Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/An artist's ramble along the line of the Picts' wall - Part 5

Illustrated by Henry George Hine.

Part 4



In the evening we returned to the Shaw’s, which we reached just as the bell commenced ringing for supper. At six the next morning we joined a party of early-risers, and descended to the bed of the Irthing, which here pursues its course between walls of lofty crag, beautifully interspersed with foliage, where, in my earlier acquaintance with the place, there was a large heronry, but the herons have taken flight, and now only an occasional straggler is to be seen. We drank a draught of the Spa water, whose virtues attract numerous visitors to Gilsland, although, I believe, as many resort thither for the enjoyment of pleasant relaxation, social intercourse, and a fine atmosphere and beautiful scenery. We found our draught a leetle flavoured with sulphuretted hydrogen, but potable enough. I was told that, after awhile, the drinker acquires a taste for it, and tea made with this water is much esteemed by the initiated. I was not unmindful that it was at Gilsland that Scott first met with his wife, then the beautiful Miss Charpentier, and the spot where he put the “momentous qnestion” is said to have become a favourite resort of fair spinsters in their rambles with the Gilsland beaux. The very stone even on which Miss Charpentier sat on the interesting occasion is identified; it is called the “Popping Stone,” and many fragments are chipped from it, as amulets propitious to Hymen, for, like the stone on which St. Thomas of Canterbury received the crown of martyrdom, its virtue exists with equal potency in the smallest fraction as in the whole mass. When I inquired the way to this hallowed spot, I was told that the etiquette of the place did not admit of a gentleman undertaking to guide thither one of his own sex, but that I might be sure of finding some fair one haunting the confines of the Gilsland “Caaba,” like an unquiet spirit; which proved true,—for crossing the stream by stepping-stones in the direction of Wardrew, near to which I knew was the goal of my pilgrimage, I fell in with a young lady, as predicted, taking her way

In maiden meditation fancy free,

who, on my modest representation, willingly undertook the office of guide; and, truly, Miss Charpentier could hardly have listened to the poet’s vows in a fairer or more secluded scene. The large stone which constituted her resting-place is chequered by the shadows of a mountain-ash that grows on the brink of the clear swift stream, whose course narrows here between steep embowered banks, where the cooing voice of the cushat-dove mingles with the murmur of the waters, as, gliding over many a rocky ledge, they flow in music that the fairies in their moonlit revels might not disdain to dance to. Leaving the quiet scene with an aspiration that it might hear many repetitions of the whispered “Yes!” to be succeeded by as many happy marriages, I hastened on my return to the hotel, the more especially as the breakfast-bell seemed in its importunate clang to be enumerating the various materials of tea, coffee, ham—broiled in rashers, and cold on the sideboard, blushing beside the mighty round of beef—trout, kippered salmon, eggs, muffins, toast, bread, white and brown, and creamy butter, moor honey, marmalade, &c. &c., which go to make a substantial north-country breakfast. I therefore offered a hasty arm to my fair guide, who engaged to take a chair next me at the table, in order that we might carry on the staid and edifying conversation upon which we had entered, and which was now rendered incoherent by the sacred rage of hunger. Having partaken of these restoratives with a zeal and perseverance that might have proved not unworthy even of a holier cause, half-an-hour was devoted to a pleasant saunter in the garden, after which, accompanied by Captain B——, honorary master of ceremonies, and Mr. Tom C——, the Yorick of our party, we took an upland stroll to see the muircock rise on the wide waste of heather which stretches away to the confines of Bewcastle.

The Popping Stone - H G Hine.png
The Popping Stone.

On the edge of the moor our notice was directed to a stone bearing the inscription Dr. Mouth; inquiring the meaning of which, I was informed by Mr. Tom C——, that the virtues of the Gilsland waters were discovered, some century ago, by a certain Dr. Mouth, who made the place his residence, and, dying there, ordered his remains to be interred on the moor, and a stone simply inscribed with his name set up to mark the grave. This satisfactory explanation given, we proceeded a few steps—and, lo! another Dr. Mouth.

“What!” I said, “was your eccentric doctor buried in two places, then?”

“His son,” said C——, “Dr. Mouth, Junior, who succeeded to his father’s practice, and evinced an hereditary taste in respect of the mode of his burial.”

I was warned by the corner of H——’s eye, but too late, as he enunciated the words “Drain-mouth,” with solemn emphasis on the word “drain.”

