The Romans built the first fort at Ambleside in the late first century AD as part of a wide scale military deployment intended to secure northern England. Located in the heart of the mountainous Lake District, it is likely the terrain was used by the native population as they mounted an insurgency against the invaders. The area was also of significant economic importance to the Romans due to the supplies of lead and slate from local mining operations. The fort was positioned at the head of Lake Windemere, a 10-mile long waterway that provided access to the coast via the River Leven. Accordingly, despite the fort's remote location, it could be easily resupplied. Furthermore, it was adjacent to the confluence of the Rivers Rothay and Brathay which provided the garrison with access into the otherwise impenetrable terrain of the Lake District. Known as Galava, the fort was built on the floodplain of the River Rothay and this led to it being laid out in an irregular pattern rather than the standard 'playing card' configuration that was the norm at this time. It enclosed a little under two acres. Its ramparts were constructed from clay raised upon a stone foundation and were topped by a timber palisade and towers. These defences were augmented by a double ditch.
Ambleside Fort was completely rebuilt circa-AD 122. Precisely what prompted this rebuilding is unclear but its construction was contemporary with Hadrian's Wall which included an extensive series of defences along the Cumberland coast suggesting the area was the source of an insurgency against Roman rule. To the west, Hardknott Fort was also constructed at this time and Ambleside may have had a logistical role resupplying that remote outpost. The new fort was built on a raised platform that buried the earlier facility and lifted the site off the floodplain enabling the new structure to be laid out in a traditional manner. It enclosed an area of around three acres and was protected by a substantial clay rampart riveted in stone which was fronted by a double ditch. A Headquarters building was located in the centre flanked by twin granaries to the north and a Commanding Officer's house to the south. Timber built barracks and workshops occupied each quadrant. The size and configuration of the fort suggests it was garrisoned by an Auxiliary infantry regiment around 500 men strong. Archaeological finds of lead slingshot suggest the garrison were equipped (and presumably trained) with such weaponry.
The fort was seemingly attacked during the third century AD. A tombstone from this time states that Flavius Romanus, who "lived for thirty-five years", was killed within the fort "whilst standing up to the enemy". The date of this attack is unknown but it may have occurred in the years preceding the arrival of Emperor Septimius Severus in AD 208 when the Hadrianic frontier was briefly overrun. The fort remained occupied until the late fourth century AD. There is no evidence of occupation during the Dark Ages.
Breeze, D.J (2011). The Frontiers of Imperial Rome. Pen and Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley.
Breeze, D.J (2002). Roman Forts in Britain. Shire Archaeology, Oxford.
Burton, A (2010). Hadrian's Wall Path. Aurum Press Ltd, London.
Campbell, D.B (2009). Roman Auxiliary Forts 27BC-AD378. Osprey, Oxford.
Collingwood, R.G (1930). The Archaeology of Roman Britain. Methuen, London.
Collingwood, R.G and Wright, R,P (1965). The Roman Inscriptions of Britain. Oxford.
English Heritage (2010). An Archaeological Map of Hadrian's Wall, 1:25,000 Scale. English Heritage, London.
Fields, N (2005). Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70-235. Osprey, Oxford.
Ordnance Survey, Historic England and RCAHMW (2016). Roman Britain. 1:625,000 Scale. Ordnance Survey, Southampton.
Shotter, D (1998). The Roman Frontier in Britain. Carnegie Publishing Ltd, London.
Waite, J (2011). To Rule Britannia. The History Press, Stroud.
Visit Official Website
Ambleside Roman Fort has been partly excavated and the foundations of the Headquarters building (including strong room), granaries, Commanding Officer's house and East Gate are visible. The wider site is visible as slight earthworks. The fort’s grounds can be water logged even on fine days and accordingly strong footwear is recommended.
Ambleside Roman Fort Layout. The fort was located on the northern shores of Lake Windermere.
East Gate. Ambleside Fort only had one double gateway flanked by twin towers. The other entrances were simpler, single arch structures.
Headquarters Building. The centre of the fort was occupied by the Headquarters (principia) building. This incorporated administrative buildings and a strongroom.
Granaries. The fort had two granaries.
Commanding Officer's House. The praetorium was located adjacent to the Headquarters (principia) building.
Roman Military Northern England. Ambleside (Galava) was located on an east/west route between Ravenglass (Itvnocelum), Hardknott (Mediobogdum) and Brougham (Brocavum). It was also in proximity to Kendal (Alavana) and may have had links with that fort.
Angle Tower. A tower was constructed in each of the corners of the fort. These remain visible as earthworks.
AMBLESIDE ROMAN FORT
Ambleside Roman Fort is located on the northern shores of Lake Windermere. Originally raised as part of a network of forts to suppress an insurgency, it probably also had a role managing mining operations in the region and in addition served as a logistical hub. The fort was rebuilt in the second century AD and remained occupied until the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain.
Ambleside Roman Fort is found off Borrans Road to the south of the town. Car Parking can be something of a challenge as most of the nearby options are private and linked with local businesses. There is a major public car park on Rydel Road which is just under one mile from the fort.
Car Parking Option
Ambleside Roman Fort