Ambleside Roman fort, associated vicus and Roman road


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Ambleside Roman fort, associated vicus and Roman road
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Lakeland (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NY 37331 03445

Reasons for Designation

Around 150 Roman forts are known to have existed in England of which 60 have produced evidence of associated civilian settlements or vici. Sites like the Ambleside example are thus rare nationally. Construction of these forts began soon after the invasion of AD 43 and continued into the fourth century. The distribution of these forts reflects areas where a military presence was necessary, and the north of England, acting as a buffer between barbarian tribes of northern Britain and the heavily Romanised southern half of the country, contained a large number of these military bases. These sites provide considerable insight into the complexities of the frequently changing Roman frontier military strategy and add important detail to the historical account of the Roman subjugation of Britain. Of particular importance at Ambleside is the laying of an earthen platform on top of much of the early fort in order to provide an elevated base above floodwater level on which to construct the later stone fort. This platform will offer substantial protection to the buried remains of much of the early fort. The whole of the later fort and much of the vicus area is unencumbered by modern development. Galava is located at the junction of Roman roads penetrating the Lake District and would have been closely involved in the control and policing of the native population of this mountainous area and the wider northern frontier region. The attached vicus would have comprised a cluster of buildings - domestic residences, workshops and shops located immediately adjacent to the fort. Such vici were similar to contemporary small towns although they lacked the public buildings and planned street grid normally evident in the latter. Normally they also lacked the defences surrounding the small towns. Unusually, however, the possibility that the vicus at this site was defended does exist. Unlike other towns vici were probably administered by the military authorities rather than being self-governing. The close juxtaposition of fort and vicus allows the relationship between the military and civilian communities to be investigated. In this instance the close proximity of the site to the Hadrianic frontier region was probably of considerable contemporary importance and activities in the vicus are thought to have been closely linked with wider activity within the frontier region. Limited excavation and other techniques employed here demonstrate the extent of this site and confirm that archaeological deposits survive well and extensively. The site therefore retains considerable information about its origin and form.


The monument includes Ambleside Roman fort, identified as the site of Galava noted in classical sources, part of its associated civilian settlement or vicus, and a length of Roman road approaching the fort's east gate. The fort is located at the head of Lake Windermere in Borrans Field, a short distance east of the River Brathay, and is visible as a raised platform approximately 1.3m high and covering some 1.54 hectares. It is flanked on much of the north and east sides by two defensive ditches each surviving up to 7.5m wide and 0.3m deep. Foundations of the granary, headquarters building, commanding officer's house, east and south gates, north-east and north-west angle towers, and a short length of the fort wall have been left exposed following limited excavations between 1914-20. An earlier smaller fort underlies much of the platform but extended further to the east and north of the later fort and incorporated a rocky knoll at its north-western corner. The fort is believed to have accommodated a unit of infantry 500 strong. Ceramic evidence and limited excavation suggests occupation commenced during the AD 90's with the construction of a turf and timber fort. This was replaced by the larger stone fort during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-38) that was either abandoned or left with a greatly reduced manpower under the next emperor, Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61) . The fort was then reoccupied during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-80) and remained garrisoned until at least the late 4th century. The latest recorded coin is of Valens (died AD 378). The vicus extends to the north and east of the fort. Its existence is confirmed by limited excavations, aerial photographs and chance finds over a wide area. Roman pottery was found in the field north of Galava Gate in 1875. Limited excavations to the north of the fort in a flat area between rocky knolls in 1920 located a road laid on a timber corduroy. To the east of this road, in an area measuring some 60m north-south by 18m east-west, were floor levels with charcoal and pottery of 2nd and 3rd century date. Cropmarks photographed in 1955 in the field to the south of Ambleside Rugby Club show features resembling a temporary Roman camp and the presence of buried structures. Limited excavations and watching briefs during the 1980's and early 1990's in the fields north of Galava Gate and east of the rugby club, and beneath Borrans Road during widening operations and service trench refurbishment, have located areas of industrial tipping, occupation floors, a frequently repaired road surface up to 1m thick, cobbled areas, a slate floor on timber rafting, and remains thought to be consistent with wattle and daub buildings. This evidence has been taken to indicate that the main focus of the vicus lay in this area, perhaps with buildings fronting onto the Roman road which ran to the north-east of the fort. It should be noted that further evidence of buildings were found a little to the south, outside the area of the scheduling, during excavations in the early 1960's prior to the construction of a new housing estate east of Borrans Road and north-east of the fort. A substantial ditch 3-4m wide running east-west and situated at the north-west corner of the field east of the rugby club, some 350m north of the fort, has been interpreted as marking the northern limit of the vicus. To the east of the fort the agger, or raised causeway, of a Roman road is clearly visible for some 100m running from Borrans Road, through Borrans Park, and entering the fort through its east gate. As a linear earthwork it measures up to 10m wide and 0.3m high. A Roman tombstone found in the vicinity records two names - one of those commemorated having been killed by enemy action within the fort, and this evidence suggests a cemetery flanked the road, as was common practice. Walling revealed in the lake side to the south-east of the fort infers the presence of dock facilities. The view that the vicus clustered around main access roads into the fort is supported by evidence from the majority of other comparable sites, particularly those associated with the northern frontier line. The extent of the vicus at Ambleside indicated by these various finds demonstrates that while the origins of the settlement probably began as a cluster of buildings grouped around an access road it must have expanded considerably to occupy a much greater area. Ambleside Roman fort and an area of the vicus extending north of the fort for some 85m is in the guardianship of the Secretary of State. The fort is a Listed Building Grade 1. All buildings, field boundaries, walls, fences, gateposts, telegraph poles, signposts, service pipes, roads, tracks, footpaths and access drives are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Camden, W, Britannia, (1586)
Garlick, T, Ambleside Roman fort, (1975)
Lancaster University Archaeological Unit, , Proposed Course of the Rothay Relief Road, Ambleside. Arch.Eval., (1990)
West, FT, Journey through the Lake District, (1778)
Blake, B, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Crop-Marks Near the Roman Fort at Ambleside, , Vol. LV, (1956)
Burkett, M, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Recent Discoveries at Ambleside, , Vol. LXV, (1965)
Collingwood, R G, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Explorations in the Roman Fort at Ambleside (4th year, 1920), , Vol. XXI, (1921)
Collingwood, R G, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser' in Ambleside Roman Fort, (1914)
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
Godbert, J (Site excavator), To Robinson, K.D., (1991)
Leech, RH & Scott, D, The Watching Brief in Advance of Road Construction, 1983, Pagination 1-13


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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