“Sold again!” shouted the Captain and Mr. Tom C——, with great hilarity; and it was only when they had sobered down into ordinary decorum that I learned the cost of my bargain—being the forfeiture of a bottle of wine at dinner. A number of “sales,” I was told, were effected during the season, and the article was always offered to new-comers, who, in three cases out of four, readily “bid” for it, and thus found occasion for paying their footing. A circuitous ramble brought us to a small ancient-looking house with a steep thatched roof at the foot of the hill on which the hotel stands. This is the Mumps Ha’ of “Guy Mannering.” Scott’s description tallies with it precisely:

The alehouse, for it was no better, was situated in the bottom of a deep dell, through which trilled a small rivulet. It was shaded by a large ash tree, &c.

The buxom but treacherous Meg, the landlady of Scott’s story, is drawn from one Margaret Carrick, whose gravestone, the inscription nearly obliterated, being headed Mumps Hall, I found lying face downwards in the churchyard of Upper Denton, near Burdoswald.

Returning to the Shaws we wiled away the time till dinner at quoits, being not a little entertained by the apparition of a meek old man
The Piper.
who played the Northumbrian pipes to the good old tunes of “Fenwick o’ Bywell,” “Kittle her Chin with a Barley Straw,” “Caller Fair,” “Wylam awa’,” “Penton loaning,” &c. &c., attended by a dog, who, squatted on his haunches, howled a dismal accompaniment. Next morning, my companion and I resumed our pilgrimage, getting a hearty cheer from the company of the hotel who were assembled at the door to bid us good speed. Descending the hill, our conversation ran upon Scott and his association with the scene we had just left, and whose masterly touches have given an additional charm to its natural beauties. Besides the passages in “Guy Mannering,” there is much in the story of “St. Ronan’s Well,” that has evidently been inspired by Gilsland recollections. It was in the prime of youth and at the dawn of his poetical career when he first became acquainted with the place, and he may well have looked back to it as the scene of some of his happiest hours. Here were penned the verses


Take these flowers, which, purple waving,
On the ruined rampart grew,
Where, the sons of freedom braving,
Rome’s imperial standards flew.

Warriors from the breach of danger
Pluck no longer laurels there,
But they yield the passing stranger
Wild-flower wreaths for beauties’ hair.

Tracing the line of the wall by slight indications we arrived at Hare Hill, where its highest existing fragment appears, standing nine feet ten inches in height; but, deprived of its facing stones, it might, to the inexperienced eye, appear rather a mass of crag than a piece of human workmanship. The wall now stretches away towards the river Eden, visible only by ridges in the soil, which indicate its course till we reach the rivulet called Burtholme Beck, where a portion appears, about seven feet high, embowered by hazels and dwarf oaks. At Wall Fell indications of a double barrier or outwork are observable. Crossing the hill at the farmhouse of Dove Cote, the foundations of the wall and fosse are seen, and at Walltown some indications of a camp are likewise visible. Along this part of the line the abundant spoils of the wall are to be observed in the farm buildings and cottages. At Sandysike farmhouse a barn is composed entirely of Roman stones marked with the diamond broaching, and in the garden wall there are several sculptured stones; one of these, a Roman eagle, nestles among the foliage of a pear-tree trained over the wall; and another, bearing the wheel of the swift avenging Nemesis, threatens the sensual tenant of a pigstye with the penalties of the carnificial knife and the purgatorial lustration of the smoke-rack. Castlesteads, which contests with Cambeck Fort the claim to represent the Petriana of the Notitia, like Caervoran, lies to the south both of the wall and the vallum. Its site is now almost obliterated. Several altars and sculptured stones have been found, and are preserved at Walton House, the garden belonging to which usurps the site of the station. Coins of Julia, the second wife of Severus, Bassianus, commonly known as Caracalla, and of his brother, Geta, have been turned up by the spade. About four miles hence, on the rocky banks which overhang the river Gelt, at Helbeck Scar, some inscriptions, popularly known as the Written Rocks, are visible—probably the record of the Roman quarryman—but they are barely intelligible, as I am informed, for I have not seen them myself. Crossing the Cambeck Water, we reached Hurtleton (the Town of Strife), where, in the nook of a field, called Chapel Field, are the remains of a mile-castle, and further on, within a quarter of a mile of Old Wall, the site of another appeared. To the west of Bleatarn the land subsides into a considerable morass, to avoid which the vallum takes a wide sweep. Half a mile south from Bleatarn is the site of a camp called Watch Cross, which was conceived by Horsley to be one of the stations on the line of the wall. If it be so, it corresponds, in point of succession, with Aballaba, which was garrisoned by a numerus, or troop, of Moors under a prefect. But the identity of this station is doubtful. The paucity of inscriptions leaves the means of identifying the succession of camps on this side of Amboglanna very much an exercise of vague conjecture. Whether a stationary camp on the line of the wall, or a mere summer encampment, Watch Cross, which is said by Horsley to have been the least station on the line, no longer presents to the eye a feature by which its site can be recognised. From Bleatarn the course of the barrier is difficult to trace by Wall Head, Walby, and Wall Foot (the names, however, furnish points of guidance), to Tarraby, from which village to Stanwix (Stone Wicks) a road runs upon the foundations of the wall.

