Archaeologist Gail Boyle, takes us on a walk to find the traces of a roman road that streaked across the area that is now the Downs.
So if we are facing with Whiteladies Road to our backs, facing the direction of Sea Mills, we are about 50 yards in from the line of the road, and looking towards a big white house and a clump of trees and if you stand here you can actually see that very shallow hump that shows you where the Roman road is. It’s a stretch that exists now for about 140 metres, about 25 metres wide. If you want to see it properly you have to come out very early in the morning so the shadow is thrown by the hump, or when it’s been frosting because the frost will disappear when the sun comes up, you can see it highlighted in the frost or the snow. But it is actually quite difficult to detect. The most interesting thing about the Downs for me is the transformation that it’s gone through. Today it’s a lovely park where people are walking their dogs, but in terms of the Romans it was between two places so the road that actually cuts across it was originally part of a road that ran all the way from Bath and ran out to Sea Mills which is where the local town is near Bristol.
So why did they build a road? Why was there a Roman town at Sea Mills? This road probably had a military origin. We know that the first people that settled in Sea Mills were military, we’ve found connections between them and the other side of the river Severn. The legionary bases for the Second Augusitan Legion was at Caerleon and they were the ones that were going off to fight the local tribe there that were called the Silures. So the idea is that there was a military settlement at Sea Mills to provide goods and troops to the garrison that was based in South Wales were walking along sort of diagonally by Ladies Mile towards Rockleaze. We’ve just gone up a rise just here and I think we are now standing on the line of the roman road. It’s not like a road we would imagine today in the sense that it stood proud of the landscape, it was a hump. which was metalled and that always causes problems with some people because when we talk about a metalled surface what we actually mean is it was covered in stone. We know what this one was made like because there were some excavations., a very small excavation in 1899 which says that there was a layer of sand over rock and also a layer of reddish earth and then small stones were set into the top of that there seems to be no evidence of kerbstones. Obviously you’ve got the soldiers who’d be marching up and down it, but once the soldiers had disappeared that road would have been used for all kinds of goods traffic, Sea Mills provided a market for the whole of the local area, so people who were farming estates in and around that region would bring their goods to Sea Mills to sell and then they’d be needed to transport to and from. In fact a lot of the lines, the hedgerows in the landscape in and around this area probably mask the same roads that the roman people were walking on.