Happy Midsummer!

Castlerigg stone circle

Castlerigg stone circle

Okay, I know it looks like I’m a day early, but the midsummer solstice takes place in the UK at 05.04am tomorrow (21st). Castlerigg is, of course, the most famous of Cumbria’s stone circles and sometimes – often – it’s obvious why. Continue reading

And a Happy Midsummer to you all…

Midsummer isn’t much celebrated in Britain these days. There are a few revived festivals around – in Cornwall, especially – but most people’s ‘celebration’ is restricted to a TV news clip of folks at Stonehenge having a knees-up, courtesy of English Heritage.

Summer Solstice, Stonehenge copyright A Dunn

Summer Solstice, Stonehenge copyright A Dunn

Most of Britain’s midsummer festivities – including Cumbria’s – were dying out by the end of the 17th century1, although there is evidence that they lingered in the north of the county into the mid 19th century2. Continue reading

Cocidius, the Cumbrian god

Cocidius altar, Tullie House, Carlisle

Cocidius altar, Tullie House, Carlisle

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there were people here before the Romans. But they were here, leaving echoes of their lives and beliefs through place names, 5,800-year-old tools and 2,000-year-old weapons. When the Romans first encountered us 2,000 years ago, they wrote down some of the things they discovered. They said that there was a people in northern Cumbria called the Carvetii, ‘the deer people’, who were a sub-group of a large northern tribe called the Brigantes – at least that’s what the Romans called them; we don’t know what Continue reading

Dinogad’s Smock: a 6th-century Cumbrian lullaby

About 1400 years ago, a Cumbrian mother sang a song to her new baby, a boy called Dinogad.

Page from the Book of Aneirin

Page from the Book of Aneirin

Dinogad’s smock is pied, pied –

Made it out of marten hide…1

So our baby boy is wrapped in pine marten furs; perhaps he was born on a cold, wintry day like today. The poem goes on to describe how Dinogad’s daddy went out with his dogs, Giff and Gaff, to catch fish, deer, boar and grouse, presumably to provide a very rich dinner for a very large household. Continue reading

A Gallop through Midwinter

We have, it seems, long celebrated something special at this time of year. When the days are shortest and coldest, we need something to look forward to.

Ghost of Christmas Past, illus. John Leech, 1843 for Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Ghost of Christmas Past, illus. John Leech, 1843 for Dickens' A Christmas Carol

For many people in the northern and western world, it’s about Christmas, the anniversary of Jesus’ birth. You might have heard that the bible actually gives very little clue about the actual date of Jesus’ birth, and this is true. The establishment of 25th December as Christmas was only settled by the pope in Rome in 354 CE, a good three-and-a-half centuries after the event. Continue reading

Scary, Scarier & Scariest: Halloween lanterns to Celtic headhunters!

I’ve had a little question running on Twitter and Facebook:

Jack-o'-Lantern c. Toby Ord, taken at Holywell Manor Halloween celebtrations in 2003.

Jack-o'-Lantern c. Toby Ord

If you’re over 40 and were brought up in Britain or Ireland, did you make Halloween lanterns when you were little?

I had over 300 responses and this, roughly speaking, is the result. Continue reading

The Embleton Sword

A few months ago, I came across a fabulous description of a sword found near Embleton. WG Collingwood, writing in 1902, described, ‘…an iron blade in a bronze sheath, with red and green jewels on the hilt–the Excalibur of some ancient Briton not without wealth and art.’1

Embleton Sword detail c. Trustees of the British Museum

Then, last weekend I was wandering the halls of Tullie House’s new Roman Gallery2 and found myself face-to-face with a narrow iron sword, not too short, not too long, with a matching scabbard. They were decorated in a very distinctive red and greenish chequerboard design and bells started ringing in my mind. There was no label, so I enquired of the attendant who informed me that yes, it is the Embleton Sword, on short loan from the British Museum.

With the assistance of the curator, I was finally able to Continue reading

Guest Post: Tim Clarkson on early medieval Cumbria

Men of the North by Tim ClarksonTim Clarkson knows his stuff. With a PhD in Medieval History and an MPhil in Archaeology under his belt, he’s written a couple of splendid books that master that trickiest of things: they are proper works of academic history, but you can sit down and read them like a novel. I wholeheartedly recommend The Men of the North as your route into the Northern Britons who lived in Cumbria and Scotland.

Tim recently wrote this post on his very interesting blog, Senchus. It’s such a perfect summary of all that tricky early medieval stuff here in Cumbria, that I’d rather you read this than any second-rate mumblings I could produce! Read, enjoy, and go over to visit his blog.

Many thanks to Tim for giving his kind permission to reproduce his words below. Note that copyright is entirely his; contact Tim at his blog if you wish to quote any of it.

Terminology Topics 5: Cumbria

To many people, the name ‘Cumbria’ means the English county created in 1974 from an amalgamation of Cumberland and Westmorland Continue reading