The impressive remains of Ravenglass Roman bath house are the tallest and most substantial to be found in northern Britain. Built around 130 AD, the bath house served the nearby fort and civilian settlement (vicus) at Ravenglass.
The fort’s location at Ravenglass harbour gave the site strategic importance, as such it was used as an operating base for the British arm of the Classis Britannica (Roman navy). Its role as a naval base continued throughout the Roman occupation, despite numerous incidents involving local tribes which resulted in the fort being either attacked or burnt down. Nevertheless, the continued presence of the Roman military allowed a large vicus to develop north of the fort, which thus required the existence of a sizeable bath house to accommodate the burgeoning local population.
As with all bath houses of the period, the baths at Ravenglass would have represented an important symbolic custom and daily ritual in the lives of the local area’s Romanised inhabitants. Interestingly, bath houses were of less importance in Roman Britain, however evidence suggests they were still an intrinsic part of life for those living within or nearby forts. Architecturally, Roman bath houses were some of Iron Age Britain’s most sophisticated buildings, with each bathhouse containing the requisite changing room (apodyterium), warm room (tepidarium), hot room (caldarium), cold room (frigidarium) and open exercise yard (palaestra). Excavations at Ravenglass indicate the presence of such rooms, with two rooms including under-floor hypocaust (heating systems) uncovered at the site.
The site is in the care of English Heritage and is open every day – entrance is free. There is charged public car parking in the town of Ravenglass from which the bath house is conveniently signposted. The site does not have its own facilities, however there are numerous places to eat and relax in Ravenglass. For those wishing to extend their visit, the forts of Hardnott and Ambleside, which were once linked to Ravenglass by a Roman road, are nearby.
De la Bedoyere, G. (2013) Roman Britain: A New History, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.
Castlesfortsbattles.co.uk (n.d.) ‘Ravenglass Roman Fort’, online http://www.castlesfortsbattles.co.uk/north_west/ravenglass_roman_fort.html
Birley, E. (1958) The Roman Fort in Ravenglass, Transactions of Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 58, online https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-2055-1/dissemination/pdf/Article_Level_Pdf/tcwaas/002/1958/vol58/tcwaas_002_1958_vol58_0005.pdf
English Heritage (n.d) ‘Ravenglass Roman Bath House’, online https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/ravenglass-roman-bath-house/#beforeyougo
Hadrian’s Wall Country (n.d.) ‘Ravenglass Roman Bath House’, online http://hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/visit/ravenglass-roman-bath-house