Sarn Helen, A Roman Road in Wales

Near Ystradfellte, Breconshire

Photos taken November 2002

Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this website were taken by Venita.*

Many thanks to my 'editor' John Ball, without whose help the information on these pages would be full of errors!


Julius Caesar visted Britain about 55 BC. The Roman conquest of England began about AD 45 and of Wales about AD 50. By AD 100 most of the "strategic" lands, namely coastal stretches and lowlands, were under Roman rule, a situation which lasted till about AD 400 in spite of continual skirmishes with feisty Celtic tribesmen. There are many places in Wales where one can see remains of the Roman occupation. In November 2002, my friend John and I visited Sarn Helen in Fforest Fawr to see a Roman road. It was a very wet, misty, rainy day (not unusual in Wales), an atmosphere which added to the experience.

To quote Brian Griffiths:

"On this highway, the past oppresses the present in a disconcerting muddle of images, bringing you to the reality of the events and motives of the people who constructed it. This is no vague history lesson. To stand on this road is to feel the motion of those who passed by. Take the time to pause awhile, and you might sense the ghosts of the people who made the journey along this mountain, their voices ringing out a strange foreign language; a people who brought this land into a new phase of history...

"It is difficult to quell the unease these surroundings invoke as you struggle to make some sense of the scene. Ever fearful of an attack by the fearsome tribes whose reputation for ferocity was legend, you hurry your steps, desperate to reach the safety of the small intermediate fort which has recently been constructed near the crest. Despite the long campaigns that quelled most of the uprisings in this area, there are always bands of opportunists who lie in wait for a lone traveller!

"...These mountains and valleys, like the rock on which they are founded, are of old stock and even though there may be little record to tell of the ancient people who passed this way, the very landscape shouts it out."

(The Secret and Sacred Beacons by Brian S. Griffiths, published in 2001 by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Denbighshire; ISBN 0-86381-761-0, pp 108 - 109.)

roadway

Above: This road leads to the top of the hill where the Roman road is located. A few cows note our approach. One continues to browse, but the other two watch us warily, protective of their calves hidden in the brush. Notice the dry stone wall on the hillside to the left, probably a boundary marker.

At the top of the hill and after about a half mile walk we reached the surface laid by Roman engineers two millennia ago. Water and greenery show the outlines of the sandstone slabs. Hoof prints and footprints show in the mud. It's not difficult to imagine a group of Roman soldiers having recently walked here. (Click a photo for a larger view of these smaller shots.)

This monolith, Maen Madoc, over eight feet high, stands alongside the road. Moss and lichen testify to its age. Further investigation reveals Latin words engraved on its side:

"DERVAC FILIUS IUST HIC IACIT"

Translation: "DERVACUS, SON OF JUSTUS. HERE HE LIES."

(Many thanks to John Ball for the use of his photo of the writing (right) and the translation!)

stream

Above: A small stream runs alongside most of the road, then down the hill to join a larger stream in the valley. Easy access to water is an important consideration for travellers and their mounts.

(Note: The blurred spots in the photo are the result of raindrops on my camera lens.)

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As fascinating as it was to imagine the presence of Romans, I knew they were only in my mind. The hoof prints and the footprints were real, however. To see their true source, please turn to page two.


*Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this website were taken by Venita who also holds the copyright. Should you wish to download any of them for any purpose (other than your own enjoyment), please credit Venita as the photographer and add my homepage URL: http://www.venitap.com/home.html

Comments are appreciated!

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