A long way from Rome – It might have been the extreme edge of Empire, home to the farthest flung frontier outposts, but the Romans certainly left a size -12 sandal print on the borderlands of Northumberland and Scotland.
The man we have to thank is Gnaeus Julius Agricola, and while he might not be the first name that comes to mind when talking about tourism in the borders – he deserves more than a passing nod of gratitude.
His legacy, as the Roman Governor of Britain (77-85AD), to this unique and beautiful region was to oversee a drive northwards from York and for establishing the first road from England into Scotland.
Dere Street, already a main highway from York to Corbridge, was extended through the wild countryside of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, and then on to Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.
Nearly 2,000 years on, long stretches of Dere Street are now part of the main A68 road north from Corbridge, while original routes that deviate into the borderlands north of Rochester, are never far away from the main road.
The A68 is a natural route north from an outstanding Roman experience that includes Hadrian’s Wall, Vindolanda, Housesteads and Chesters, to the joys of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
Hadrian’s Wall, built between 122-30AD and extends for 80 miles (128 km) from coast to coast across northern England. The wall, still magnificently preserved over long stretches, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Forts, milecastles and garrison towns, are lasting evidence of Rome’s substantial presence in this part of the world.
But long before the wall was even thought of the Romans had taken ‘Pax Romana’ much further north. With England and Wales no longer a cause for concern, the Romans were marching across the Cheviots near Carter Bar (the present day border dividing England and Scotland) in 79AD.
In front of them lay the green and pleasant lands of today’s Scottish Borders stretching north as far as the eye could see and, as we know, new horizons always presented a particular challenge to the Romans.
Sooner or later curiosity got the better of them and they had to find out what lay beyond. For the next hundred years or so the Romans invested considerable time and effort in this, the most northerly part of their Empire.
Dere Street, was driven 160 miles north to reach the Firth of Forth by 81AD. Its main centres through the English and Scottish borderlands took in Corbridge, Bryness and Cappuck before passing to the east of Trimontium near Melrose and on to the coast.
Stretches are still very much in evidence in the Scottish Borders
Trimontium, arguably the most important Roman base throughout the Roman occupation of Scotland, supported a frontier presence that ebbed and flowed over 120 turbulent years, ending in a final campaign led by the Emperor Septimius Severus in 210AD.
exploretheborders.com has set up a special section – Romans and Reivers – to celebrate the rich legacy left by the Romans.
And for a more detailed picture we would suggest the following useful links…