Exploring Britain’s Oldest Roads

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by Conrad - 08 October 2014

It might be hard to imagine, but the British road network winds more than 200,000 miles around our compact little island.


Perhaps even more amazing is that large stretches of our existing road system were built and heaving with traffic thousands of years before the motor car was even invented.


We have picked out three of the oldest and most interesting you might want to take to the road - on foot or by car - to explore…


The Ridgeway:

As part of the Icknield Way, which runs from east to west between Norfolk and Wiltshire in southern England, The Ridgeway has been identified as Britain’s oldest road.


The Anglo-Saxons mentioned it in the early 10th century and historians believe this ancient track has been in use by traders making their way from the Dorset coast in the west to The Wash in East Anglia for around 5,000 years.


Out in the open high ground, travellers were able to take a tactical advantage against potential attack, while settlements founded at regular points along the way were the resting places for those journeying long-distances.


The Ridgeway is now a National Trail nearly 90 miles long and filled with historical sites from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Sadly, much of this road is closed to motor vehicles but it makes for a wonderful hiking trip.


Watling Street:

Today the A2 and A5 in and out of London is what remains of the ancient track known as Watling Street in southern England that pre-dated the Romans.

The broad grassy route created by the Anglo-Saxons linked Richborough in Kent to modern day Westminster in Wroxeter – with offshoots taking travellers north to Holyhead, Chester and even beyond to Scotland.


Around 43AD the Romans paved and straightened out Watling Street as part of a grand plan to create a national network. Famously the Battle of Watling Street in 61 AD is when an uprising against the Roman conquerors led by Boudicca, queen of the British Iceni tribe, was finally quashed.


Recreate your historic journey along Watling Street, starting at the top of the A5 at London’s Marble Arch.

Preston By-pass:

Perhaps not nearly as ancient, the Preston By-pass is nonetheless just as important in terms of British motoring history.


This grey expanse was the first stretch of motorway constructed in the UK, albeit originally limited to two lanes and measuring just eight miles in length
Its highly anticipated arrival was marked with an official opening by the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1958.


Extra lanes were later added in 1966 transforming this into the three-lane mega motorway we know (and love) today. Get onto the by-pass in under 15 minutes from the vibrant northern city of Preston.