Cats, bells and old oak trees

I honestly don’t think anyone knows who’s going to read their blog until they get writing it. This one is mostly read by folks with a storytelling bent, whether it’s a local with a romantic soul, a teacher or volunteer guide looking for history’s interesting bits, a journalist, a whole load of spammers telling tales about loans and boots and yachts, a writer of novels, a politician, an historian, a neighbour, or a lover of the discipline of local history, wherever it is found.

Woods, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

Woods, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

If you love stories, I can’t recommend a better source of inspiration than a map and a copy of Diana Whaley’s Dictionary of Lake District Place-Names (which actually includes much more of Cumbria, not just the Lake District) or Ekwall’s Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. There are other books on place names, but a lot of them aren’t very well researched, so do yourself a favour and invest in a good one.

So: see that picture? This is Cockshot Woods at Keswick, but there are several others in the county with the same name.

‘Cocke shott, the Cockshott 1677, 1746… Cockshot Point 1851… a glade or path in woodland “through which woodcocks, etc, might dart or ‘shoot’ so as to be caught by nets stretched across the opening” ‘ (Whalley)

And this very famous view, of Cat Bells (or Catbells, depending on your map). That’s the mountain, for people not familiar with it!

Catbells over Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

Catbells over Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

‘Catbel(close) 1454… Catbels 1794… “the bell-shaped hill frequented by wild cats”… the two summits could explain the plural name.’ (Whaley)

And now, let’s shoot back in time to something rather less ‘oh, of course!’. This is Derwentwater, a lake fed by the River Derwent; there are a number of rivers Derwent around the country, all with the same derivation.

‘(River:) Derventione (applied to Roman for at Papcastle, on the Derwent), Deruventionis fluvii, 8th century… possibly Derwennydd, late 6th-early 7th century… Derwentfelles 1256… Darwen Isle 1695… Derewentewatre, Derwentwater early 13th century. “(River) with oak trees” traditionally explained from British *derwa “oak” plus suffixes… the names may be still more ancient, ascribably to an “Old European” stratum’ (Whaley)

View from Friar's Crag, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

View from Friar’s Crag, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

‘Derwent R, Cumberland [Deruuentionis fluui c 730 Bede, Deowentan stream c 890 OEBede, Derwent] … A British river-name Derventio… derived from the British *derva “oak”, Welsh derw &c. The name means “river where oaks were common”…. From Derwent Cumberland are names Derwent Fells [Derewentfells 1292] and Derwentwater [Derewentewater 1210, Derewentewater 1243].’ (Ekwall)

There are lots of beautiful, old oaks around Derwentwater still, many of much must be several hundred years old. Descendants of the oaks of Derventio, I hope.

Oak, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

Oak, Derwentwater copyright DMcIlmoyle

 

Copyright D McIlmoyle 14.04.2014

 

 

Our history gets a look-in on BBC Radio Cumbria

Yesterday, Dr Tim Clarkson, who has been kind enough to dig me out of many a comprehension hole without making me feel stupid, got a slot on the Mike Zeller show on BBC Radio Cumbria.

Tim Clarkson is an expert – possibly the expert – on the kingdom of Strathclyde, that is to say, the Brythonic (early Welsh)-speaking, ‘dark age’ kingdom that stretched from Glasgow to northern Cumbria, including the sub-kingdom of Rheged, between roughly the 5th and 10th centuries.

You can hear Tim’s bit on the radio show for another 6 days on the BBC i-player on the internet. (Slide the slidey thing along to 48mins 10 seconds to reach this bit).

He talks about:

The meaning of the word, Cumbria and its predecessor, Cumberland, and its ancient links to Wales (home of the ‘cymry’).

The language of Cumbria up until the Norman invasion, which was Cumbric, a dialect of Brythonic, itself a version of early Welsh.

Rheged – here is a guest blog piece on early medieval Cumbria  (he’s not that keen on the locating of Rheged in Cumbria, or at least, not all of it) that Tim Clarkson was kind enough to let me filch from him for this blog.

Urien – the 6th century Cumbria ‘hero’ who led an alliance of northern, Brythonic-speaking kingdoms against the invading Angles, but lost in the end when he was betrayed by an ally.

The Battle of Arthuret – which is the story of Gwenddoleu, and his bard, Lailoken.

Merlin – or, at least, one of the historical bards known as Merlin – who was, in fact, Lailoken.

You can buy Tims’ books here. Support our supporters!

