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Hard Knott Roman Fort
Perched on a shelf overlooking the valley of Eskdale is Hard Knott Roman Fort, built by the Romans during the years after their arrival in the north west of England in 79 A.D. The position is amazing, with superb views both down the valley towards the Irish Sea, and across the head of the valley towards the Scafell Range, which contains two of the highest mountains in England: Scafell Pike is the highest at 3210 feet, and its slightly lower sister, Scafell, reaches 3167 feet.
But the Romans didn’t pick the site because of the views; indeed they could probably only see them on about one day in four on account of low cloud. Their interest in the site would have been because it provided a wonderful viewpoint to watch the movement of the hostile native tribesmen in the valley below. There was a critical supply route that led from the port at Ravenglass, over the mountains to join other routes running up the interior of the country towards Hadrian’s Wall to the north. They knew their presence in the north of what they called Britannia was resented, and they couldn’t afford to have essential supplies for the maintenance of their armies pilfered – not to mention the less essential ones, such as wine, olives and Mediterranean spices!
Also the ground up on the hill would have been nice and dry most of the time, while down below the valley floor was swampy and full of thick vegetation. Not ideal conditions for the building of what was predominantly a stone structure. And who knows? the Roman generals might even have thought of the wellbeing of their fighting soldiers, who would have justifiably grumbled if they had to train in deep mud to strengthen their fighting ability.
The Heart of Lakeland and Cross Lakes Ramble tours cross over the ridge from Dunnerdale into Eskdale some distance to the west of Hard Knott Roman Fort. It is possible to visit it with a detour, but better to use the “rest day” ** in Eskdale to walk back up the valley, and perhaps to explore some of Upper Eskdale at the same time.
** A rest day means a day with no change of base, but doesn’t mean no walking – there is always plenty of that to do. People on the Cross Lakes Ramble don’t normally have a rest day in Eskdale, but one can easily be built in if you mention this at the time of booking.
Nowadays where soldiers used to bustle on their military errands, and train in the wind and rain, gentle sheep lie, sometimes accompanied by their lambs. The remains of the walls of Hard Knott Roman Fort provide shelter from wind and rain on stormy days, and shade from the sun on fine ones. At this altitude there is nearly always a breeze to prevent over-heating. The Roman bath-house lies in ruins, giving little hint of the luxurious hot water baths that used to pamper the off duty soldiers, or the comfort of a stimulating massage expertly administered by a young slave, who was no doubt, like the soldiers, many thousands of miles from home here at Hard Knott Roman Fort.
If you are interesting in a self guided walk please contact us.