Notes: Limited signage however the fort is centrally sited and easy to find. No adjacent car parking - use the main (pay and display) park in Ambleside. Warning - the ground can be water logged even on fine days.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The stone foundations and slight earthworks of a Roman fort that was situated on the road to Hardknott and Ravenglass forts. The strong room and outlines of granaries and Commanding HQ building are visible. Lake-side setting enables visitors to appreciate that this fort was probably re-supplied via the water.
1. No records survive that inform us of the garrison at Ambleside but, give the local terrain, it is likely to have been an infantry unit around 500 men strong.
On the shores of Lake Windermere, Ambleside Roman Fort acted as a logistical hub for the inland forts of the Lake District. Perhaps supporting mining operations in the region, the fort was occupied until the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britannia.
HISTORY OF AMBLESIDE ROMAN FORT
The Lake District was a valuable source of lead and slate for the Roman military machine and, based on the concentration of forts in the area and the extension of the Hadrianic frontier down the Cumberland Coast, was possibly a centre of insurgency. Accordingly, in light of Ambleside’s strategic location on the northern shores of Lake Windermere, it probably hosted a Roman Fort from as early as AD 90. A fort had certainly been built by the early AD 120s by which time it was known as Galava. Constructed in the standard playing card layout it had a Headquarters building in the centre surrounded by granaries (two at Ambleside) and a Commanding Officer's house. In each quadrant were timber barracks.
Very little is known about the fort's history or its relative importance to the Roman military machine. With large granaries, coupled with the ease of transporting goods up Lake Windermere from near the coast, it is not unreasonable to suspect the fort might have been a logistical hub - perhaps supplying the forts at Hardknott and/or Brougham. However the fort was occupied until the late fourth century, unlike its immediate neighbour to the West (Hardknott), suggesting it had a role that was separate and distinct from merely supplying that fort.
The fort may have seen action in the third century. A tombstone from this time states a Flavius Romanus, who "lived for thirty-five years", was killed in the fort "whilst standing up to the enemy". The nature of this enemy is unknown however as is the precise date; a supposition is that Ambleside was attacked in the years proceeding the arrival of Emperor Septimius Severus Britannia campaigns (AD 208-11) when the Hadrianic frontier was periodically overran. This cannot be proven however. In the fifth century and beyond, after the withdrawal of Roman troops, the fort may have been used as the base of a local warlord.