. 
  • Camden, William (1722). Edward Gibson. ed. Britannia, or a Geographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland. University of Adelaide. 
  • Chambers, Raymond (1921). Beowulf: An Introduction to the Study of the Poem With a Discussion of the Stories of Offa and Finn. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 1-4365-9444-8. 
  • Charlton, Lionel (1779). The History of Whitby, And of Whitby Abbey. A Ward. 
  • Clarke, M G (1911). Sidelights on Teutonic History During the Migration Period. 
  • Codrington, Thomas (1903). Roman Roads In Britain. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. 
  • Darvill, Timothy (2002). England: An Oxford Archaeological Guide to Sites from Earliest Times. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285326-0. 
  • Davies, Hugh (2009). Roman Roads In Britain. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-7478-0690-X. 
  • Dillon, Paddy (2005). The North York Moors: A Walking Guide. Cicerone. ISBN 1-85284-448-5. 
  • Drake, Francis (1736). Eboracum: Or a History of the City of York. William Bowyer. 
  • Elgee, Frank (1923). The Romans in Cleveland. Hood and Co Ltd. 
  • Elgee, Frank (1912). The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire : Their Natural History and Origin. A Brown and Sons. 
  • Elgee, Frank (1933). The Archaeology of Yorkshire. Methuen. 
  • Elgee, Frank (1930). Early Man in North-east Yorkshire. John Bellows. 
  • Evans, Chris (2008). Trods of the North York Moors: A Gazetteer of Flagged Paths. Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society. ISBN 0-902416-09-X. 
  • Fellows, Arnold (1954). The Wayfarer's Companion: England's History in Her Buildings and Countryside. Oxford University Press. 
  • Frere, Sheppard (1987). Britannia: A History of Roman Britain (3rd ed.). Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7102-1215-1. 
  • Gabriel, Richard (2002). The Great Armies of Antiquity. Praegar. 
  • Geake, Helen; Kenny, Jonathan (2000). Early Deira: Archaeological Studies of the East Riding in the Fourth to Ninth Centuries AD. Oxbow Books. 
  • Grant, Michael (1978). History of Rome. Charles Scribner. 
  • Grimm, Jacob (2004). Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-43546-6. 
  • Grinsell, Leslie (1958). The Archaeology of Wessex. Methuen. ISBN 0-416-60180-4. 
  • Hayes, Raymond; Rutter, James (1964). Wade's Causeway: A Roman Road In North-East Yorkshire. Scarborough and District Archaeological Society. 
  • Hayes, Raymond (1988). Wilson, P R. ed. North-east Yorkshire Studies: Archaeological Papers. Roman Antiquities Section, Yorkshire Archaeological Society. ISBN 0-902122-54-1. 
  • Johnston, David (2002). Discovering Roman Britain. Shire Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-7478-0452-4. 
  • Johnston, David (1979). An Illustrated History of Roman Roads in Britain. Spurbooks. ISBN 0-904978-33-8. 
  • Jones, Barri; Mattingly, David (2007). An Atlas of Roman Britain. Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84217-067-0. 
  • Knox, Robert (1855). Descriptions, Geological, Topographical, and Antiquarian, in Eastern Yorkshire, Between the Rivers Humber and Tees. Richard Harrett. 
  • Leland, John (1907). Toulmin Smith, Lucy. ed. The Itinerary of John Leland: In Or About the Years 1535–1543. George Bell and Sons. 
  • Margary, Ivan (1973). Roman Roads in Britain. J. Baker. ISBN 0-212-97001-1. 
  • Mattingly, David (2006). An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC – AD 409. Penguin Group. ISBN 0-14-014822-1. 
  • Maxim, James (1965). A Lancashire Lion. Trustees of the Estate of the Late James L Maxim. 
  • Muir, Richard (1997). The Yorkshire Countryside: A Landscape History. Keele University Press. ISBN 1-85331-198-7. 
  • John Murray, ed (1882). Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire. John Murray. 
  • Ormsby-Gore, William, ed (1951). Illustrated Regional Guides to Ancient Monuments under the Ownership or Guardianship of His Majesty's Office of Works. H. M. Stationery Office. 
  • Page, William (1923). A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 2. The St Catherine Press. ISBN 978-0-7129-0610-4. 
  • Poulter, John (2010). The Planning of Roman Roads and Walls in Northern Britain. Amberley. ISBN 1-84868-548-3. 
  • Price, J, ed (1988). Recent Research in Roman Yorkshire, studies in honour of Mary Kitson Clark. British Archaeological Reports Ltd. ISBN 0-86054-555-5. 
  • Rohan, Michael Scott (1998). The Castle of the Winds. Orbit Books. ISBN 1-85723-570-3. 
  • Sawyer, Peter (2001). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. Oxford Paperbacks. ISBN 0-19-285434-8. 
  • Selkirk, Raymond (1995). On The Trail of the Legions. Anglia Publishing. ISBN 1-897874-08-1. 
  • Smith, William (1890). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. J. Murray. 
  • Wade, Stuart (1900). The Wade Genealogy. ISBN 1-278-39366-8. 
  • Warburton, John (1720). A New and Correct Map of the County of York in All its Divisions. James Wyld. 
  • Woolf, Alex (2007). From Pictland to Alba 789–1070. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-1234-5. 
  • Young, George (1817). A History of Whitby, and Streoneshalh Abbey; With a Statistical Survey of the Vicinity. Clark and Medd. ISBN 978-1-154-15586-0. 
  • Wormwald, Patrick (1991). John, Wormwald, Campbell. ed. "Scandinavian Settlement". The Anglo-Saxons (Penguin). 

Journals and newsletters

  • Austen, A (1903). "unknown". Reports of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society (Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society) 81. 
  • Bowden, G (2008). "Excavating Past Population Structures by Surname-Based Sampling: The Genetic Legacy of the Vikings in Northwest England". Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press) 25 (2): 301–309. doi:10.1093/molbev/msm255. PMID 18032405. 
  • Corder, Philip; Kirk, John (1928). "Roman Malton: a Yorkshire Fortress and its Neighbourhood". Antiquity (The Antiquity Trust, Durham University) 2 (5): 69–82. 
  • Inman, Roger (1988). "Romano-British settlement in the South Tees Basin, in Recent Research in Roman Yorkshire: Studies in Honour of Mary Kitson Clark". British Archaeological Reports British Series 193. 
  • Knapton, John (June 1996). "The Romans And Their Roads, The Original Small Element Pavement Technologists". Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Concrete Block Paving (Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Concrete Block Paving). 
  • McKnight, George (1900). "Germanic Elements in the story of King Horn". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America LCV. 
  • Atkin, Mary (1978). "Viking race-courses? The distribution of skeið place-name elements in Northern England". Journal of the English Place-Name Society (English Place-Name Society) 9. 


eJournals, brochures and technical papers

Miscellaneous websites