Ruins of a Roman Bath and the Foundations of a Castle – Ravenglass and Muncaster

Traveling west from Hardknott Pass (and the Roman Fort I recently blogged about) down to the coast of the Irish Sea is the modern village of Ravenglass – the Roman Port of Glannaventa.  Almost two millenia ago, this was a key port in Roman Britain.  Glannaventa connected the border fortresses with the maritime supply lines essential for supporting the garrisons with food, supplies, and reinforcements.  These forts protected the northern border of the empire before Hadrian’s Wall was constructed. The port was also necessary for the export of silver and lead mined in the Lake District to mainland Europe and the greater Roman Empire.  As is often the case with important centres of trade, the port thrived and grew alongside the military encampments, eventually leisure facilities were constructed.

Column and archway of the Ravenglass Bath House.  This area connects the into the room where the Hypocaust was discovered (the underfloor plumbing system that provided heating). © Brandon Wilgus, 2015.

Column and archway of the Ravenglass Bath House. This area connects from an area where the Hypocaust was discovered (the underfloor plumbing system that provided heating). © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2015.

On the outskirts of the Roman town stood a sprawling bath house or Thermae in Latin, which is remarkably still standing and carefully preserved.  Brick walls 13 feet (4 meters) high remain, with curved arches over doorways.  Under the earth are additional foundations, visible now only under the raised ground, but clearly showing the impressive size of the bath house.  The Thermae stood next to a large fort, which is now buried in the Cumbrian landscape – some of the village, roads, and a railway all cross the archeological site.  However, the initial excavations from 1881 have been expanded in recent years and it now appears the extent of the Roman encampment is greater than once believed.  Just south of the bath house, along a public foot path which crosses the rail line, work is being conducted on the foundations of barracks which once housed the garrison of Glannaventa.

Part of the Ravenglass Bath House.  The two doorways pictured lead from the area archeologists have identified as the changing area to the bathing rooms.  © Brandon Wilgus, 2015.

Part of the Ravenglass Bath House. The two doorways pictured lead from the area archeologists have identified as the changing area to the bathing rooms. © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2015.

Of note, a mile’s walk from the Bath House is Muncaster Castle, home of the Pennington Family and the Barons Muncaster.  The beautiful castle, occupied by the Pennington family for over 800 years, is built on an elevated wall which is now believed to have been a Roman fortification – the ruins of which were used as the foundations of the castle.

Muncaster Castle, a mile east of the Ravenglass Roman Bath House.  The foundations of Muncaster were built upon Roman Ruins 800 years ago.  © Brandon Wilgus, 2015.

Muncaster Castle, a mile east of the Ravenglass Roman Bath House. The foundations of Muncaster were built upon Roman Ruins 800 years ago. © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2015.

The Ravenglass Roman Bath House is maintained by English Heritage, there is free access and free parking.  Muncaster Castle is a beautiful and historic Grade I property which is certainly worth a full day’s visit to enjoy the house and gardens: http://www.muncaster.co.uk.

After much traveling, I plan on returning to Cambridgeshire soon… Brandon.

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