Romans by the Rivers

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Ambleside Roman Fort once housed a cohort of 500 fierce infantrymen. Now, the beautifully situated remains are in need of protection.

In recent summers, teams of volunteers, conservation builders and archaeologists have been working hard to protect and strengthen the above-ground remains of Ambleside Roman Fort.

The work has involved removing the turf capping from the low walls of the fort, raking out earth from between stones, and mixing and applying lime-rich mortar to create a hard-wearing and protective cap. As a result of this work 175 metres of exposed stone walling was consolidated on the Main Gateway, Commander's House, Headquarters Building and Main Gateway.

During the work the team found over 2000 archaeological finds, which were subjected to archaeological analysis and described in a report. The objects were then deposited in the Armitt Museum in Ambleside which holds the archives from the excavations undertaken in the early twentieth century.

One of the most exciting aspects of the project was the opportunity to undertake a geophysical survey of the fort and the surrounding area to look for evidence of buried, and often unrecorded, archaeological remains. The geophysical survey provided volunteers with an opportunity to try their hand at three different types of survey; magnetometery, resistivity and ground penetrating radar. The results from these surveys highlighted evidence of intact building remains, presumably barracks, in the unexcavated part of the fort, as well as highlighting the existence of roads, drains and rubbish pits. To the north of the fort the survey identified a previously unrecognised building which might be the Roman baths, while to the south-east the remains of a road flanked by buildings might be the remains of the civilian settlement or ‘vicus’ that stood in the shadow of the fort. Ground penetrating radar also provided a glimpse of the late first century Roman fort which occupied the same site as the existing fort, founded in the early second century.

Attention then turned to improving physical access to the fort by means of introducing a new gate linking the site with the adjacent park owned and managed by South Lakeland District Council. This new gate allows pushchairs and buggies to get access onto the site for the first time and is also suitable for anyone using a mobility scooter.

The final phase of the project focused on the design and installation of a new scheme of interpretation to inform visitors to the site. As part of this the old interpretation panels were removed and bigger, brighter panels installed at key locations across the site. In addition to the on-site information, a new site guide was written to provide further information for those wishing to learn more about the Roman Fort, the leaflet is free and available from Bridge House and the Armitt Museum in Ambleside.

Ambleside Roman Fort is open every day, year round. So next time you’re in Ambleside, walk along to the fort and see it for yourself.

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