Whenever someone mentions the remains of an old Roman fort, it’s probably fair to say that most of us immediately conjure up an image of a few rather indistinct earthen banks and ditches stuck in the middle of some field miles away from the nearest road, and not really of much interest to anyone but the keenest archaeologists.
Prepare to be impressed
Well if that’s what you’re expecting to find on a visit to Hardknott Fort, just up the road from us at the Three Shires Inn, then prepare to be impressed – because this fort is very much still there, with its ancient stone perimeter wall standing around eight feet high, the walls of the internal buildings all still clearly visible, the four guard towers at each corner, and just outside the main walls you can even find the bath house and the parade ground.
It’s certainly well worth a drive over the impressive Wrynose and Hardknott passes to have a look around this remarkably well preserved piece of history. And another little bonus is that it’s literally just a few yards off the road.
The Romans called the fort Mediobogdum, and it was built in around AD120 during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. It was abandoned after only about ten years’ use when Hadrian knocked up his famous wall further to the north, but brought back into use again around AD160. The fort sits on a rocky plateau commanding dramatic views down into the Eskdale valley, and its main purpose was to house about 500 troops tasked with keeping a close eye on the rebellious locals down in the valley and to guard the Roman road heading over Hardknott Pass.
It even had a sauna!
Even on a warm sunny day, you can easily imagine what a bleak spot this must have been to be stationed for any length of time. That’s probably why they took the trouble to build such a luxurious bath house next to the fort. It had no less than three big baths, each heated to different temperatures, as well as a giant sauna!
Inside the fort, it’s still easy to explore the commandant’s house, the main headquarters building, and the granaries. There’s no trace left of the soldiers accommodation, and in fact it remains unclear whether they were housed in wooden barracks or even possibly leather tents.
Hardknott Fort remained in use by the Romans for a couple of hundred years before they finally abandoned it, but remains found on the site suggest the ruins continued to be used as shelter by passing military patrols and other travellers on the road over towards Ambleside. To be honest, the walls are so solid that you could still do a lot worse even today if you were caught out in a storm.
Whether or not you’re a history buff, Hardknott Fort is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. A very well preserved ancient monument with lots to see, and it really brings to life what it would have been like to be a Roman soldier stationed in the Lake District almost 2000 years ago.