Roman footprints | The ruler-straight road to Bath.
The Romans are notorious for building roads befitting their armies. They ran straight, with little concession to hills or valleys. They were roads of efficiency, of power and speed. Built for marching, they travel up and down with the determination of someone in a rush who, having simply drawn a straight line on a map, cares little for contour lines.
The Fosse Way
The Fosse Way is one such road we follow on our cycling tours. Uniquely for a Roman road, it does not run into or stem from London. Instead, it runs from Exeter in the south-west of England all the way to Lincoln in the north-east. Its name stems from fossa, the Latin word for ditch. As such it is believed to have been built with a ditch running alongside it (or indeed as a ditch itself) in the first century AD, as a defensive measure marking the western boundary of Roman-controlled Britain. With unoccupied Celtic Britain to its West, following the Roman invasion in AD 43, this ditch marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain, over 182 miles long and – remarkably – never running more than 6 miles away from a straight line from start to finish. This road did not remain a frontier for long. Roman expansionist ambitions soon prevailed and the Fosse Way became a merchant route, its use shifting from a defensive barrier to an economic artery, stretching across the country.
The Fosse Way runs through the whole length of the Cotswolds and during our tours we cross its path and ride along its sections several times, though not much of the original road remains, and much of it is several feet below our modern day roads!
The Roman Baths
The magnificent spa, constructed around 70 AD, is one of the best preserved Roman remains in the world, and yet it went undiscovered until the late nineteenth century!
The complex of bath and temple evolved over time, with the open pool roofed over later and statues and columns being added. The baths remained in use until the last 4th century, before eventually falling into disuse as Christianity supplanted the Roman Gods that would have been worshiped in the bath’s temple. Lost in time and forgotten over the centuries, the site collapsed and the Roman structures, hidden away for millennia, were not discovered until 1880 when sewer workers, searching for a leak, glimpsed the ancient spa workings that underlayed the modern Georgian spa.
Today the Baths are a World Heritage Site, one of three that we visit on our Active England Tours, the others being Stonehenge and Avebury, and Blenheim Palace.0