01.04.2014

How the Mighty Fall

Iron Age Sword, Yorkshire Museum

Iron Age Sword, Yorkshire Museum

Since I last visited Tullie House in Carlisle to view the Crosby Garrett Helmet1, a curator’s comment has stuck in my head. There was a lot of controversy about the helmet, found by a metal detectorist in a field in the Eden Valley; some of it is worthy and true, and a lot of it is unmitigated codswallop and it’s the curator’s musings on the codswallop that caught me. He said he thought the root of some people’s determination to disbelieve that the helmet was found right here, as validated by a pukka archaeological dig and tentatively linked to a bona fide Roman fort at Carlisle, is that they just don’t believe that anything special – never mind exceptional – could be found right here in Cumbria.

In a similar vein, people have long imagined that Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Penrith Castle, Or, why it’s Not a Good Idea to have Royal Relatives

Penrith Castle, Cumbria

Penrith Castle, Cumbria

I would have been happy to tell you about Penrith Castle last year, if it wasn’t for the fact that there was a point when I was being hounded by various members of local press and radio anxious to establish that St. Andrew’s Church in Penrith should be putting in a bid to be the burial-place of the newly-disinterred Richard III. Now, I like to make my historical connections as much as the next gal, but I do not get into that kind of politicised argy-bargy.* However.

Penrith is an interesting castle. It’s not really on the Continue reading

The Crosby Garrett Helmet Comes Home!

Crosby Garrett helmet Photo copyright Daniel Pett

Crosby Garrett helmet Photo copyright Daniel Pett

I shouldn’t say this1, I really shouldn’t2, but when it comes to Romans I sometimes feel Cumbria was a bit short-changed. I mean, we have a whopping great wall3 (well, half of it), numerous forts4, Roman roads and so on – but where’s the fancy stuff? Where are the villas with mermaid mosaics and painted plaster? I know I should make a virtue out of misfortune and assert that we have Real Roman Life, not some over-fed Roman fat cats poncing about with amphorae of wine… but still. You need imagination and learning sometimes to make sense of Cumbria’s slightly-straighter-than-expected roads5 and bumpy fields6. I start to envy Northumberland’s piles of old Roman shoes7 and notes about Continue reading

Viking Cumbria: The Ormside Bowl

Whilst on my travels in York recently (I do leave Cumbria occasionally) I came across this in the Yorkshire Museum.

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl was found near St James’ Church in the village of Great Ormside in the Eden Valley in the early 1800s. The circumstances of its discovery aren’t clear; it was long assumed it was found buried, but at least one archaeologist1 has suggested that the condition is too good for that to be the case.

It’s really two bowls fastened together. The outside, the oldest part, is made of silver-gilt and dates to the mid 8th century. The inner part Continue reading

The train disasters at Aisgill

Today it’s the 100th anniversary of a truly terrible train crash that changed the way the train industry used signalling systems. The crash that took place at Aisgill, near Mallerstang in Cumbria on September 2nd, 1913, is commemorated today outside the county, at the original signalling box which is now at a museum at Butterley in Derbyshire. It wasn’t the only terrible crash of that period on the fabled Carlisle to Settle line, sadly.

It’s sometimes difficult for people to grasp that for most of history, it was really quite hard to get into Cumbria. We see that whalloping great stripe of motorway cutting up the Eden Valley, interlinking with various roads west, and can’t imagine that for a long time it was actually rather tricky to traverse.

Princess Margaret Rose steam train at Aisgill c. Ken Crosby

Princess Margaret Rose steam train at Aisgill, 1993 c. Ken Crosby

I remember that my Cumbrian granda (never grandad. Cumbrian grandfathers have no last consonant) always added the word, ‘up’ to Shap. You never went ‘to’ Shap, or ‘through’ Shap; always ‘up’ Shap. And whilst we know intellectually that Shap is Continue reading

Three Triskele Brooches

Today I present for your delectation three lovely ‘celtic’ bronze brooches, all of which were unearthed at Brough in eastern Cumbria. They are officially ‘romano-British’1   which means that they date to the four hundred years after the roman invasion, but archaeology suggests that they are the products of a bronze workshop on this site in the 2nd century CE2.

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Brough is a signficant historical and archaeological site. When we look at a modern map, we assume that the main route into Cumbria has always been the M6 but this isn’t the case. The north-south route, despite its roman road (the A6, more or less), was not as significant as you might think. When the railway line was cut parallel to the A6 in the 1870s, engineers had to make 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts just to get the gradient under 1 in 100 and thereby traversable by the latest in high-powered travel at the time, the steam train. The more practical route for centuries –millennia, perhaps – was the Stainmore Pass, or, was we know it, the A66. Continue reading