Ambleside Roman Fort
The fort in Borrans Field, Ambleside, was first described by the antiquary William Camden in the reign of Elizabeth I, ‘the carcase, as it were, of an ancient city, with large ruins of walls; and without the walls, the rubbish of old buildings in many places’. Subsequent centuries saw the Roman buildings used as a convenient quarry for building stone, and by the 19thcentury little remained above the surface. The purchase of the site by the National Trust led to four seasons of excavations between 1912 and 1920, by R G Collingwood, to whom we owe much of what we know about the site.
The History of the Roman Fort
Most of the remains which can now be seen are those of a stone fort built during the reign of Hadrian. Beneath these, Collingwood found an earlier and smaller fort, built of timber; little is known about this, but it may have been established during the governorship of C.I. Agricola (80-85 A.D.). There may then have been an interval before the building of the stone fort, which was occupied until at least 365 A.D.
Why a Fort at Ambleside?
The fort occupies a strategic position at the meeting of the Rothay and Brathay valleys, giving control over routes to the Kirkstone and Hardknott passes. The easy crossing of the Rothay may also have been a factor in siting the fort. The use of building stone from the south side of Windermere suggests that use was made of water transport. Little is known of the native population in the area, but taxes as well as many of the Roman garrison’s supplies were probably collected locally.
The full material archive from the Collingwood and later excavations of the fort is held at the Armitt Museum Cumbria. In addition the Armitt Library holds the associated excavation reports and a wealth of other information relating to the fort.