From Stanwix we look back over a considerable portion of our preceding route, to where the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall bite the horizon with their acute fang-like peaks. To the south and south-west the eye wandered with pleasure over the grounds of Rickerby, and the rich course of the Eden passing the ancient towers of Carlisle, the Cumbrian mountains rising in the distance blue and sharply defined. The church and churchyard of Stanwix are planted on the site of the station. In pulling down the old church a fine figure of Victory, now at Newcastle, was found. On Castle Bank, the north bank of the Eden, opposite Stanwix, the foundations of the wall are distinguishable; but from this point we lose all traces of it until its track is again discerned just beyond the suburbs of Carlisle, where it becomes faintly discernible. At Carlisle—the Luguvallum of the Romans—we took up our old familiar quarters, under the hospitable sign of the Bush. A morning was well spent in viewing the castle and cathedral. The keep of the former is a good specimen of a Norman stronghold, the surrounding walls include a space of a mile in compass. In one of the cells of the keep, the wall bears testimony to the calamity of many a high-spirited gentleman who, in the ’15 and the ’45, found here a brief sojourn before ascending the scaffold, in coats of arms, devices, and other inscriptions. From the keep a fine and extensive prospect commands the fertile course of the Eden, and the Solway Firth, with a wide stretch of Scottish land, Criffel and the chain of Scotch hills extending to the west as far as the eye can reach. To the east the cultivated lands subside into barren wastes that reach the feet of the rugged Northumbrian crags. Southward, the plains of Cumberland stretch to Penrith, where they are bounded by Crossfel and Skiddaw. The cathedral, commenced in the time of William Rufus, contains, besides the heavy but impressive features of the Norman style, a series ending in the decorated style, of which the east window is a very fine and perhaps unmatched example. We now turned our backs on “merry Carlisle,” and proceeded to the village of Kirk Andrews, where the vallum again makes its appearance, and a heap of stones in the churchyard are conceived to be the remains of a mile castle. In a garden of the village an altar, found at Kirksteads, a mile south of the wall, is preserved. The inscription it bears is as follows:—


From the village the wall follows the river by a north-west course, through a field called Long Wall, the vallum running in a line with the road. A quantity of stones in Beaumont churchyard, which the wall reaches, seems to mark the site of some building which stood here apart from the wall itself; and it is surmised of greater magnitude than a mile castle. A little west of Monk Hill, the vallum crosses the turnpike road, travelling on the north side of it to Burgh on the Sands, where there are traces of another station, within which are the church and the churchyard, the latter having yielded to the sexton’s spade numerous fragments of urns, lachrymatories, and a few inscribed stones, but none of them affording any reference to the cohort by which the station was garrisoned. The church is built so as to adapt it to the purpose of refuge and defence in border strife. The walls of the tower are seven feet thick, the only entrance being from the interior of the church, and that is secured by a massive iron door. The basement of the tower contains a vaulted chamber, lighted by three narrow slits in the wall. A spiral stair of stone leads to two upper chambers. In case of need the cattle might be driven into the basement or the body of the church itself, and the upper chambers have afforded a strong refuge to the fugitive inhabitants of the place. Many Roman stones appear in the masonry of the church. Near to Burgh is the site of the castle of Sir Hugh de Morville, one of the murderers of Thomas of Canterbury. The field adjoining bears the significant cognomen of “Hangman Tree,” and a neighbouring inclosure is distinguished by the no less suggestive name of “Spill Blood Holm.”

