Roman Road

The Stanegate (meaning “stone road” in Northumbrian dialect) was an important Roman road built in what is now northern England. It linked many forts including two that guarded important river crossings: Corbridge (Corstopitum) on the River Tyne in the east, and situated on Dere Street, and Carlisle (Luguvalium) on the River Eden in the west. The Stanegate ran through the natural gap formed by the valleys of the River Tyne in Northumberland and the River Irthing in Cumbria. It predated Hadrian’s Wall by several decades; the Wall would later follow a similar route, albeit slightly to the north.

The Stanegate differed from most other Roman roads in that it often followed the easiest gradients, and so tended to weave around, whereas typical Roman roads follow a straight path, even if this sometimes involves having punishing gradients to climb.

A large section of the Stanegate is still in use today as a modern minor road between Fourstones and Vindolanda in Northumberland.

History of the Stanegate

The Stanegate is believed to have been built under the governorship of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, from 77 to 85 CE, during the reigns of the emperors Vespasianus, Titus, and Domitian. It is also thought that it was built as a strategic road when the northern frontier was on the line of the Forth and Clyde. An indication of this is that it was provided with forts at one-day marching intervals (14 Roman miles or modern 13 miles (21 km)), sufficient for a strategic non-frontier road. The forts at Chesterholm (Vindolanda) and Nether Denton have been shown to date from about the same time as Corstopitum and Luguvalium, in the 70s and 80s CE.

When the Romans decided to withdraw from Scotland around 105 CE, the line of the Stanegate became the new frontier, and it became necessary to provide forts at half-day marching intervals. These additional forts were Newbrough, Carvoran (Magnis / Magna), andBrampton Old Church. It has been suggested that a series of smaller forts were built in between the ‘half-day-march’ forts. Haltwhistle Burn Fortlet and Throp Fortlet might be such forts, but there is insufficient evidence to confirm a series of such fortlets.

Structure of the Stanegate

Where it left the base of Corstopitum, the Stanegate was 22 feet (6.7 m) wide with covered stone gutters and a foundation of 6-inch (150 mm; 15 cm) cobbles with 10 inches (250 mm; 25 cm) of gravel on top.

Route of the Stanegate

The Stanegate began in the east at Corstopitum, where the important road, Dere Street headed towards Scotland. West of Corstopitum, the Stanegate crossed the Cor Burn, and then followed the north bank of the Tyne until it reached the North Tyne near the village of Wall. A Roman bridge must have taken the road across the North Tyne, from where it headed west past the present village of Fourstones to Newbrough, where the first fort is situated, 7+1⁄2 miles (12.1 km) from Corbridge, and 6 miles (9.7 km) from Vindolanda. It is a small fort occupying less than 1 acre (0.40 ha) and is in the graveyard of Newbrough church, which stands alone to the west of the village.

From Newbrough, the Stanegate proceeds west, parallel to the South Tyne until it meets the next major fort, at Vindolanda (Chesterholm). From Vindolanda the Stanegate crosses the route of the present-day Military Road and passes just south of the minor fort of Haltwhistle Burn. From Haltwhistle Burn, the Stanegate continues west away from the course of the South Tyne and passes the major fort of Magnis (Carvoran), 6+1⁄2 miles (10.5 km) from Vindolanda and 20 miles (32 km) from Corstopitum. At this point, the road is joined by the Maiden Way coming from Epiacum (Whitley Castle) to the south.

From Magnis, the road turns towards the southwest to follow the course of the River Irthing, passing the minor fort of Throp, and arriving at the major fort of Nether Denton, 4+1⁄2 miles (7.2 km) from Magnis and 24+1⁄2 miles (39.4 km) from Corstopitum. The fort occupies an area of about 3 acres (1.2 ha).

From Nether Denton, the road continues to follow the River Irthing and heads towards present-day Brampton. It passes the minor fort of Castle Hill Boothby and then, 1 mile (1.6 km) west of Brampton, reaches the next major fort, that of Brampton Old Church, 6 miles (9.7 km) from Nether Denton and 30+1⁄2 miles (49.1 km) from Corstopitum. The fort is so called because half of it is buried under Old St Martin’s church and its graveyard.

From Brampton Old Church, the road crosses the River Irthing and continues southwest through Irthington and passes through what is now the site of Carlisle Airport, just to the north of the main runway. The curving corner of an associated marching camp can be made out from the air on the south edge of the runway near its western end, and can be seen on Google Earth. The Stanegate then continued through a large cutting in High Crosby, where a small fort has been postulated, based on marching distances, but has not yet been found. The Stanegate then crossed the River Eden near the cricket ground in modern Carlisle and eventually reached the fort of Luguvalium (Carlisle) on the site of Carlisle Castle, 7+1⁄2 miles (12.1 km) from Brampton Old Church and 38 miles (61 km) from Corstopitum. It has been suggested that the road may have carried on west for a further 4+1⁄2 miles (7.2 km) to the Roman fort at Kirkbride overlooking Moricambe Bay, an inlet of the Solway Firth. A large camp of 5 acres (2.0 ha) was found there, but the evidence for a road is insufficient.

The Stanegate might have run eastwards from Corstopitum towards Pons Aelius, present-day Newcastle upon Tyne, possibly linking to Washing Wells Roman Fort in Whickham, but no evidence has yet been found to support this.

Sites near Stanegate