During the past four months or so I have been investigating Roman history in and around the North of England and Wales. In addition to studying the story of the XX VV Legion, particularly in Chester, we have visited forts, fortlets, Roman Towns such as Corbridge, and both Hadrian’s and the Antonine Walls.
Whilst enjoying a recent short break in the Lake District, I decided to revisit a Roman site at Hardknott. This amazing site is built in a spectacular position looking west at the top of the Hardknott Pass. You can travel there by turning off the A595 Barrow to Whitehaven Road near Ravenglass, and following the minor road through Eskdale Green and Boot, or from Ambleside and taking the minor road into Little Langdale. This is a really spectacular road, not for the fainthearted which takes you across the Wrynose Pass, along the old glacial valley between the great mountain ranges of Scafell (964m) and the Old Man of Coniston (803m). The road has a good surface, but is single track in parts, and has very sticky sections with lots of hairpin bends.
On this occasion we travelled along the Wrynose Pass and up to the top of the ridge above Hardknott, with spectacular views down the Eskdale Valley and to the sea. Although it was a sunny day, it was extremely windy, and difficult to stand up straight. This wasn’t helped by two Typhoon aircraft flying very low over our heads and between the mountain ranges.
The Hardknott Roman Fort is now an archeological site, belonging to the National Trust and maintained by English Heritage. It stands at 800ft, not quite the highest Fort in Britain, and was built on a rocky spur overlooking and guarding a route from the port of Ravenglass (Glannoventa) to Ambleside (Galava). It is dated to between 120 and 138AD, and was probably built and occupied by a garrison of five hundred men, Cohors IV, from the Dalmatian Coast. (Now Croatia) The initial garrison was a detachment of 500 infantry soldiers, and it must have been a very bleak posting. The remains of the fort and main buildings have been restored, but not yielded much evidence of occupation, apart from some leather used in clothing, and several shoes. The fort named Mediobogdum, was abandoned during the Antonine advance into Scotland, but reoccupied around 200AD , and continued in use until the last years of the 4th C. The fort itself is very impressive, square with rounded corners 114m long, and rampart walls 1.7m thick. There were four gates with look out towers on each corner. Within the fortress there are the remains of two granaries, the garrison headquarters and commander’s villa. Outside the walls there is an impressive circular bathhouse (a rare sudatorium) with associated buildings. The east gate of the fort led to a parade ground, about 200m away, which was the size of the fort itself.
This fort has to be in one of the most spectacular positions of any Roman site, with amazing views over the Esk Valley and the surrounding mountain ranges. I’ve only ever been there on sunny days, but it must have been a very cold and draughty posting during winter months. Getting there would have also been an incredibly hard march. I have included some of the images I took on our visit, which will give you some insight into the fort structure itself and surrounding area. Also an amusing signpost seen in the railway car park at Ravenglass.
Reference: Wikipedia. English Heritage and the National Trust.
View of the Hardknott Pass
The Roman Fort at Hardknott
The bathhouse buildings
Entrance to the Fortress
The fortress walls
The Fortress wall looking west.
Looking towards the Langdales
Looking down towards Eskdale & Ravenglass
12a. Description of a House
The Principia Headquarters
Looking towards the east & Hardknott - Wrynose Passes
The northside wall
Signpost to Rome & Hadrians Wall at Ravensglass.