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Dr Murray Cook (bottom left) and other members of the dig with the remains of the ancient Roman Road in Stirling, Scotland. Source: Stirling Council

Most Important Road in Scottish History Found in Stirling

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Archaeologists digging in Stirling, Scotland’s ancient capital, have unearthed a section of Roman road in the garden of a 17th century drovers inn. This ancient track, unlike all others, was later walked on by a series of notable figures of British history, hence, its being called “the most important road” in Scottish history.

Romans Approach the Highlands

In 84 AD, when Roman General Julius Agricola’s legions pushed northwards into the Scottish Highlands, it was reported that his war train was over ten miles (16k) long. This occurred in part because there were somewhere between 17,000 and 30,000 legionnaires, and perhaps another 5,000 supporting cooks, camp and fort builders, but moreso because they marched along a relatively narrow Roman road that was laid by previous Roman armies in Scotland.

The ancient cobbled Roman road was discovered by archaeologists digging in the garden of the Old Inn Cottage, a 17th century Drovers Inn near Stirling, the ancient capital of Scotland. Jennifer Ure, who lives at cottage with her husband and children, told STV,  “It’s amazing to think the likes of William the Conqueror and King Henry VIII had walked through where our garden is now”.

An everyday dig in the garden led to the find. (Stirling Council)

An everyday dig in the garden led to the find. (Stirling Council)

Tracking Warrior’s, And Royal Footprints

The almost 2000-year-old Roman road was originally laid by the earliest Roman armies penetrating the lowlands of Scotland in the mid-1st century AD. However, it really came into force in 84 AD when General Julius Agricola marched north to fight the Battle of Mons Graupius on the northeast coast.

Stirling Council archaeologist Murray Cook, who led the dig, told STV News, that the Roman road was discovered next to the 18th century Old Drip Bridge, “connecting to a ford crossing the River Forth”. The archaeologist said this crossing would have been used by “the Romans, the Picts, William the Conqueror, Oliver Cromwell and every king and queen of Scotland, including MacBeth, Kenneth MacAlpin and Robert the Bruce. However, it is known Bonnie Prince Charlie “didn’t” use this road, as it was recorded that he crossed the river at Frew ford, to the west of Stirling.

This part of the road was part of the river crossing. (Stirling Council)

This part of the road was part of the river crossing. (Stirling Council)

Why Is This Being Called “An Astonishing” Discovery

In Dr. Simon Elliot’s book, Severus in Scotland: the Northern Campaigns of the First Hammer of the Scots,” we learn that in 208 AD, Roman emperor Septimius Severus landed in Britain to stop  Caledonian tribes raiding Hadrian’s Wall, who were causing chaos in northern England. Aimed at crushing indigenous resistance and bringing the northern tribal lands under the control of the Roman Empire, Caracalla, Severus’ son, led more than 40,000 Roman troops north into modern-day Scotland. They too would have marched on the road discovered in the Stirling garden.

Several medieval military campaigns, crossing the Forth into the Highlands, also used this road as a strategic tool of war. And this is why archaeologists are calling it “the most important road in Scottish history.” Describing the “amazing discovery,” Cook said It has never been clear where this road ran, and that she felt honored to have walked where “Wallace and Bruce went, let alone the Romans, Picts and Vikings.” In conclusion, Cook said the revelation of the 2,000-year-old-road “is astonishing”.

Charting the Ancient Roman Road

So, where does this section of Roman road discovered in Stirling begin and end? To the north, it snakes through the Scottish Highlands to a major ford [crossing] over the River Tay, at the frontier of the Roman Empire. Beyond this point resided the guerrilla Pictish tribes of the North Highlands, including the Cornovii tribe in Caithness.

Following the road south, it meets the modern Pleasance suburb of Falkirk at the Roman Antonine Wall, at a Roman fort of around 3 acres (c.1.2 ha). It is known a cobbled roadway ran through the fort’s entrances, possibly representing the main Roman Military Way leading south to England, but perhaps it also connected directly with the section of Roman road discovered in Stirling.

The Start Of Stirling’s History? Nope.

Cook said a ford was recorded at the discovery site since 1304 AD, when “Edward I's spies during the siege of Stirling Castle, when he used the War Wolf, the world's largest trebuchet.” The ford was last recorded in the 18th century when a ferry, then a bridge, became the favored method of travel. Cook said building boats and bridges was much less expensive than rerouting stone roads.

Chris Kane, the leader of Stirling Council, said this new discovery represents “the starting the story of Stirling.” However, Kane seems to not be aware of the content of my 2022 Ancient Origins news article, about the discovery of a “4,500-year-old Neolithic site near Stirling.” Marked with a series of deep channels, this site was used like a whetstone to polish axes, and it was described as “the largest concentration of Neolithic axe grind points ever discovered in Scotland.” Therefore, this Neolithic stone represents the “starting the story of Stirling,” and not a Roman road that was laid 2,500 years later.

Top image: Dr Murray Cook (bottom left) and other members of the dig with the remains of the ancient Roman Road in Stirling, Scotland. Source: Stirling Council

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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