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 AD – www.bewcastle.com.
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.
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.