A Present Day Tour Of Reiver Country

By Sean J. Ruttledge August 1998


Part II of the tour, April 1999

Mid August 1998 saw a long held wish become reality, I had longed to venture up north to the English Scots borders to see the lands my reiving Routledge ancestors hailed from. I decided to make the great border city of Carlisle my base and had a few specific places in mind to visit, Carlisle is set amidst beautiful scenery about 6 hours (fast) drive from my home in South East London, on reaching Carlisle I decided to drive straight on and see a few of the surrounding areas, the first of which was the beautiful priory at Lanercost.

Lanercost Priory is situated close to Hadrians wall, a massive defensive structure spanning from coast to coast which the Romans constructed to repell the "Northern Barbarians".

Founded around the year 1170 and completed in 1220 this impressive building was originaly the home of Augustinian Canons and remained so until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. Lying within a few miles of the turbulent Anglo Scots border the priory was continually robbed and despoiled and served as a convenient military base for invaders. In 1296 the Scots overran this part of the country and the sheer devastation they wreaked can be seen in the writings of a local poet Peter Langcroft.

" Corbrigge is a toun, thei brent it whan thei cam; Tuo hous of religioun, Lanercost and Hexam, Thei chaced the chanons out, their goodes bare away, And robbed all about; the bestis tok to prey."

Perhaps the most famous visitor here was William Wallace of "Braveheart" fame, whilst on his way to York. After the Dissolution the buildings became royal property and a few years later were handed over to Sir Thomas Dacre, the Bastard son of Sir Thomas Dacre, owner of Naworth castle. Dacre converted the buildings into a private dwelling house and took up residence in 1559, The Lanercost Dacres contined to live here until the family branch died out in 1716. Today about a third of the site is occupied by the present church.

From Lanercost we moved on towards Bewcastle church, Bewcastle takes its name from a Noble Saxon named Beuth who's Castle was here .Today the Parish of Bewcastle is a sparsely populated rural area with few scattered farmhouses and residences. St Cuthberts church stands on a large mound of earth (the defences of the fort) North of Hadrians wall, 3 outpost forts were built by Hadrian as part of the walls forward defences at Bewcastle, Netherby and Birrens. The road to Bewcastle was an unclassified single track hard surfaced affair which was certainly fun to drive on ! Our journey was halted by several instances of livestock on the road and at one stage we were flagged down by a freindly local, herding cattle down the road from one feild to the next, he had the classic Cumbrian appearance of a large sturdy frame and weather beaten face which simply oozed charachter. once we set off again I grinned to myself as I wondered if those cattle were actually his or was this the old reiving spirit living on.

St Cuthberts church was my main goal being the resting place of generations of Routledges from at least 1730 onwards, The church itself is a modest example which sits right next to the old fort, now part of an ajoining farm

Click on image for aerial view

St Cuthberts churchyard is most notable as the home of the famous Bewcastle cross, One of several finely sculpted Anglian crosses in the region dating from the 7th/8th century AD. The head of the cross has long been dislodged but the shaft is in excellent condition and bears early Christian and Celtic type carvings and Runic inscriptions. There seems to be no indication of why such an important cross came to be erected in Bewcastle.

The graveyard at St Cuthberts was an intriguing place for me to visit, there were scores of Routledge graves to be seen amidst others bearing the names of many other prominent reiving families :- Armstrongs, Grahams, Nobles, Storeys, Musgraves, and Nixons. Many of the graves were hard to decipher and some unreadable ones were identifiable as Routledge graves only from the coat of arms carved on the back

Moving on from St Cuthberts I set about finding Routledge Burn, a small stream where early generations of Routledges are said to have dwelled, One question that needing answering was "does this river flow red" ? This being Important when you look at the etymology of Ruttledge. The name "Rutledge" is a place name. It meant red lache or pool from the old Anglican words "redd" meaning red and "loec" - later "lache", variant "letch" meaning a stream or pool in boggy land. (Surnames of United Kingdom , H Harrison)

Click picture for larger view

After frantic double checking and cross referencing of large scale maps, and one false alarm when I almost mistook another red stream for my intended target I rejoiced ! Routledge burn ( previously known as Bale or Bailey water) WAS indeed RED ! This surely places my family in this region as early as the settlement of the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria by the Angles.( over 1400 years ! ).

