It’s not the size or condition of the remains of Hardknott Roman Fort (called Mediobogdum by the Romans) built between 120 and 138AD, that makes it so memorable. It’s the dramatic site at the peak of the famous pass of the same name. The stunning long distance views across the Lakeland fells, and as far distant as the ocean, are breathtaking.
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Because of its location the Romans were able to control the road, called the 10th iter, which ran from Ravenglass (Glannaventa) on the west coast to Ambleside (Galava) on the eastern side of the mountains. It was an important military site for the Romans, one of a chain in a link of connecting forts and roads that ensured military control of the natives of the area.
Built during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, the fort covers three acres. 500 infantrymen were stationed here. Visible stone remains include granaries, a headquarters building, and a commandant’s house. The remaining foundation walls, varying in thickness, show that the fort had towers at each corner and gateways on the four sides. The barracks were built of wood. A bath house with a beehive shaped sauna bath and parade ground—the best preserved in England—can be found outside the walls.
Two inscribed stones were found at the site. One dates to the reign of Hadrian and possibly indicates the fort was built on an earlier structure. Archaeologists believe this fort was used for only a short time, as there is no evidence of its use past the second century. Much is still to be excavated.
Exposed to the elements, the fort is the best preserved in Cumbria. Sited at the top of Hardknott Pass on the road over the mountains, it is relatively isolated and inaccessible even in modern times.
Edwin Waugh said in Rambles in the Lake Country, “Hardknot rose bleak and craggy to the skies. . . .Around the ruins mighty mountains frowned, Scawfell, Hardknot, and Harter Fell, all savage desolation. That wild scene must have changed very little since Roman trumpets woke its echoes.”
Hardknott Roman Fort
9 miles northeast of Ravenglass at the western end of Hardknott Pass on minor road off the A595 from Ravenglass or A593 from west of Skelwith Bridge.
Owned by English Heritage and managed by the National Trust.
Text and photos © by Barbara Ballard