“ Remains of Roman fort in Eskdale, Cumbria. „
As I am sure anyone who has read some of my previous reviews knows, I am a massive fan of holidaying in the Lake District. It has the advantage of avoiding a horrible flight, being only a couple of hours away, and has some of the best scenery and attractions that get you away from everything. One place that definitely ticks the box of being away from everything is the Roman fort overlooking the Eskdale Valley.
Hardknott Fort was known as Mediobogdum by the Romans, and is situated on the narrow thrilling road through the Lake district which takes in the Hardknott and Wyrnose passes, and links Ambleside in the heart of the Lake District with Ravenglass and the Eskdale Valley in the west. The road itself is an unnamed or numbered road, but is well known to all lovers of the area. The Fort isn't particularly well signposted, with only a small plaque on a wall in a largish lay-by on the Eskdale side of the Hardknott pass being the only giveaway sign. However this shouldn't put you off, and for any history enthusiasts Hardknott Fort is a classic little hidden gem.
The fort, built between 120AD and 138AD, was built to link the Roman forts on the west coast at Ravenglass and the inland one at Ambleside, and was chosen as a location due to its unparalleled view down the Eskdale Valley right along to the coast, as this was considered the most likely way for any seafaring invaders to mount an offensive. Living in such a remote area for the 500 strong garrison could have been seen equally as a punishment especially considering that they were most likely conscripts for conquered lands in mainland Europe or as a dream assignment, depending on the point of view of the individual soldier. It is maintained and managed by English Heritage, which look after many attractions and sites such as this and as an added bonus, car parking is via a largish lay-by with no charges, and it is completely free to wander around the site at your leisure. It must be said however that due to its remoteness, public transport links to the site are virtually non-existent, bar the odd organised minibus tour of the area.
The fort is located a good few metres away from the road, probably a 5 minute walk given the nature of the terrain which is grassy in places and rocky in others. Care is definitely needed here, as it is all on quite steep hills in places too. I would immediately rule this one out if you are not 100% confident on your feet, and would say that unfortunately it is completely inaccessible for the disabled or less mobile.
Local farmers stole many of the stones used in the construction of the fort over the years, leaving just an outline of what was once there. However this doesn't really detract from its beauty as for me the main attraction is just the sheer logistical triumph it was for a society with such a basic level of technology to successfully construct and man a fort in such wilderness. The ruins that are still left include several watchtowers, the inner wall of the fort, granaries, barracks, the commanders hut and a very advanced for the time bath house. You might now be thinking how do I know what the ruins are of? Am I a historian? Well no to both of these, as English Heritage have provided several plaques with lots of information relating to the buildings, how they would have looked and the historical context of them. For me this added to the experience as I am quite keen on my history and I didn't really expect the extra information for such a remote and rarely visited attraction.
In addition to the amazing ruins of the fort, another good reason for a visit here is due to the amazing views that you are afforded. From the coast at Ravenglass in the west, to the remote and craggy mountains surrounding you, to the view of 4 of the biggest peaks in the Lake District including the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike, the experience just gets better and better. We visited the area around 10am on a weekday morning and we were the only people at the site. As it is set a good few metres away from the road, the only sounds we could hear were our own shoes on the rocky ground, the odd fly passing by, and the sound of the wind whistling around the crags. If you are really lucky you could catch a glimpse of the many buzzards and peregrine falcons that inhabit the locality, and we were treated to several small birds displaying to each other (I'm not great at identifying birds at the best of time, especially when they are smallish browny ones!). We spent about an hour at the fort, by the time we had read all of the signs and properly taken in the views. By the time we were heading back to the car another couple of vehicles had pulled up and so in total there were probably a maximum of 8 people on the site.
So would I recommend a visit to the Hardknott Fort? The answer has got to be a resounding yes as even if the fort itself is not your thing, the enjoyment of driving the mountain passes, and really getting away from everything on the fells are worth the trip on their own. To any history enthusiasts, especially for Roman history, then this fort ranks as one of the best that I have visited when taking into account the remoteness and engineering works involved at the time. There are as usual a couple of little caveats, that being that I am doubtful whether smaller children will appreciate the fort or the views as much as I did, and also as mentioned earlier, its not suitable for the less mobile.
Thanks for reading and this review may appear on Ciao under my same username.