Ambleside Roman Fort

Ambleside Roman Fort from above

Discover the ruins of a Roman Garrison on the shore of Lake Windermere. A far cry from the peaceful setting it is now, Ambleside Roman Fort was once a bustling, lively place and not always a safe one.

During the Roman army’s conquest of Northern Britain, towards the end of the 1st century AD, a small timber fort was built at the northern tip of Windermere to house a garrison of 200 men. This early fort was soon abandoned, but the site was reoccupied early in the 2nd century AD.

This second fort was built in stone on a raised platform which is still visible. It was larger to house a cohort of 500 auxiliary infantrymen. The fort remained in use until the 4th century AD, with a large civilian settlement developing on its north and east sides.

Roman rule

The fort visible today dates from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (AD117-138). Ambleside lay at the centre of a network of forts in and around the mountainous Lake District. Their purpose was to ensure order, support Roman administration and protect local communication routes.

The fort at Ambleside was linked with the fort at Ravenglass, on the west coast, by a road which utilised the mountainous Wrynose and Hardknott passes.

Ambleside was also linked to the fort at Brougham by means of High Street, a high level route across the Ullswater fells. At various times, divers in Windermere have reported the discovery of heavy stonework close to the fort, suggesting the existence of a jetty. Almost certainly, the Romans would have used the lake for the transportation of soldiers and supplies.

Community life

Near the fort, remains of a civilian settlement have been found. Most Roman forts attracted traders, shopkeepers and craftsmen, as well as families and friends of serving soldiers.

Small scale excavations suggest there were timber buildings over a wide area to the north and east of the fort, indicating that this was where the civilian settlement or ‘vicus’ was located.

As well as shops and living accommodation, there would have been a bathhouse, temples to the gods and even bars and take-away food shops.

Power struggles

“Killed by the enemy inside the fort”. This is the inscription on the headstone of Flavius Romanus, a record clerk at Ambleside fort around 1,800 years ago. Found in 1962, about 400 metres east of the fort, it suggests an ongoing struggle to maintain law and order in the area.

The fort today

Archaeological excavations between 1913 and 1920 revealed the remains of the fort’s defences and parts of the internal building arrangement. Today you can see the remains of the main gate, the south gate, the commanding officer’s house, the headquarters building and the granaries.

If you’re looking for a nice peaceful spot to eat your lunch away from the crowds of Ambleside, then this is where you should head. The bustle of the crowd falls away as you wander across the fort site towards the head of the Lake.

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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