A Roman road has been uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset. While the existence of a road had been a well-known fact, so far it had been so well hidden by the forest that it could't be located. The harvesting of a planting of Norway spruce firs by the Forestry Commission brought a considerable stretch of it to light, though.
The existence of an important Roman road as part of the highway system connecting Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum) with other important towns in England had been documented, but its exact whereabouts had been lost in the mists of time. After extensive forestry work, the road was found in Puddletown Forest, part of Thomas Hardy country.
The road had been built during the first century AD as part of the drive to conquer the island of Great Britain. The scale of the road was on the massive side. The 28 m (85 ft) wide construction consists of a cobbled center for fast traffic including mounted messengers and whole legions on the march; on either side are the slow lanes for civilians on foot and cattle; and the road was carefully ditched to allow water to run away to prolong its lifespan. For good measure, the road had been elevated 4.5 m (15 ft) over the surrounding area. A superhighway indeed.
Roman roads were built with system. The Latin names refer to the picture above: On a foundation (called pavimentum) of stamped clay the ‘statumen’ layer of large stones and mortar was laid. The ‘ruderatio’ layer of fist sized stones was put on top of the ‘statumen’. The next level called ‘nucleus’ was built of nut sized pebbles. The crowning top of it all was the ‘summa crusta’, the road surface. It could be made of a mixture of sand and pebbles in lesser roads, but was made of cobblestones on important and frequently traveled roads. The Londinium to Isca highway was one of the latter.
The road was an important part of the drive to subjugate the barbarians inhabiting the area. The sheer size of the road implies that it was built to impress as well as to access. But it also stressed the importance of fast travel for the legions; thanks to roads like this, the Romans were able to march legions at a fast pace to wherever they were needed all over their empire.
The uncovered stretch of road was part of the connection from Londinium (London) to Isca (Exeter). Londinium at that time was of temporary importance as a troop landing port. Later it would be nothing but a minor town besides more important big cities that would evolve on the island. After the invasion was successfully concluded, the connection from Londinium to Exeter became obsolete and the road was allowed to be forgotten.
The Forestry Commission has plans to leave the road accessible and to cover it with grass after the archaeologists have been allowed their dig. It will then be possible for visitors to easily follow in the steps of the Roman invasion of Britain.
The good state of the road is testament to the building skills of the Romans who built it almost 2,000 years ago. As opposed to British road building, they were aware of the fact that water and ice will destroy your roads in short order. One would think that drainage and ditches should not be completely alien to the British mind as it is rumored that it may rain from time to time. But contrariwise, the roads in Britain are a collection of potholes with gullies at the highest points. They are badly built and worse maintained.