Carlisle is a fairly compact city close to the border with Scotland. It's another long-established place and accustomed to all kinds of historic events, from the Romans who left behind Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort and other building evidence in the area to the centuries of border wars as the boundary between England and Scotland became defined. Part of the city gate still stands Remains of ancient building in the middle of Carlisle. There are monuments galore, and even the structure of the city itself dates back hundreds of years, still being used for its original purpose as a place to gather, to conduct markets and to bring children to ride the carousel. This is the kind of place where the local museum displays the fox-hunting uniform of John Peel ("Do you ken John Peel with his coat so gay...?")
Serendipity happened when we discovered a place called The Bookcase. It was a used bookstore and it occupied four floors of two adjacent houses, every room of which is crammed full of books, mostly used but some new. Founded in 1978, it was a beautiful place to shop, because the books were well arranged and categorized, and the walls were lined with nifty photos and paintings. The Bookcase
Then it was on to the museum, where our ticket will be good for another visit next week. We were interested in the special exhibit about the reivers, groups of both Scottish and English families that waged 300 years (c 1300 - c 1600) of vicious border raids. The Wardens of the Marches were no better than reivers themselves. Only about thirty different families, or clans, comprised the reivers, who took to building bastles and peles, heavily fortified stone houses where a family might hope to survive a raid with only the loss of some livestock. The largest of these families were the Armstrongs, the second largest the Bells. Could be some of Elsa's ancestors, who emigrated from this area first to Northern Ireland in the early 1600s and then to the United States in the early 1800s.
We rode the Cumbria Round Robin down the west coast of England to Barrow-in-Furness and Lancaster, and then back to Carlisle on the "main line." On the second leg we rode in a large fast train with one stop, and while the scenery was nice, we didn't get much chance to look at it as we zoomed along.
The first leg, on the other hand, was marvellous, and made the whole day worthwhile. Our two-car train left Carlisle and stopped at: Dalston, Wigton, Aspatria, Maryport, Flimby (whistle stop), Workington, Harrington, Parton, Whitehaven, Corkickle, St. Bees, Nethertown (whistle stop), Braystones, Sellafield, Seascale, Drigg, Ravenglass, Bootle, Silecroft, Millom, Green Road, Foxfield, Kirby-in-Furness, Askam, and Barrow-in-Furness. For a lot of this time the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man were visible out the train windows. A country railroad station
We saw but a few families here and there along the beach, as this is not a major seaside area in England, yet the train ride was superb, especially the part where the hills came down to the water and the track narrowed to a single lane - things were beautifully timed, as we passed four or five trains during the morning going the other direction, all timed to hit the stretches of double track.
There were hundreds of herds of sheep and cows along the way, numerous dogs walking their masters and mistresses, the occasional horse or pony, and various odd pieces of farm machinery. For the most part we rode through pasture land, not cropland. England seems absolutely as green as the Emerald Isle, by the way. As the day wore on the sun came out and more people were to be seen.
We took a guided tour to Hadrian's Wall today and had a very nice time. Some of the things we learned from our tour guide are: (1) there was a second Roman wall, the Antonine, further north, but it was soon Wall at Housesteads abandoned; (2) Hadrian's wall was dotted with "Milecastles," for further fortification; (3) built under the direction of the best legionnaires, the many forts on it were staffed with conscript regiments from elsewhere in the Empire (at one time, Housesteads, the fort we visited, was home to a Belgian regiment); (4) the wall was very wide, with (from North to South) a 30' ditch, the two-level wall (high level 21.5 feet, low level 15.5 feet), a Roman military road, and a vallum, consisting of a 20 foot wide ditch between two 10 foot high mounds; and (5) Woodrow Wilson's maternal grandfather was a Unitarian minister.
It was a nice small group. We enjoyed chatting with the other tourists and the guide, and had a breath-taking hike up to Housesteads Fort, which was quite large. It's all part of one of the largest world heritage sites: the Frontiers of the Roman Empire, with walls all over the place! We could see beautiful countryside all around, with lots of sheep pastures in the hilly land near the wall.
