When I was at school I distinctly remember being told that the Romans never conquered the Cornish, that the county and the people were too wild for them and, like the Scottish in the north, they decided we were best left alone.
It is now common knowledge that that is not entirely true and I have a feeling that the myth was only perpetuated for so long by Cornish pride. We are,
you see, passionate about our status as a Celtic nation, a fact that our fellow Celts often forget. I was once involved in a heated (in more ways than one) debate on a Mayan ruin in the jungles of Honduras when a Scotsman insisted on called us English. Anyway back to the Romans, we do have lots of evidence that they had control over Cornwall, The Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro has plenty off artefacts that the invaders left behind from coins to roof tiles.
However anyone who knows the county well will know that they had absolutely no effect on our roads. Windy doesn’t even come close in most cases. We like a bendy back-lane in these parts. Goodness knows how the Roman legions stayed in formation in Cornwall! But that is not to say they didn’t make it south of the Tamar and as they gradually migrated towards Lands End they marked their progress.
I decided to set myself a little challenge, to locate and photograph Cornwall’s Roman milestones. The ones that I could find anyway. I am not entirely sure how many there are lying around, after all when all is said and done they are merely well-weathered pieces of local granite, but I know of five. Four of them are easy to locate, like all the random finds of a parish they usually end up near a church. Random they may be, but special none the less. When you consider that there are only 20 such milestones know in the whole of England then these weather-worn lumps of rock take on new meaning. Add the names of the Emperors that they also commemorated – Gallus, Marcus Cassianus Poshimus, Constantine and Galerius Valerius Licinianus – they become almost magical I think.
These stones are ancient memorials, reminders if you like, to a time almost completely vanished from our landscape here in Cornwall and also a period of our history that we barely acknowledge happened. To me this makes their lichen covered, grey lumpiness all the more special! They may look like plain pieces of granite, the writing may be difficult to see and for me impossible to read but their value is, I think, immeasurable to our little patch of the ancient world. They are, like Cornwall’s Oldest Road, the solid evidence of a forgotten time.
NB: As I said there are 5 stones that I know of, the fifth I was unable to photograph as it stands on private land and can only be viewed by appointment.