Harter Fell and Hardknott Roman Fort

Most people who visit the Lakes go for one thing and one thing only: the breathtaking countryside which sweeps for miles across the fells of Cumbria. But did you know that the Lake District also has a rich history spanning thousands of years? Combine beauty and history with this walk in the heart of Eskdale, an undiscovered valley, situated in the west of the national park.

Hardknott Roman Fort taken from the summit of Harter Fell

Roman Britain

After the Romans invaded Iron Age Britain for the third and final time in AD 43 they were met with varying degrees of resistance. The tribes in the south east were subdued relatively quickly and mostly opted to become ‘client kingdoms’ of Rome – i.e., pay a tribute to Rome, adopt some Roman laws and largely be left alone. However, tribes further afield such as the Dumnonii in Cornwall and Devon, put up a sustained fight which led to the Romans building forts to patrol and defend the area.

Hardknott Roman Fort may have been one such site, although the reason behind its construction is not known. It may have been to defend the border with Scotland while the Romans were engaged in their lengthy attempt to subdue the Picts, or perhaps the Carvetii who lived in Cumbria were among those tribes who fought continually against their Roman occupiers. Whatever the reason for its construction it remains a dramatic and impressive site, perched on the edge of the Hardknott Pass.

The site is now managed by English Heritage and is free to enter. There is no ticket office or entry gate, so the site is accessible at any time of day, seven days a week. You will easily manage social distancing at this attraction – when we visited, the only other guests were a few Herdys grazing in the ruins!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. Dogs are welcome on the site and it’s very quiet – perfect for dogs who are nervous of strangers or other dogs. Leads are required due to sheep on site.


Despite being a big fan of the Lake District I had never heard of Eskdale until I came across a reference in a copy of BBC Countryfile magazine. It only had a brief mention but that was enough to make me immediately start surfing the internet for a weekend away there!

Eskdale covers a relatively small area (from Gosforth to the foot of the infamous Hardknott pass) but it is popular as a base for those overnighting before or after climbing Scafell Pike. In my opinion Eskdale’s proximity to England’s highest mountain means that the valley itself and its gorgeous fells are often overlooked – but that was all the better for us as we didn’t come across a single walker on our afternoon hike up Harter Fell!

Harter Fell Walk

We used our much loved and very battered copy of Day Walks in the Lake District to navigate our up Harter Fell and across to Hardknott Roman Fort, which made for a very enjoyable 5 mile walk. If you don’t own this book there is a very similar route available on Walkhighlands.

There is free roadside parking at the very bottom of the Hardknott pass but this is limited. The path up to the summit of Harter Fell is easy to follow, but the path across to Hardknott Pass is difficult to make out, so map reading and navigation skills are required. There are plenty of impressive slabs of rock at the summit of Harter Fell which may appeal to the hiker/boulderer out there! There is also a spectacular view of the Roman fort from the summit. I expected it to stick out obviously but it took me a minute to find it, as over time, it has become a part of the landscape around it.

After your walk, if you are hungry, head to the Bower House Inn where the food is delicious (or at least it was in June 2018!). The pub is dog friendly and also has rooms available to book if you need somewhere to stay.

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. There are sheep throughout this walk so dogs need to be under close control. This is however a very quiet walk which would perfectly suit nervous dogs. There is no water on this walk apart from one small part, so you will need to carry water for your dog.

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