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Home to the Lakes’ widest lake, the stunning Derwentwater

History Walk: Hardknott Roman Fort

The high Lakeland mountains seen from the ascent of Harter Fell, including, from left, Esk Pike, Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Looking north-west from the summit of Harter Fell, down into Eskdale and out to sea (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Bow Fell towers over the head of Eskdale on the return route (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
A bird’s eye view of Hardknott Fort from the summit of Harter Fell (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Hardknott Fort sits on a grassy spur above Eskdale (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Walks with History by Vivienne Crow
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The high Lakeland mountains seen from the ascent of Harter Fell, including, from left, Esk Pike, Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Looking north-west from the summit of Harter Fell, down into Eskdale and out to sea (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Bow Fell towers over the head of Eskdale on the return route (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
A bird’s eye view of Hardknott Fort from the summit of Harter Fell (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Hardknott Fort sits on a grassy spur above Eskdale (Credit: Vivienne Crow)
Walks with History by Vivienne Crow

Distance/time: 6.9km/4.3 miles. Allow 3-3½ hours

Start: Roadside parking just east of the cattle grid at the bottom of Hardknott Pass, about 4km east of Boot, Eskdale (grid reference NY 213011)

Ordnance Survey Map: OL7 English Lakes South-western area

After the walk: Woolpack Inn, near Boot

What to expect: Open grassy fell, indistinct paths, bouldery summit, some road walking

Walk outline

The walk first visits the Lake District’s most spectacularly located Roman remains: the substantial walls of Hardknott Fort sit high up on a grassy spur above Eskdale with views across to the Scafell range. Those views – and more besides – dominate much of the walk as you then head up towards Hardknott Pass and climb to the summit of Harter Fell (653m). The ascent is mostly on grass, but the steeper descent negotiates slightly rougher ground.  

 Vivienne Crow)

Hardknott Roman fort

Hardknott Fort, often referred to on maps as Hardknott Castle, was built in the early part of the second century by the Emperor Hadrian. It housed 500 infantry soldiers from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Living in wooden barracks and leather tents at almost 250 metres above sea level, these men from the relatively warm Balkans had the unenviable task of guarding the high, wind-swept road across Hardknott Pass from attack by the Scots and Brigantes. The fort was abandoned about 100 years after it was built.

The Walk

1. From the parking area, turn right and walk up the road for about 300 metres. Turn left at a squat fingerpost, ascending the path to the south-west gate of Hardknott Fort.

Passing through the gate, you can’t fail to be impressed by the thickness of these walls, now nearly 1,900 years old. Some of the internal structures have been partly rebuilt from fallen masonry. These include the commandant’s house, the headquarters, a pair of granaries and the external bath house, which lies to the south-east of the walls. Take some time to explore the site.

2. Continuing with the walk, leave through the north-east gate. (You’ll see it directly opposite where you entered.) A faint, grassy path heads north-east, directly towards Border End’s crags. It climbs slightly and then crosses a flat, grassy area – the Romans’ parade ground. After climbing slightly from the parade ground, bear right along a narrow path (east-south-east), aiming for a grassy gap between the crags to the left and a small, grass-topped ‘bump’ to the right. On reaching the gap, continue on a faint trail along the base of the fell. This rejoins the road at a sharp bend. Turn left and walk uphill on the asphalt.

3. Having walked along the road for about 300 metres, turn right at a public bridleway fingerpost. Bear right at the next fork. You will soon see a fence over to the right; the faint, grassy track meanders to a gate in this fence about 300 metres south of where you left the road. Almost immediately after going through this, the grassy track swings sharp left. You will soon see another fence to your left. Follow the line of this fence, ignoring a small gate where the bridleway enters forestry land.

4. Crossing damp ground along the way, you reach a stile at a fence corner. Cross this and turn right. The faint path follows the line of the fence on your right at first, but then swings left. After leaving the security of the fence, it heads south-south-east for about 100 metres and then swings south-west to begin its grassy ascent of Harter Fell. It’s not a well-used path, so you may lose sight of it at times; if this happens, simply head south-west to reach the summit.

As you climb, take some time to turn around and savour the ever-improving views of the Scafell range and the other magnificent mountains at the head of Eskdale.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Harter Fell is the dome of rock you can see straight ahead as you briefly follow a small beck upstream; that’s Demming Crag.

5. The summit of Harter Fell consists of a collection of jagged crags and rocky outcrops.

The views from here on a clear day are simply stunning. The Lake District’s highest mountains dominate the scene to the north and, out to the west, the Isle of Man can be seen. Looking down on to the Hardknott Pass road, you also get an impressive bird’s eye view of the Roman fort, putting its size and strategic position into context. The road that it defended was an important link between the port of Ravenglass (Glannaventa) and the fort at Ambleside (Galava).

Come back down from the rocks housing the trig pillar, take a few strides to the south, descend to the right and then quickly swing right along a clearer path (west). Your descent steepens as you pass a cairn. About 125 metres beyond the cairn, ignore a path heading left; keep to the cairned route (west-north-west). Eventually, towards the base of the fell, you will be joined by a path from the left. Continue downhill (north-west). Having reached an area of grass and bracken, you will see a fence straight ahead. About 150 metres before reaching it, bear right (north-north-west) at a fork.

6. Turn right along a clear track and then through a gate. Walk downhill with the pyramid-like peak of Bow Fell dominating the head of Eskdale ahead. Having dropped back into the main valley, go through two gates in quick succession. Descend to cross Hardknott Gill via Jubilee Bridge. This is just below the parking area where the walk started.

This walk appears in Vivienne Crow’s Walks with History book. This is just one of the books in the popular Top 10 series published by Northern Eye Books, priced just £4.99. For more details, visit the Top 10 Walks website here.


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Brian Sherwen Photography

Many images on this website have been supplied to us by Brian Sherwen.