The way you pronounce Dumfries (Scotland, not Virginia) is suggested by its Gaelic spelling, Dun Phris, with the accent on the second word. It is a most pleasant city, formerly the county town of Dumfriesshire. War Memorial
When we got off the train we went straight a block and saw the Cenotaph, which had names of the dead servicemen in several wars, declared and not, starting with the Great War, the centenary of the starting of which was just celebrated. We thought the statue of the soldier was one of the finest we've seen on a war memorial - an ordinary Scot.
Just down the street we happened to walk through the gate of the lawn bowling center, which was having a week-long tournament. Spotting us, they invited us in for a coffee and let us sit behind the window and watch the games. These bowlers were very good. It's a shame that lawn bowling has never caught on strongly in the U.S. - it's a lovely pastime.
And Dumfries lays claim to the man who embodied the spirit of the "ordinary Scot" - poet and musician Robbie Burns, who wrote 'a man's a man for a' that.' For Americans his most well-known poem is probably Auld Lang Syne. We visited the Burns center where we watched and listened to a 25-minute film about Burns' life and work. He only made it to age 36, his wife adopted his illegitimate daughter, and his last child was born after he died. All over Scotland and the world, Burns Night is celebrated on the 25th of January, his birthday (and, by the way, our wedding anniversary). Robert Burns
Walking through town we saw the big statue of Burns, the Scottish National Poet (while Sir Walter Scott may have done most to glamorize Scotland to the rest of the world, it's Burns who embodies Scottish culture to the Scots.)
We also saw the lovely Midsteeple (looked like a small town hall) and the rushing river Nith, which made Dumfries a major port until the ships got bigger faster than the shippers could dredge a channel in the river.
Dumfries is where Robert the Bruce slayed his rival the Red Comyn in Greyfriars Kirk in 1306, and home to Lady Devorgilla, mother of John Balliol, King of Scotland and founding donor of Balliol College, Oxford. A famous old bridge in Dumfries is said to be located on the site where Lady Devorgilla had the first wooden bridge built across the Nith.
Finally, on a hill overlooking the river, we visited the Dumfries civic museum, which would have been like many another municipal museum were it not for the fact that it is built on the site of the 1836 camera obscura, perhaps the oldest such still working. In 1835 the local astronomy club (19th century Scots prided themselves on near-universal education) designed and built it for an observational tool; today the bright sun lit up the heavens long enough for us to get a quick demonstration of its capabilities - to magnify and project an image of the surrounding world onto a circular reflector covered in white.
We walked through some of the quieter streets of Carlisle today and then, after lunch in a nice South Asian restaurant managed by a Carlisle man of Portuguese, Mozambique, and Goan origin, moseyed along to the tour of the Carlisle Citadel, built by Henry VIII in 1540-1.
Our guide was the same lady who had led us to Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort on Tuesday. As before, she filled our heads with Carlisle history, making sure we would see the sign proclaiming that Bonnie Prince Charlie slept there one year, and his nemesis the Duke of Cumberland the next. Charles Edward Stuart actually proclaimed his father King of England, but of course that didn't stick after Culloden. John Peel's coat
The Citadel was used for a long time by Cumbria County Council, but -- as everywhere -- governments outgrow their quarters, so the County has plans to move out. We did see the names of the high sheriffs back to the time of the Conquest; the current sheriffs are identified by photographs in their regalia.
The tour is designed with school kids in mind, so a lot is said about the jail and hangings, but we were especially interested in the configuration of the small Crown Court, no longer in use. It's built all of oak, with all the different participants separated from one another (we entered the court from the basement cells as we would if we were the prisoner being led by the gaolers into the dock.
There were spaces for the judge, the jury, the prisoner, the clerk, the court recorder, the press box, the witness (leading off the space where the witnesses were sequestered), the prosecution, the defense, and at the back the public. All were surrounded in oak paneling and all had access by separate doors and stairways.
We've learned a lot about Carlisle, an important town for centuries on the border between England and the wild men of the north. An election will be held in Scotland next month to determine if the border between Scotland and England will become more important.