It was at Burgh on the Sands that Edward the First—“the hammer of the Scottish nation,”—was checked in his northern campaign, with only the Solway between him and the objects of his long and deadly hatred, and in the words of Lord Hailes, “in sight of the country which he had devoted to destruction.” His last orders, Froissart tells us, were that the flesh should be boiled from his bones, and that these, encased in leather, were to be borne in the career of vengeance which engaged his last meditations, and which he bound his son and successor, by oath, to prosecute.[1] A monument, of modern date, marks the spot where the “ruthless king” yielded up his stern and resolute spirit. Between Burgh and Dykesfield, the works are perceived only by the faintest traces of the wall—not one stone remains upon another above ground. The ploughman only in driving his furrow succeeds in revealing the buried mystery; but even in instances where the wall has been fairly uprooted, Dr. Bruce, like a keen hunter, takes the lead and guides us onward by what he pithily names the “Trail of the Wall,” and which consists of small fragments of stone by which the ground is thickly strewn.

On the way between Burgh and Dykesfield, an eminence called Watch Hill, was found when the contiguous land was drained, to be so full of stones that it was not considered necessary to carry the trenches over it. These stones are most likely the remains of a watch tower which gave name to the site. At Dykesfield, probably so named from the works, a small altar was found, and where the wall descends towards Burgh Marsh, quantities of stone, together with ashes and coal appear, and from these indications, together with some difference between this tract and the surrounding soil, it is surmised that here had been a small station. From Dykesfield even the “trail” is lost. Here the vallum ends, and for the further course of the wall, the ploughman is our only guide. By his testimony it would appear that the wall has been carried by the southern margin of the marsh, which fills up the space between Dykesfield and the Solway, making a wide sweep to Drumburgh, where tokens of a small camp are evident; and this, if Watch Cross be thrown out, would make the sixteenth station upon the line of the wall, and thus correspond with the Axolodunum of the Notitia, which was garrisoned by the first cohort of the Spaniards. The ramparts and ditch of this station are both well defined. To the south of the ramparts is a circular well, lined with Roman masonry, which is still in use. Near to the station a fine example of the fortified manor house is found to be built of Roman stones. It has undergone extensive modifications about the time of Henry the Eighth. Between Port Carlisle and Bowness, some considerable portions of the wall were remaining in Brand’s time. One portion he found to be about eight feet high. Hodgson, speaking of a fragment visible quite recently, says:

“It is six feet high, its rugged and weathered core, still hard as a rock, is thickly bearded with sloe thorn and hazel, and mantled below with ivy and honeysuckle.”

But though thus adorned by nature, and interesting as a final vestige of the mighty wall, neither the interest belonging to it, nor its intrinsic strength have availed to rescue it from the hand of wilful and uncalled-for destruction.

Bowness may be the site of the Tunnocelum, or the Gabrosentum of the Notitia, according as Watch Cross or Drumburgh be taken for the sixteenth station on the line of wall. Only very slight traces of the ramparts of the station can with difficulty be discerned near the church. The neighbourhood does not produce stone, and the wall and station, as in other instances, have furnished material for the construction of the church and the greater part of the town.

Here we took our leave of the wall, as I do of the reader, if indeed I have found one to accompany me throughout this itinerary. But in the trust that I may have so far succeeded, I venture to advise him, instead of wasting a summer month at Ramsgate or Brighthelmstone, to take a berth in one of the General Steam Navigation Company’s fine vessels for the Tyne; let him put this slight record of a wall-pilgrimage in his pocket, to serve as a portable guide from station to station, and see for himself much that, writing within a limited space, I could but touch upon. In so doing, I venture to promise him, if he be a good pedestrian, a walk of unusual interest, enhanced by the observation of fine and varied scenery; and I undertake to say he will find matter for amusement, and even instruction, in the manners and dialect of the people with whom he will make acquaintance as he jogs on his way, or when he takes his rest, Good fare, I promise him. When wending through the wild and unfrequented parts of his journey, he will not fail to find matter for reflection, while he bethinks him of the powerful material genius of the people by whom these regions were once thickly populated, and he will be ready to say, with Scott, in the words which he puts into the mouth of his hero in “Guy Mannering,” “What a people! whose labours, even at this extremity of their empire, comprehended such space, and were executed upon a scale of such grandeur. In future ages, when the science of war shall have changed, how few traces will exist of the labours of Vauban or Coehorn, while this wonderful people’s remains will even then continue to interest and astonish posterity! Their fortifications, their aqueducts, their theatres, their fountains, all their public works, bear the grave, solid, and majestic character of their language, while our modern labours, like our modern tongues, seem but constructed out of their fragments.”

J. W. Archer.

  1. This vindictive order was not complied with, for, in 1744, the tomb of Edward I was opened, and the body discovered in all the pomp of buried majesty.