Sunday 13 November 2016

Snow, stones, forts, castles: Walltown, Thirlwall, Bewcastle

Up at Walltown with Jeff, the volunteer ranger, from Northumberland National ParkWe talked about many things on this November Hadrian's Wall Community Champions Project Walk last Wednesday: geology; a missing turret (45B); the Wall (but of course); King Arthur legends; a Roman limestone quarry hereabouts; whinstone quarries (19C.&20C.); Saving the Wall, chives; pele tower at Walltown Farm; stones from Milecastle 45 acting as water troughs at the Farm; the dating of the tower & Bishop Ridley's brother, John Ridley, who inherited the tower. Up on Hadrian's Wall at Walltown in a 'Nick' (a gap) you will see a fence around an old well This is known as King Arthur's Well. Legend has it that King Edwin of Northumbria was baptised by Paulinus at this well or spring at Walltown, some four miles from Haltwhistle. The spring still supplies water to many of the farms and it was probably a Roman shrine. Jeff  confirmed that NNPA archaeologists confirmed that the stones used in this well were Roman.
For more information on Walltown please click on this link: (Walltown Education Pack - Northumberland National Park)

vale to Maria! Hail & Farewell! (ave atque vale!) Maria has done lots of sterling work over the years with Hadrian's Wall Heritage, Hadrian's Wall Trust & Hadrian's Wall Community Champions Project. Maria is off to pastures new...we shall miss her!

Snowy views up at Walltown overlooking the quarry (now a Northumberland National Park nature reserve)
Jeff being very knowledgeable (NNPA)

P & Friends measuring a stone which came from Hadrian's Wall originally at Thirlwall Castle
At Thirlwall castle (under the guardianship of Northumberland National Park) we looked at the origins of the name (it means 'break in the Wall'); the history of the medieval castle with links to Richard III and Edward I who stayed there for 4 nights 710 years ago (during September 1306)

Views of Thirlwall Castle 
We also talked about the legend of the golden table. A widow's son will break the spell and release the keeper of the golden table plus the table itself! For further information click here: Thirlwall Castle History (Romanticism, Reivers, Parliamentarians, Earl of Carlisle and more.)
For conservation of Thirlwall Castle please click here: Robin Kent/Soft Capping
It is also rumoured that there is a tunnel between Thirlwall Castle and Blenkinsopp Castle which is nearby...the name of Thirlwall lives on in Nine Nicks of Thirlwall (now Seven due to the extensive whinstone quarrying) and Thirlwall Parish Council and the surname Thirlwall. (My old French teacher and a Little Mix band member spring to mind. I do not think they were related....!!)

After Thirlwall Castle we had our picnic lunch at Greenhead Village Hall and we then drove along various roads (touching parts of the Stanegate and the Maiden Way) to get to Bewcastle. We passed Triermain Castle and Askerton Castle along the way. Bewcastle is 6 miles north of Birdoswald (Banna) Fort. It has a population of 300 people.
Reverend Rob Brown  (above) expertly explaining the different meanings of the Anglo-Saxon Cross at Bewcastle

St. John the Evangelist with an eagle
West face: John the Baptist holding a lamb and below him the figure of Christ
The east face: the vine
Neolithic Origins/Roman/Christian/Norman/Reiver Bewcastle
Bewcastle (also known as Fanum Cocidii, the Temple of Cocidius) has been the centre of religious life since before the time of the Romans. Traces of burial mounds, cairns and the remains of hut circles date settlement to the Neolithic period (4000-2000BC). There is also evidence of habitation in the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The natives worshipped Cocidius who has been associated with the Roman god, Mars. A local Cumbrian historian, Diane McIlmoyle, who goes by the name of Esmeralda, has produced a great series of posts on Bewcastle/Cocidius/Cumbrian locals at Bewcastle.
Here is her post: Cocidius-Cumbrian God

