IN its heyday - more than 1,900 years ago - it stood at the side of what was then a veritable motorway.

Over the years, it has been buried, scarred by the blades of farmers' ploughs, dug up again, and now - with the help of writer Alan Bennett, who has a home in nearby Craven - it has been moved to safety in the grounds of the Church of the Holy Ghost, Kirkby Lonsdale.

Many thousands of Roman soldiers would have passed by as they made their way between Luguvalium (Carlisle) and the fort of Bremetennacum, near Ribchester.

Then it spent hundreds of years buried in a farmer’s field at the side of the A638 south of Sedbergh – a rounded block of sandstone gradually being scarred time and time again by the blades of ploughs passing over it.

Finally, in 1836, it was accidentally dug up by the then landowner – a man called Moore – as he worked the field.

On closer examination he saw it carried an inscription – M.P. LIII – which he discovered stood for ‘milia passuum 53’, or ‘53 miles’ and he realised he had uncovered a Roman milestone.

He decided it was important enough to see the light of day again and he had it re-sited at the top of a nearby hill over looking the Roman road. In the process, he hired the services of a historian to add a second inscription below the first –‘SOLO ERVTVM RESTITVIT GVL MOORE AN MDCCCXXXVI’ – which roughly translates as ‘dug from the earth and restored by Moore in 1836’.

There the milestone stood – an ancient sentinel standing guard over the landscape – for another 180-odd years until the effects of weather and, finally, livestock took their toll and it fell over.

Playwright, screenwriter and actor Alan Bennett, who has a house nearby, was one of the people who alerted Cumbria County Council when it was knocked over.

Now the milestone, which was identified as a ‘Scheduled Monument at Risk’ by Historic England, has been moved to what will hopefully be its last resting place – the churchyard of the nearby Church of the Holy Ghost in Middleton. There it will be better protected and be more accessible to members of the public.

The site of the milestone now lies within the extended area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the painstaking operation to lift it and then move it was co-ordinated by Historic England and the national park authority.

Miles Johnson, the authority’s senior historic environment officer, said: “This is the first major piece of heritage work that the authority has carried out in the new area of the national park and it was a real challenge.

“The milestone is thought to have been built around 79AD and the ‘M.P. LIII’ inscription probably refers to the distance to Carlisle in Roman miles, which were each made up of 1,000 paces.

“It was a feature along what was a major trunk road that ran from Ribchester to Carlisle – a Roman version of the M6 – and some parts of the road survive under modern roads including the A683, while others are visible as an earthwork.

“The milestone is a curious piece of cultural heritage with an interesting story behind it – and it was hugely important that each step of its restoration was carefully thought out and planned with all the organisations involved.”

Steve Hastie, the authority’s area manager west, said: “We met with Historic England, residents, landowners and the Lunesdale Archaeology Society and came up with a plan to move it with help from the farmer.

“There was a very real risk we could damage or even destroy it while it was being lifted and moved down a slope and across two fields or when it was being installed in the churchyard. On top of that it was pouring with rain, which didn’t help matters at all.

“We dug out the hole for its new site by hand and then we packed stone and earth around the base to securely pin the post and fill it in.

“It was a tricky job, and not without its hairy moments, but it’s the first of many we will be doing in this new part of the National Park.

“Now that it’s in the churchyard, we hope more people will come to see it – and it will be a great attraction for schools and archaeology groups.”

Historic England heritage at risk project officer Sarah Howard said: “The milestone is significant because it is one of only around 50 surviving examples within Britain.

“As Middleton is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park extension area, this offered a fantastic opportunity to work with the national park authority to move the milestone, utilising their rangers’ experience of working in remote and often difficult environments.

“The next step will be to work with the local community and the authority to create an interpretation board and exhibition in the church so that visitors can find out about Romans in the Lune Valley as well as the recent history of the Middleton moving milestone.”

The Rev Richard Snow, the Rector of the Church of the Holy Ghost, said: “It’s brilliant to see it there in the churchyard.It had been knocked down by some cows, I think, and it was going round the community that we ought to put it back up again.

“It’s part of the heritage of the community so it felt appropriate to suggest it might be better to move it into the churchyard. It’s close to where it was originally and it’s a little more protected.”

The national park has produced a short film recording the whole, nerve-wracking move, which can be viewed at online at