A Journey on our Roads
“The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began, now far ahead the roads have gone, and I must follow, if I can. Pursuing it with weary feet until it meets some larger way, where many paths and errands meet, and whither then, I cannot say”.
A look at roads in the fantasy world of Lord of The Rings by Tolkien, painting a romantic and slightly mysterious air around the road, and whatever the distance might bring.
In the days of walking with a pack pony, or for the wealthy, on horseback, in this country, (far from Middle Earth) it is unlikely that roads were viewed very romantically at all.
The Romans who occupied Great Britain for around four hundred years after the birth of Christ, were engineers, mechanics, masons, and builders of many things, including superb roads.
Building roads with engineered bases, drainage, and surfaces so durable, that many examples can still be seen today, some two thousand years later.
After the Romans packed up and went home, the ancient Britons pretty much ignored everything that the Romans had built, the villas’, the baths, the forts, and even the roads.
For the following twelve to thirteen hundred years, the country went back to trails, paths and tracks. Those tracks that ran through higher ground becoming difficult to pass in inclement weather, and those on lower ground often spent the winter flooded, or a sea of mud, or even washed away.
Some forms of maintenance were carried out, after the introduction of tolls and turnpikes, but the basic fabric of a road was not there.
It was not until the industrial revolution in Great Britain, through two men in particular, that the “science” of road construction was established again.
As the eighteenth century turned into the nineteenth, engineers Thomas Telford and John MacAdam independently developed hard-wearing and durable methods of highway construction.
Telford’s construction featured drainage, a heavy duty base, and surface on broken stone. Effective, but relatively expensive.
MacAdam’s road building also featured a camber allowing drainage, a less substantial foundation, and a pavement surface of smaller, size graded stones, which as traffic compressed it, increased the surface’s density and therefore, durability.
When tar was added to the layer of “macadam”, tarmac road emerged, and this type of road construction became standard practise internationally.
Modern road construction is a combination of science, ecology, powerful machinery, and societies expectations. The internal combustion engine, fortunately, didn’t make it to Middle Earth.