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The Roman Road from Caistor to Saham Toney

Margary Number: none

Distance: 22 miles

One of the strangest roads I have ever come across! Scoulton Mere must have been of some special importance - perhaps of religious significance - as the course of this road, for seemingly no logical reason, makes a huge dog-leg around it.

The Norfolk HER and James Albone plotted this road as two separate roads: one east from Saham Toney and one west from Caistor. The connection was missing and with the two roads miss-aligned it is easy to understand why they thought to be two separate ones. Finding the route at Scoulton Mere, with that huge dog-leg, solved the puzzle and created a single through route. Although it added a new puzzle as to why the Romans would do that.

Saham Toney was clearly a major settlement with forts and a vicus so it was to be expected it would be connected directly to Caistor St Edmund.

HER References:

Road west from Caistor: 19725
Road east from Watton: 8786
Saham Toney: 4697

NEW: Lidar Video Flyover from Caistor as far as Scoulton Mere - see below.

 

 

Historic Counties: Norfolk

Current Counties: Norfolk

HER: Norfolk

 

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mini map


Lidar - Full Route

As can seen from the topography there is nothing really to warrant that huge side step at Scoulton Mere - it had to be for some other (important) reason.

 

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full route

Oblique 3D Lidar - Venta Icenorum

We are looking west over the Venta Icenorum Roman city. There would have been a bridge over the River Tas and there are a few remaining traces of the road to confirm that it almost certainly took a very direct course.

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3D caistor

Lidar Image and Route Map 1

Generally this road is pretty obvious in the Lidar data but for some reason the first kilometer or so is very faint. The nearer we get to Wymondham then the better the road has survived.

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route map1

Oblique 3D Lidar - East Carleton

A very slight kink to negotiate the valley at Lower East Carleton.

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east carleton

Lidar Image and Route Map 2

Once we have crossed the A11 the road agger is very clear and looks almost pristine.

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Oblique 3D Lidar - Wymondham

There is a slight adjustment of alignment after Wymondham towards Wicklewood.

Note for non-locals: Wymondham is pronounced Win-dum

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3D lidar

Lidar Image and Route Map 3

The slight dog-leg just west of Wymondham is where the Roman settlement of Crownthorpe is situated. There was certainly a roadside temple here (HER54693) and probably a small settlement as well. However, the field in which the settlement and temple are located appears to have been subject to deep ploughing so Lidar cannot add much if anything regarding this site. The significance of the temple might be explained by what occurs further along this road!

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route map3

Oblique 3D Lidar - Wicklewood to Hingham

We are now west of the temple site and the lidar evidence is getting fainter but still definite.

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3D lidar

Wicklewood

This grass track, opposite the famous windmill in Wicklewood, appears to mark the line of the road.

Image: Google

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wicklewood

Lidar Image and Route Map 4

Between Hackford and Hingham the road agger is again clear. Across Hingham it is lost under developments but re-emerges on the same alignment when west of the village so we can be confident in its course here.

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Lidar Image and Route Map 5

When tracing this road this is where I originally came to a dead end. The straight alignment all the way from Wicklewood seemed to end abruptly just north of Scoulton Mere. How could a road so obvious in the lidar disappear?

It was only when I rotated the illumination angle (Sun position) in the Lidar that it became obvious that the road took a 70 degrees turn to the south followed by another at around 68 degrees on the south side of the Mere. Wow - I have never come across anything like this before and it was totally unexpected.

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Oblique 3D Lidar - Scoulton Mere

The 70 degree turn seems far too extreme to be justified for finding the best route for the road. A shallower angle could have been used but for some reason it was not.

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3d lidar

Lidar - Scoulton Mere

Originally the Mere was about twice as big. The area to the west of the current mere has clearly been drained and looks to have been either a separate mere or perhaps one connected to the existing one.

The west drained mere appears to have indications of a settlement within it reached by causeways - one from the north bank and one from the south bank. Norfolk's answer to Flag Fen?

Note: Scoulton Mere is private.

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lidar

Lidar Plan - Caistor to Crownthorpe to Scoulton Mere

Anyone familiar with Time Team will recall that when anything inexplicable cropped up then the standard answer was it must be a “ritual site”. Perhaps in this case that description could be true.

James Albone in his thesis (see reference) suggested the road from Caistor and that from Saham Toney could have had a common destination of a religious site at Sea Mere (another mere located south of Hingham). His suggestion could well have been correct in principle but with the wrong mere – it was Scoulton Mere. The temple at Crownthorpe could now perhaps make sense. Was it a roadside temple on the route from Caistor to the ritual or religious site of Scoulton Mere?

On this image I have coloured the western (drained) mere blue to give an impression of its former very impressive size.

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caistor-temple-mere

NEW - 3D Lidar video flyover along the road as far as Scoulton Mere

 

Lidar Image and Route Map 6

The straight road through Watton has always been assumed to Roman and with it now being connected up to the road from Caistor this can confidently be stated to be the case.

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Approaching Watton

It does look Roman - it is straight and aims directly for the Roman site at Saham Toney. Despite this it seems when ever the road is dug up no Roman foundations are spotted. Still that ditch on the left does give some credence to the belief that this really is Roman.

Image: Google

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Watton

Lidar Image and Route Map 7

The last section that joins up with Peddars Way is subtle and perhaps a bit subjective.

There was an important Roman settlement at the junction, at Threxton and at Woodcock Hall north of the river. However, the complex is generally referred to as Saham Toney - see below.

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Lidar Image - Roman Roads and Forts at Saham Toney

There is a lot going on here and this was clearly an important site on Peddars Way.

The small southern fort and annex is presumably the earliest - Peddars Way aims directly to the annex's southern gateway. On its western and northern sides down to the river appears to be a vicus settlement with a road running through it. This could have been the through route or perhaps there was a road on the east side of the fort (dotted).

North of the river is an odd shaped fort. Peddars Way goes through the fort and perhaps when this fort came into being a road out of east east gate was constructed (dotted). This would align with the straight alignment through Watton so could have been a later direct connection?

Finally, there is what looks like another fort to the north aligned with Peddars Way. This is unrecorded in the Norfolk HER (but I have reported it).

See the "Possible Roads" section for two probable local roads here.

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saham sites

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Last update: January 2020

© David Ratledge