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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Roman Remains at Hardknott Castle, Cumbria

Sheep among the ruins of Hardknott Castle Roman fort c. 2nd century A.D. Cumbria

While Jay and I were staying in the Lake District of Cumbria in late April, I read Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins, who wrote of her visits to various Roman sites in England and what earlier travelers had written about these sites. She expressed great pleasure in visiting the Roman fort of Hardknott Castle, the best preserved Roman remains in the north of England. None of the pamphlets or booklets in our holiday flat with in Keswick extolled this site, so I Googled it. Not far away, but the map showed a nearly uninhabited area of mountainous terrain with no more than a track winding to it. At breakfast the next morning, an older Cumbrian couple at the next table suggested we go down the coast and approach it from the other side. "Not as difficult," our acquaintance offered. But we had been given a Mercedes as a rental (Jay had wanted an automatic and it was all they had available) and we chose the more difficult route, approaching from the east.

The going didn't look so rough at first
The track, one lane but paved (all roads are paved in England), rose up into the mountains, where only sheep summer.  We met only a cyclist, two runners and two cars as we began our climb.
On this narrow track, it was best to pull over to allow these runners to pass.
 And some sheep.
Herdwick mountain sheep, brought by the Norse to Cumbria in 10th or 11th century, their DNA connected to present-day sheep in Finland
Descending through the pass, we nearly missed the ancient site, for it sat high on a hill above the road and we were its only visitors. We climbed up through some boggy areas, where Jay slipped and sat  in the mud, but saved his camera. And then we were among the ruins.

Photo taken from what had been the Roman parade ground above the fort.
The view west toward mountains separating us from the Irish Sea was breathtaking. The Romans built a road from the sea and their fort, but stayed only about 20 years.  It was a lonely outpost constructed during the reign of Hadrian by a cohort of Dalmatians from what is now Croatia. When archaeologists began excavations around the turn of the 20th century, there was no sign of a vill. Only soldiers occupied the site. "Thou shalt not pass" was their message to any wanting to come this narrow way in an attempt to stop the Romans from consolidating their northern frontier.

Note the dressed stones. Roman soldiers had a secondary MOS as construction engineers.
When we finished climbing about the ruins and photographing the few grazing sheep, we continued along the track west and down to Ravenglass on the coast, where we visited the remains of a Roman bath, situated down a long wooded path. 

Roman Bath at Ravenglass, Cumbria
  It was a delightful day.

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