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Resident GetOutside blogger and cycling enthusiast, Steven Rittey from Wheel2Wheel holidays, goes in search of Roman Britain following a very special holiday abroad.
I have recently come back from a week in Rome where I spent a time touring around the historical monuments that defined not only an era, an Empire, but also shaped the way in which we live today back in the U.K. I also created my very own personal link back to Rome whilst on holiday as my girlfriend of five years, Jilly, unexpectedly returned back to England with me as my fiancé!
Despite the hundreds of years separating us from our Roman ancestors, there are examples in which we can still identify and see Roman influenced infrastructure and ideas. For example, on my visit to the Coliseum in Rome, I was astonished to find out that the arena had a retractable roof and that 70,000 people could be evacuated quicker than in current modern stadia. In fact, the ‘Gladiator Battles’ held throughout the Roman Empire were very similar to how entertainment is used by governments and media companies for political influence and mass performance.
When you open up an Ordnance Survey map and study some areas of country carefully, you will probably see the Roman’s biggest legacy to Britain, the creation of an arterial network of roads linking towns and cities for military purposes. Centuries later, the Ordnance Survey was actually created to map such supply lines.
Some of the long, straight Roman roads that you might have been along include the Fosse Way from Exeter to Leicester, Ermine Street from London to York and Watling Street from the Kent Coast to Mid Wales. They form part of Britain’s modern ‘A’ road network and were the foundation of the A1, A15 and A5.
In the north of England, there are many Roman ruins dotted around in places like Chester, Carlisle and throughout Northumberland that I could of chosen to cycle to, however I decided to visit Lincoln. The city was one of the main centres in Roman England and was known as ‘Lindum Colonia’ in Latin. All roads are said to have lead to Rome, but many domestic roads led to Lincoln as the city was a major hub for both military and commercial reasons. This is due to its strategic location close to rivers, a North Sea port and a hilltop defensive position in a predominately flat part of the country.
Unfortunately, for me, I had decided to book my train tickets to Lincoln on one of the wettest Saturdays I have ever encountered on my bike.
The original plan was simple - Head to Lincoln, take some photos of the city, visit the famous Christmas market and then cycle up as much of the old ‘Ermine Street’ route to the ruins of the Roman fort in Castleford, West Yorkshire before catching the train home. The ride would trace the way of a Roman legion on the move, but it was quite clear that this ride would instead end in the industrial, steelmaking town of Scunthorpe.
I set off from Lincoln Cathedral (once the highest building in the world) in light drizzle, stopping off at one of Lincoln’s most famous Roman ruins. The Newport Arch was built in the 4th Century and is still used as a gateway to the Cathedral Quarter today. Heading north from Lincoln roughly following the Ermine Street route on the B roads parallel to the busy A15, I reached RAF Scampton. This base was home to the Cold War Vulcan bomber fleet and still houses the Red Arrows.
The rain turned into a constant, steady downpour and combined with the cold wind was making riding very unpleasant. My hands were getting even colder due to wind-chill and the wet. My feet were so numb, despite overshoes, two pairs of socks and a plastic bag barrier, they felt like they were no longer there! One of the problems with winter cycling is that you can easily keep your core body warm, but the extremities are hard to keep toasty and can mentally make a short ride feel like an epic.
As I passed by the former home of the Polish Squadron during World War II - RAF Ingham, I was counting down the miles until I reached Kirton Lindsey. This is the largest village on the route and a good place to stop and try to get warm. This area has also been battered by the weather and the historic windmill there was severely damaged by Storm Desmond. Foolishly, I raised my hand temperature with hot water in the public toilets and the resulting, sharp pain brought out a few tears!
After getting over the painful body shock in the village, I carried on riding into Scunthorpe cycling past the giant furnaces of the Tata steel plant to the train station waiting room before heading back to an equally wet and dark Manchester.
The past few months have been the worst I have known for getting drenched on the bike, but the surface water, cold and generally hazardous conditions probably meant I should have called time on the ride. However as I had booked ‘Advance’ train tickets and wanted to avoid a new costly ticket, I needed to get to Scunthorpe regardless.
This was not my best day on the bike, but over the past few weeks, I have gained a better understanding of the Roman Empire and how the daily things we assume are modern inventions such as central heating, road networks and public arenas actually have their origins in an ancient era.