In centuries gone by, before roads were made, what were the trails/paths/roads called that were made by the frequent passage of wagon teams or carriages joining towns together?

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    Are you talking about the road as a whole, or the marks/ruts made by the wagon wheels? – Max Williams Nov 6 '17 at 11:58
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  • @Strawberry see the link in my answer – mplungjan Nov 6 '17 at 17:29
  • I suspect this is one of those terms that varies wildly depending on region. I would probably say 'cart-track' or 'cart-path' (American English), and have personally never heard of a 'Rutway'. – MMAdams Nov 6 '17 at 17:40
  • sorry for the confusion... I am looking for words to describe the road as a whole. – DJaye Nov 8 '17 at 0:56

You may be looking for for Ruts or Rutways

The ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks constructed roads with artificial wheel-ruts deliberately cut into rock. The ruts were spaced apart from each other the same distance as the wheelspan of an ordinary carriage, and thus constituted grooves that guided the carriages on the rutway.Wikipedia


Picture from the Gaeawiki - Atridean_Empire

  • The link you provide is specifically talking about deliberately-constructed, artificial grooves for carriage wheels to follow, not ruts formed naturally by the carriages themselves. This doesn't match what the question is asking. – user2357112 Nov 6 '17 at 18:53
  • @user2357112 Please read the main link. – mplungjan Nov 6 '17 at 19:29
  • "Ruts" is appropriate, but "rutways" doesn't seem to be. – user2357112 Nov 6 '17 at 19:40
  • I updated the answer just for you – mplungjan Nov 6 '17 at 19:45

In the northern U.S., the modern equivalent, a rural or forest road created by the passage of motorized vehicles, is called a two-track road.

I could not find a dictionary definition or other official reference, but here are a few example uses:

  • Mountain biking and camping in the Yellowstone region 25 - 30 years ago, we were using single-track for "trails" passable by people, 2 wheel bikes, and horses; and two-track for "roads" also passable by 4 wheel vehicles. The main difference between calling a graded passage a dirt road or a 2 track road/trail was how deep the ruts were. Deep, muddy rutted roads were always referred to as 2 track. "It's on the map with a Forest Service Road number, but it's really just a 2 track, not even graded after the first couple of miles..." – geneSummons Nov 6 '17 at 22:46

In the US, since the days of the Oregon Trail, the ruts themselves are commonly called wagon ruts, and are typically all that is left of a road/path/trail that once was heavily travelled. (Google image search on "wagon ruts")


But to answer your question, if the ruts developed naturally (were not intentionally built into the roadway, per the "rutways" answer), then I think the "2 track" answer holds. "The Oregon Trail is still visible in parts of the western US as a rutted 2 track through the prairie."


In Scotland around 1815, roads "made by the frequent passage of wagon teams or carriages" probably would have been called 'cart tracks':

His guide then dragged the weary hack along a broken and stony cart track, ....

Caledonian Mercury, 09 March 1815 (Midlothian, Scotland; paywalled)

Another Scottish example, from 1822:

Instant search was immediately made...when the child was found...apparently not much hurt! the skirts of its clothes were in the cart track.

Inverness Courier, 03 October 1822 (paywalled)

And from 1823:

For some time after my departure from the village, I found a cart track, which served to guide me across one of the wildest and most extensive wastes, mosses, or muir, or rather, all three combined and commingled into one, in Scotland. But by-and-by this track began to diverge strangely, and subdivided itself into separate and almost invisible traces, and I was not a little puzzled, at times, to select, amidst such a perplexing variety.

The Scots Magazine, 01 December 1823

Another name, 'cart path', appeared in England's popular press rather than Scotland's.

The term 'carriage path', like 'cart path', although I found examples in use in the 1820s, appeared in England and Ireland rather than Scotland. Likewise 'carriage track'.

The term in use in Ontario, Canada, in and around 1865, is likely to have been affected by the scope of the locale; because of the diversity of the immigrant population, terms in use at that time might have been largely determined by (a) the cultural background of the speaker, and (b) the dominant cultural derivation of local communities.

Perhaps due to limitations in the data available to me, I did not find examples of 'cart track', 'cart path', 'carriage path' or 'carriage track' from Ontario until the 1890s. At that time, 'cart track' was by far the most common.

  • Perfect! I'm going to growth you answer. Thanx so much. ~deB – DJaye Nov 18 '17 at 1:54

Cart-tracks? Or maybe cart-ruts or cart-road?


  • Carriage track/path/lane
  • Cart track
  • Grass ride ("Ride" is a British term for a carriage path)
  • Dirt road
  • Rutted carriage path
  • Old roads in New England were named after the town they went to. So if a road leads from Lincoln to Concord, the half that's near Concord is called, "Lincoln Rd." and the half that's in Lincoln is called "Concord Rd." or maybe "Concord St." if it's heavily settled near town.
  • Thanx Glen. I think the "rutted grass ride" might be getting close to what I am looking for. Now I just need to know what that would be called in Scotland. :) – DJaye Nov 8 '17 at 0:59

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