‘There is no doubt that we have found the proper route’
IMAGINE, if you will, that time has flashed forward a couple of thousand years.
England is a vastly different place to how it is now.
The landscape has changed, the people are very different and we have a transport system based on inventions we cannot yet predict.
And just where was that M62? We’ve heard tell of it, but what was its route?
Fantastic? Not really, when you consider that we live in 2008 at the same distance of time from the Roman armies who invaded Britain.
They, too, had a major road across the Pennines, over high moorland and through the steep contours of the Colne Valley.
It ran from Castleshaw fort near Oldham to Slack fort, near Outlane, and was part of the Roman military way linking Chester and York.
Thousands of soldiers and other travellers would have tramped it, but its true course was long ago lost in the mists of time.
Until now, that is.
A dedicated team of amateur archaeologists has knocked all the theories on the head with 30 years of patient detective work.
Prof Mick Aston, a star of Channel 4’s Time Team, has labelled it a remarkable piece of research.
It all began with the chance discovery in 1973 of ancient road foundations in a field near to a causeway at Moorside Edge, Pole Moor.
They were about 25cm below the surface and consisted of graded stones with associated ditches.
A team from Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society was of little doubt that its find was Roman. But what was the road? Where did it go?
It was the start of investigation spanning three decades, ending in a new book telling the true story for the very first time.
Granville Clay, the society’s fieldwork co-ordinator, says: “There is absolutely no doubt that we have found the proper route. And it’s not where people thought.”
Conventional wisdom had it that the Roman road turned north in the Marsden area and then east to follow the course of the present-day A640 Rochdale to Huddersfield road – the Nont Sarah’s road – high above the Colne Valley.
But nothing had ever been found to prove this.
Wouldn’t the logical way have been lower down the Colne Valley, where there would have been a bit of shelter from the tough northern winters?
The finds at Moorside Edge had set minds thinking this might be the answer.
A further discovery in 1982 of Roman stones on the southern slopes of Pule Hill, near Marsden, was an encouragement that the society should keep on digging.
But it was still no further proof that the Roman road took a different route.
Excavation in the following years uncovered a considerable amount of Romano-British material, but was hampered for a period by treasure hunters who had got to know of the dig.
Mr Clay says: “Layers of stone were uncovered and there was no doubt it was a genuine road.
“It was perfectly built, a road of quality as they would say, built at an estimated two miles a week.”
It did look as though the route of the Roman road was about a mile or so away from where historians believed. Word was beginning to get round about the discovery.
“We were met with disbelief and in some places with ridicule. It was so different to the published theories,” says Mr Clay.
Further digs at other sites brought the inevitably conclusion that the road DID pass much lower down the slopes of the Colne Valley than previously thought.
After all, why should it have run along the along the northern ridge, where the high altitude would have been a distinct disadvantage in the long and severe winters?
History has been knocked on the head by people who follow archaeology as a hobby.
It was largely to the enthusiasm and energy of Norman Lunn that the search for the road continued.
A leading member of the society almost since its formation in 1956, he was director of many of the Roman road operations until 1989.
Sadly, he died last October before seeing the book published. But it contains much of his work on the project and there is a bonus CD with it which includes further photos and information.
Mr Clay, Bonwell Spence and Bill Crosland are the other members who have contributed to the volume.
Some questions remain. Where did the road cross the River Colne at Marsden? How long was it in use as a major trans-Pennine road?
Mr Clay adds: “Perhaps we should not overlook the possibility of a villa in the Colne Valley as a bonus.”
The Romans Came This Way, by Norman Lunn, Bill Crosland, Bonwell Spence and Granville Clay, is available at the Tolson Museum at Moldgreen and selected bookshops for £12.99.