Silver votive plaques showing Cocidius, found in the strong room of the Roman fort, can be seen at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.
Please note there was also a Bewcastle Cauldron (which pre-dates the Romans)...also written about by Esmeralda. The real thing can be seen at Tullie House.
The Romans were good at hedging their bets and adopted local they have matched Cocidius with Mars (God of War and Hunting) but Cocidius is also associated with the God of Forests, Woods and Trees, Silvanus (we know him as "The Green Man"). They built their turf and timber fort in an unusual hexagonal shape (rather than that of a rectangular shape) over the site of the original shrine to Cocidius. Its headquaters and gates were made of stone. Fanum Cocidii is a Hadrianic Fort (and an outpost fort alongside those of Netherby, Castra Exploratorum, and Birrens, Blatobulgium) to Hadrian's Wall via Gillaleas Beacon Roman Signal Station. It was built in AD122-124. The original garrison came from Dacia (modern Romania). They were later replaced by 1000 Nervians from Germany and 250 cavalry.  It is an unusual hexagonal shape, as previously mentioned, and one of the biggest forts at 6 acres.
To get a sense of the scale and see the size/shape of the fort - have a look at it using Google Earth. (Some of my links also show these.)

After the Romans
After the Romans left (or not - as the case may be - please see a timeline here)...Bewcastle continued in a religious sense by possibly having a small monastic cell present within the Roman fort walls and hence the very fine late 7th century (c. 675AD) Anglo-Saxon Cross was built. It is made of sandstone and stands at 14 feet high. Like Roman statues and inscriptions it too would have been vividly painted. It is missing its cross head. (Its sister cross retains its cross head and to a certain extent is better preserved. It was broken up and buried so was not so weather beaten. Nevertheless the Bewcastle cross is absolutely splendid. The resident vicar at Bewcastle, Reverend Rob Brown, did a fantastic job of deciphering what the drawings and the inscriptions all meant. There are different interpretations as the Anglo-Saxons liked their puzzles apparently...
The south face and the famous sundial

St. Cuthbert's church is behind the cross
 (and the sister cross is at Ruthwell in Scotland)
The small but beautifully formed museum at Bewcastle
The converted barn museum (within the church cemetery) is definitely worth a visit as it explains the Anglo-Saxon Cross and the site of Bewcastle (in all its manifestations in great detail).

Bewcastle Church is named after St. Cuthbert who must have visited Bewcastle (to see the Cross)
It was rebuilt in 18C.

Norman Fort/Castle
The castle/Norman fort was built soon after in 1092 in the NE angle of the fort. The present castle was built between 1340-60 by John de Strivelyn (lord of Bewcastle and one of Edward III's generals. It later passed to the de Middleton family who allowed it to decay and then passed it to the Crown. Richard III, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) in his capacity as Warden of the English West March (c.1470-83) is thought to have repaired the castle and to have added the gatehouse on the west side. From the late 15th century until 1608 the castle and the manor were held for the Crown by the Musgraves who acted as Constables. It was abandoned and demolished around 1640. Both Bewcastle Norman Castle and Thirlwall Castle have excellent information panels showing how the interior of both buildings were used and inhabited.

The Norman Fort within the confines of the Roman Fort
also has connections with Richard III
Bucolic Norman Fort/Castle scene complete with hens, sheep and llamas from the neigbouring farm (Demesne Farm)

Many visitors come from abroad to research their surnames and Reiver family heritage.  Two Armstrong brothers (in the 1800s) became noted steam locomotive engineers. Their careers were mainly spent on the Great Western Railway.

A touching reminder in St.Cuthbert's cemetery (this being Remembrance Sunday) of the different communities who lived and died at Bewcastle and elsewhere in different wars down the ages.

Further information about Bewcastle and the Anglo-Saxon Cross can be gained from leaflets inside St. Cuthbert's Church and Reverend Rob Brown.

The incredibly informative Bewcastle website  is in the process of being updated.

Further reading:
Saving the Wall, The Conservation of Hadrian's Wall, 1746-1987
by Stephen Leach & Alan Whitworth

Ancient Frontiers: Exploring the geology and landscape of Hadrian's Wall area - British Geological Survey

Handbook to the Roman Wall (J.Collingwood Bruce) 14th edition David J. Breeze

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