Hardknott Roman Fort

Hardknott Roman Fort is situated on the western side of the Hardknott Pass in the middle of the Lake District National Park in Cumbria. The fort was built during the reign of Hadrian high upon a rocky spur overlooking the River Esk at an altitude of 245 m above sea-level. It guarded the Roman road between Ambleside and Ravenglass from invasion by the Picts and the Brigantes. The remains include the fort’s defences and gateways, the headquarters building (principia), commandant’s house (praetorium), two granaries (horrea), and a bathhouse outside the fort’s southern defences. The fort is on land owned by the National Trust, part of the Trust’s Wasdale, Eskdale and Duddon property, and maintained by English Heritage.

Coordinates: 54° 24′ 10″ N, 3° 12′ 19″ W

Hardknott Fort was one of the most remote and dramatically sited Roman forts in Britain. Its construction was contemporaneous with the early phase of Hadrian’s Wall, and coin finds indicate that the fort was initially occupied only briefly from AD 120 to AD 138. It was subsequently evacuated under Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61) when the Antonine Wall was established before being re-occupied under Marcus Aurelius when the frontier returned south twenty years later. It was finally abandoned early in the 3rd century.

A fragmentary inscription (RIB 793a), discovered in 1994 near the south gate, records that fort was erected “for the emperor Caesar Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus” by the Fourth Cohort of Dalmatae (Cohors Quartae Delmatarum).

The Fourth Cohort was an auxiliary infantry regiment of 500 men recruited from the Dalmatian tribes who inhabited the areas bordering the eastern Adriatic coast in the modern countries of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The stone-built fort is square and covers 1.2 hectares. It is flanked by two ditches on the uphill side. It has four gates in the usual position and four rounded corners with internal guard towers. The fort is entered through its main (south) gate, which, like those in the eastern and western walls, had two carriageways; the north gate had just one. Internally, the principia occupies the centre of the facility which is flanked by the praetorium and two horrea. Timber framed barracks and workshops occupy the rest of the fort (no traces of these remain).

The bathhouse, lying east of the fort, consists of one circular building containing the furnace and another three rooms with hot, warm and cold baths.

An artificially levelled ground lying on a plateau about 200 metres to the east is believed to be a parade ground where the garrison exercised and practised drill manoeuvres. It has a large ramp of stones leading up to a command platform or tribunal.

In 2015, physics researcher Amelia Carolina Sparavigna found that the gates that led in and out of Hardknott Fort were aligned with the summer and winter solstices (read more here). Sparavigna also suggests that the construction of the fort was designed for the soldiers to engage in sun worshiping and to pay homage to solar deities Mithras or Sol Invictus.


The Hardknott Roman Fort is located in the picturesque Hardknott Pass.
The Headquarters Building located in the centre of the fort.
The Headquarters Building comprised a courtyard flanked by narrow rooms, possibly used as armouries.
The Commanding Officer’s House was large and single storied, probably with rooms arranged around a central open courtyard.
One of the Angle Tower. A square tower was constructed in each of the corners of the fort.
The Granaries. These long buildings had thick outer walls which were heavily buttressed, presumably to support the weight of their superstructure and roof.
The North-West Gate.
The South-East Gate.
The remains of a tribunal, a platform from which the Commanding Officer would have given orders for the day and officiated over ceremonial and official occasions.
The west side of the Fort.
The South-West Gate.
The east side of the Fort.
The North-East Gate.
The South-West Gate.
Off the track from the road to the fort lie the remains of a stone bath house, which provided facilities for the soldiers’ relaxation.
Photo by James Stringer (Flickr-CC BY-NC 2.0)