NS4273 : Supposed remains of a Roman causeway

taken 7 years ago, near to Milton, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

Supposed remains of a Roman causeway
Supposed remains of a Roman causeway
At the time of writing, large-scale OS mapping labels this feature "remains of old causeway", presumably on the basis of the report (from 1974) linked from the end-note. The interpretation has found its way onto the map, but I am personally rather doubtful, for reasons that will be explained below.

The first-edition OS map (c.1858) shows a jetty here, extending from the head of the beach towards NS4273 : The Lang Dyke, the wall-like feature that is visible in the middle distance, and which was built in 1773. The large green beacon on the dyke is NS4273 : The Longhaugh Light, and the large hill in the background is Dumbuck Hill, with its large quarry (NS4274 : Dumbuck Quarry); compare NS4274 : Dumbuck Hill, Dunbartonshire. Some NS4273 : Bollards on the River Clyde can be seen on the right.

This photograph is a view along the line of the jetty, and it seems probable that most of what is now visible here dates from that period (for example, compare the cobbles visible in the foreground, which are shown in detail at NS4273 : Cobbles on site of supposed Roman Causeway, with NS4672 : Remains of the south jetty).

However, according to a WoSAS report (see the end-note for the link), this had earlier been the course of a Roman causeway across the River Clyde (for my own reservations about this, see below). Before measures were taken to deepen the river channel for shipping, it was possible, here, at the part of the river adjacent to Dumbuck, to walk across the Clyde at low tide (the crossing was generally referred to as "Dumbuck ford").

For part of the "gravelly mound" that is referred to in the WoSAS report as underlying the cobbled way, see the lower-right quadrant of the image. For a view in the opposite direction, from a point partway along the jetty, see NS4273 : Supposed remains of a Roman causeway.

Because of the natural processes of silting and erosion, as well as dredging and related activities, no signs of passage will be preserved in the river itself. However, the WoSAS report points out that the line of the causeway shown here "aligns with a recognizable road mound on the north bank"; the latter mound is not now very noticeable, but it is shown and discussed in NS4274 : Linear mound near Milton Island.

- - - -

In the rest of this item, I will add a few observations of my own on the visible remains.

First of all, the WoSAS report (see the end-notes for the link) cites articles published in the journal "Discovery and Excavation in Scotland" in 1974. It seems odd that these DES articles make no specific mention of the jetty that is indicated on the first-edition OS map (c.1860), although it is perhaps implied, since they do make a distinction between the cobbles and an underlying gravelly mound (the wording suggests that the claim for antiquity applies only to the mound, and not to the overlying cobbles). However, I believe that both the cobbles and the gravelly mound can be explained as the remains of a jetty (the course of the "jetty" marked on the first-edition OS map definitely corresponds to the remains shown in this photograph). Before the Lang Dyke was built, numerous lateral jetties were constructed from the shores of the Clyde; all were built with the same aim, namely, of narrowing the channel to increase the rate of flow.

These jetties are known to have been earth and gravel mounds with a stone covering: the book "Clyde Navigation", cited in NS4273 : The Lang Dyke, says that "stone quarries were opened up to provide solid material for covering the jetties, borrow pits were created to supply the earth and gravel for the centres, and trees were felled to provide timber for supports".

This method of construction accounts for both the cobbles (the coverings) and the underlying gravelly mound (the centres). If the remains in this photograph are those of a jetty, then they may have been better preserved than other lateral jetties on account of being protected by the Lang Dyke.

What, though, of the mound that continues south, through grassland, beyond the beach? It is perhaps worth noting that a couple of jetties, nor far to the east, show continuations (clearly visible on satellite imagery) to the south, through grassland, petering out only where they have been obliterated by a modern golf course; see NS4473 : Remains of a jetty and NS4473 : Remains of a jetty. Speaking of the many lateral jetties that had recently been built from the shores of the Clyde, John Golborne, the engineer responsible for the Lang Dyke, noted in 1781 that "the spaces between many of the jetties were filled up and covered with grass, to the great emolument of the proprietors and advantage of the river". These grassy continuations may therefore simply be parts of the jetties, in areas that are now grassland but which were formerly on the shore.

Comparison of these grassy continuations with the mound that leads south from the remains shown in this photograph might establish whether the method of construction is the same, or different.

[The report of the "causeway" is one of a series that were made in the 1970s, and in 1980, and the authors linked that causeway to a road over Dumbarton Muir; however, the related reports describing the course of that road are themselves problematic, though for altogether different reasons: see LinkExternal link where I discuss those issues at more length.]

I am not claiming that the archaeological report is necessarily wrong in identifying the present site as the remains of a causeway. I am merely suggesting another possible interpretation of the evidence, and am aware that it may turn out to be wrong (it is possible, for example, that the makers of the first-edition OS map misinterpreted the remains of a causeway as those of a jetty, rather than the reverse mistake having been made at a later date).

Dumbuck Ford is repeatedly mentioned in historical records, so there is no doubt that a Clyde crossing was (at least in recent centuries) located somewhere in this area. I do not entirely dismiss the possibility that a Roman causeway was located near here; the alignment with a similar mound on the northern shore of the Clyde is certainly suggestive. However, I consider that mound to be fairly indistinct.

As yet, the Clyde crossing appears to have received little attention. Perhaps future archaeological research will provide further details; it may be able to confirm whether a Roman causeway was indeed located at this site. At any rate, I believe that it would helpful if the report of a Roman causeway at this site was re-assessed.
Supposed Roman causeway
See LinkExternal link (at WoSAS) for the archaeological details.
The Lang Dyke :: NS4373
This is a training wall, built in order to deepen the channel of the River Clyde for shipping. Construction began in 1773, although there would be later additions to the dyke. See NS4273 : The Lang Dyke for a much more detailed account.
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NS4273, 21 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Sunday, 20 June, 2010   (more nearby)
Thursday, 1 July, 2010
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts  Estuary, Marine 
Near (from Tags)
River Clyde 
Ruin (from Tags)
Period (from Tags)
Causeway   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4290 7324 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:55.5896N 4:30.9575W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4294 7316
View Direction
North-northwest (about 337 degrees)
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