The earliest humans travelled only for survival. They migrated out of Africa and later they moved to follow their food. These were hunter-gatherers. They probably didn’t make tracks at all; rather, they followed the tracks made by the animals they hunted.
Later, when people began farming, they will have created tracks joining separate communities to each other and to meeting places, long barrows and later, stone circles.
However, human beings have also traded with each other since very early times and this did lead to some long distance trackways. It’s difficult to say when the humans first traded but it certainly goes back as far as the Stone Age.
Ancient trackways include the Harrow Way and the Pilgrims’ Way in southern England, and the Ridgeway which runs all the way from the Dorset coast to the Wash in Norfolk. and has been used for at least 5,000 years.
Wooden causeways have been found in the Somerset levels near Glastonbury and are believed to be the oldest known purpose built roads in the world. They consist mainly of oak planks laid on pegs driven into the underlying peat and date back to 3800BC.
The Lindholme Trackway is later, dating to around 2500 BC. It fits within a trend of narrowing width and increased sophistication during the third millennium BC, which some suggest could represent a shift towards wheeled transport at that time.
In the thousand years before the birth of Jesus, the Celtic peoples traded widely across Europe so they clearly had major long-distance routes of some form, although what they were like is not known. The Romans invaded all of Europe and replaced everything with their own roads and buildings . . . and since the winners write history, we know plenty about Roman roads but little about what was there before the Romans arrived.
Further reading about ancient trackways on Wikipedia:
Ancient trackways across the world (including Britain)
Section 2 Menu
Tales of the Road: This section tells what was it like to travel by stage coach in the mid 1800s.
Travel in England is inseparably connected to the state of our roads. This section looks at the history of British roads.
Wheeled transport evolved over many years. This section looks at how coaches developed.
Home Page of the Coaching Website.