Driving further along the same road about a mile later we came to the Kershope bridge, crossing the bridge from one side to the other signified crossing the present day border into Scotland, this road is plainly a little used one as when you cross the border on any road of significance you are met with "Scotland welcomes you" signs, something which was lacking here.

Click on image for aerial view

This tiny minor road led us north to the entrance of Newcastleton where we doubled back towards England on the B6357 and swung a left down another unclassified road into the tiny hamlet of kershopefoot, As evening was appearing we made haste into Carlisle to rest before another days adventure in the Borderlands. On my way back a large statue by the roadside caught my eye, The plaque read "Lang Sandy, Border Reiver, Hanged 1604".

The next day we rose early and went into the City of Carlise, Tullie house museum was our first port of call, this is reputed to be THE reiver museum so my expectations were extremely high. There are actually two Tullie houses in Carlisle, the old museum situated at the rear of a modern building right opposite Carlisle castle, plainly the new Museum.

Carlisle and its castle have again seen many a turbulent time, The city has been fought over and held by both English and Scots from the 10th Century A.D right up until the union of the crowns in 1603. The dungeons of Carlisle castle have acommodated many a famous Reiver and Royal including Mary Queen of Scots and Kinmont Willie.

Tullie house museum is an excellent place to visit in general, it houses a series of themed exhibits including "Hadrians wall" "Roman Luguvalium" (Carlisle) "Railway & local history" the "wildlife dome" and last but by no means least "The Border Reivers audio visual show" This was an anti climax for me as I had expected ( somewhat foolishly) a museum full of reiver artifacts, when in reality the audio visual show, a few info boards and 1 display cabinet is about all you get !

My reiver blood seething, ignoring the above advice, I asked Mrs.R to stand where she was obscuring the "No Photography" sign and blatantly snapped away at two exhibits,(Mr Tullie if you're watching think of the free publicity) The one cabinet housed the "Caldbeck parish Armour" and the other was a modern interpretation of the Lion and the unicorn battling it out

Carlisle was cold and rainy so we ventured north again in search of the sun.

Back into Scotland on the Main tourist route to Edinburgh the A7, The rain continued to pour, My goal was Tarras moss, a reiver sanctuary where the Routledges fled to after Dacre had assembled an army to chase them out of their homelands, The A7 truly is a beautiful road, even in the pouring August rain, If any of you reivers out there plan to visit the area this route is a must. I spotted a pele tower by the side of the road and checked my rear view mirror before grinding to a halt (City habbits!) The map showed it was either Hollows or Gilnockie Tower, an Armstrong stronghold, sadly the rain prevented me from getting a better picture of it.

We were now well and truly into Armstrong territory, Tarras Moss was obscured from the road by thick woods and the rain again dampened my enthusiasm to get out and find it, continuing up the A7 we entered the picturesque village of Langholm, passing a pub called the Reivers rest! Anyone with Armstrong blood would have to stay here, The Clan Armstrong Trust have their heritage centre here also. Driving onwards I sought the turn off for Hermitage castle, the map showed another minor track leading off the A7 towards it which looked forboding in such inclement weather, When I located it, it turned out to be the most exciting road of my visit ! again a single track hard surfaced affair, this road gives you a true sense of what your reiving ancestors would have loved to ride on. it wound up and down through hill and vale, climbing steeply and descending sharply like a rollercoaster, twisting through valley bottom and crossing rapid streams, had I been chased on horseback in a "hot trod" I would surely have lost my persuers here.

Seven miles down the track we encountered Hermitage castle, surely one of the most eerie buildings I have ever seen, this was known as Liddle strength, where the keeper of Liddesdale attempted to rule his march from. Situated on Hermitage water, at the heart of the bloodiest events in border history, Possession of this highly startegic fortification passed back and forth between Scots and English.

This was indeed a strong place, in addition to its moat system it was guarded by Hermitage water and its marshy approaches, The fort was developed by the Dacre and Douglas families and was latterly the home of the Hepburn Earls of Bothwell, One of its earliest owners, a Lord named De Soulis was reputedly a magician who had sold his soul to the devil and was punished for his crimes by being boiled alive in a great couldron, De Soulis went down in infamy as a child murderer and his ghost is said to haunt this place to this very day.

By this time the rain and the weird atmosphere around this spooky place made me think of heading back down the road to Bewcastle, Those of you interested in Routledge ancestors may like to take a tour around the graves of Bewcastle churchyard.

I'll leave the rest of you with a couple of shots of the countryside around St Cuthberts church


Part II of the tour, April 1999

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