The Cheviot Hills, Northumberland National Park\n© Simon Fraser

The Roman Link Road

Roman roads remained the major axes of circulation in early medieval Britain, as evidenced by the close proximity of significant battle sites and important estate centres (Higham 1993, 122). Continued use throughout the medieval period and even later is clearly documented with regard to the two Roman highways in the Tyne-Solway corridor, the Stanegate (then known as 'Carelgate', i.e. Carlisle road) and the Military Way (cf. Crow 1995a, 99), for instance. Even with only minimal maintenance they remained effective as well-drained causeways. Although the east-west link road between the Devil's Causeway and Dere Street was probably relatively short-lived in its initial Roman military role and never appears to have been resurfaced, there is tentative evidence that it remained a significant route in the post-Roman era.

The most intriguing piece of evidence for the continued significance of the road is provided by the substantial cross dyke which cuts across its course some 800m south east of Holystone. The earthwork consists of the ditch and bank and runs between the Dovecrag Burn and Holystone Burn, blocking off the promontary formed the confluence of those two streams. To the north lies Campville hillfort, although this juxtaposition may be coincidental. The date of this earthwork is unknown. The relationship between the road and the earthwork at the point where the two intersect is too mutilated to be able to determine which was the earlier feature. Moreover both linear works appear to change direction in the vicinity of the intersection.

Hence the cross-dyke may be a late prehistoric monument, in which case the road perhaps aimed for a pre-existing passage through the bank and ditch, but equally it is possible that the earthwork was erected at some point after the Roman period to control movement traffic along the road. Many linear earthworks or dykes of this kind elsewhere have been assigned Dark Age or early medieval date, the most famous example being Offa's Dyke. Whatever its date, the construction of this dyke certainly underlines the significance of Holystone's location.

A further indication that the link road long survived as a landscape feature and possible routeway may be provided by the placename Yatesfield (i.e. Gatesfield), as suggested by MacLauchlan (1864a, 48). Gate was the one of the terms traditionally given to the roads or streets and the transposition of Y for G is common in Northumbrian dialect (cf. NCH XV (1940), 250 for a parallel example – Gatehouse or Yethouse). Yatesfield farmstead lies some 1.3km south of the road line, but the name may initially have applied to the wider area - hence --field - and only later become fixed on a specific site.

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