The Cross

Given the proximity of the ‘b’ and the ‘n’ on the QWERTY keyboard, this place could be easily dismissed as a typo.  Approaching from the east via Gilsland and West Hall, Bewcastle seems impractically distant from anywhere.  In the words of Peter Davidson, it feels like the last of England.  The sheep and cattle roam free under the Border’s wide skies, at a point where Northumberland, Cumbria and southernmost Scotland meet.  Davidson compares its remoteness with that of Norway’s northernmost Sami territory, Finnmark.  It was probably this, more than anything, that determined I must go.

And yet, for all its remoteness, there is obvious evidence that, at various times in ancient history, this place possessed significance.  There is the corvid haunted castle, the church which stands on the same land once occupied by a Roman fort and, within the graveyard, the Bewcastle Cross,  the finest Anglican Cross in Europe. Dating from the 7th century, it is dedicated to Alcfrith, son of Oswiu, King of Northumberland who ruled from 641 – 670 ADwww.bewcastle.com.

Bewcastle Cross, St Cuthbert’s Church

St Cuthbert’s Church

Peter Davidson again – The Idea of North – Topographies , Britain:  The point of the Bewcastle Cross within any idea of the English north is the absolute, internationalist sophistication of its iconography and execution: the vine scrolls are eastern Mediterranean in inspiration; the panel of Christ is derived, via Ireland, from Coptic sources. This is as sophisticated an artefact as the England of the late seventh century was capable of producing: it has details consonant with the sculpture of contemporary Rome.  It forces a reconsideration of the whole question of centre and periphery, standing as it now does in a hamlet at the very edge of England where to go further north you would have to walk to reach Scotland.  By drove roads, moss-troopers’ tracks, memorised secret paths to the frontier.

Rome, 1141 miles

The road to New House

Between Park Farm and The Wilderness

The ford at Rawney

These last images are from a four mile, circular walk that heads north from Bewcastle towards New House, west to Park Farm, south to Lyne Bank Bridge and east, back to Bewcastle.  Examine the OS map and the entire area is criss-crossed by footpaths, bridle paths and farm tracks – the memorised secret paths to the frontier.

We will return – not least because Bryony and Joy at the relatively nearby Scypen were so welcoming, late on a March Sunday afternoon.

OS Map view of walk

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21 comments

  1. Sue · March 12

    Love the Rawney Ford image!

  2. northumbrianlight · March 12

    Thanks Sue – that sheep was very undecided about crossing the ford but then in a moment of adventure, it scuttled across at high speed 🙂

  3. J.D. Riso · March 12

    “The memorised secret paths to the frontier”. That alone is enticing, and then there are the eerie images. I can see why you’d want to go back.

    • northumbrianlight · March 12

      I have become something of a Peter Davidson fanatic – a wonderful encyclopaedic knowledge combined with fine words. I am about to start on another of his books: Last of the Light – About Twilight – I wonder where that might lead.

  4. Maureen Sudlow · March 12

    a beautiful cross

    • northumbrianlight · March 12

      It is Maureen – the top is sadly gone and when first erected it was colourfully painted.

  5. restlessjo · March 12

    Ooh, a walk for me! Thanks, Robin 🙂 🙂 That’s a fine looking cross, and I love the hesitant sheep. Great photos!

    • northumbrianlight · March 12

      Thanks and a pleasure, Jo 🙂 The choice of walks around there is enormous and none too hilly 🙂

  6. sustainabilitea · March 12

    I’d definitely visit, Robin. Thanks for letting me tag along. I didn’t feel at all cold or tired. 😉

    janet

  7. petergreyphotography · March 12

    Very interesting, story and – beautiful – pictures. It makes me want to walk in England again.

    • northumbrianlight · March 13

      Many thanks Peter – Northumberland, the best of England and the last English wilderness.

  8. Aviationtrails · March 13

    Certainly a beautiful part of the world. I love it.

    • northumbrianlight · March 13

      Many thanks – I was pleased to find this hidden corner of a hidden county.

  9. MJF Images · March 26

    Dramatic skies!

  10. Cara Lockhart Smith · April 4

    I remember driving out to Bewcastle many years ago with my father, to look at this extraordinary work of art. Fine photographs you have taken of that sparsely inhabited landscape.

    • northumbrianlight · April 5

      Many thanks – I didn’t know anything about it until I read Peter Davidson’s book – a remarkable out-of-the-way place.

  11. Valerie Cullers · May 28

    Thanks for the post and the great pictures!! I really enjoyed them!

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