Hello again everyone and a warm welcome back to my ramblings, both physical and verbal. I don’t quite know where this sudden bout of productivity has come from but I do seem to be getting quite a lot done here which I suppose makes up a little for the time recently when I went incognito for rather too long.
My much appreciated regular readers will know where I am but if you have just randomly landed on this page I should explain briefly that it is to do with a trip I took in May 2022 which was initially meant to be four days meeting some travel writing friends in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in Northumberland but has rather stretched on since then. If you wish to read the story from the beginning, you can do so here.
I wasn’t really going to go that far, merely to the adjacent County of Cumberland which, due to England not being particularly wide at this point meant that I was going from the County on the East coast of the country to the one which sits on the West Coast, at this point the Irish sea. Again it was a decision that had been taken the evening before when I had decided to go to Carlisle, I really don’t like to plan too far ahead.
My logic for this decision was, as always, pretty flimsy but good enough for me. Carlisle is yet another city in the UK I had never visited and I knew there was plenty of history so that was all I needed. I have mentioned before that with my altered circumstances I have decided to restrict my travelling to the UK for the moment, not that I really have much choice. I had long planned to do more exploration of my own country and if this trip so far was anything to go by, it wasn’t a bad call. There are just so many places I have not seen here.
I had booked accommodation but I knew I could not check in until late afternoon and the train journey is about two hours so I reckoned I would have a last look round Morpeth. As I was leaving my hotel I managed a quick peek in the breakfast area which looked spotless as you can see, and then I was on the move again.
First things first though and breakfast back at the Electrical Wizard where on this occasion I plumped for the American small breakfast, a real favourite of mine. As always, it was delicious although I really do not know where this new-found appetite had come from but I certainly wasn’t complaining. As you can just see from the image I had got “the office” out to do a bit of work and spent a very pleasant time in a pub I really liked.
I knew it was a bit of a trek to the station so I set off in good time but I did take a moment to take an image of this rather fine building called Morpeth Court which is now luxury holiday lets but , as the name suggests, was originally the Courthouse for the town.
It was completed in 1822 to the design of John Dobson who we met in the previous post in relation to the “Telford” bridge and who was very prolific although he is little known outside the Northeast. He was responsible for designing a large proportion of central Newcastle including Eldon Square (now sadly mostly demolished), Grainger Market and the magnificent Central Station which is perhaps my favourite large station in the UK.
The Courthouse was originally a much larger complex including a jail complex which served the entire County but this was demolished in the late 1800’s when they built a new police station. The building you see here continued to do duty as the local Courthouse until as recently as 1980 when they re-located.
I eventually made it to the station and caught my train by which time the weather had turned nasty again as you can see in the above image taken from the train window in Newcastle where I had to change. Bearing in mind that June was only a couple of days away it really was a bit annoying but you get used to this in Britain. Due to cancellations, which seem to be the rule in UK now rather than the exception and even that is on the days when the Unions are not holding the nation to ransom, the train was fairly packed but I was lucky enough to get a seat which I was glad about.
I got to Carlisle which has another fine Grade II listed building built to the design of William Tite who was another of the architects of the time who seemed to be able to turn his hand to nearly anything. His buildings were varied but perhaps his most famous structure is the Royal Exchange in the City of London, an imposing building which stands to this day. As well as commercial buildings he also designed several cemeteries and numerous railway stations in both England and France.
Although trains started departing here in 1847 the station was not even finished until the following year such were the demands of the burgeoning Railway Age. There were initially two companies operating from here although later this was to rise to a staggering seven. In those days the companies were all in the hands of private owners, often competing fiercely for the same markets and this became so confusing they eventually had to form a committee to regulate the whole operation.
When it did open in 1848 the station was called Carlisle Citadel due to it’s proximity to that medieaval building which still stands. Due to the volume of traffic there had to be a major expansion of both tracks and facilities as there had originally only been one through track. The work was begun in 1873 and completed in 1881 which increased the number of through tracks to three with an additional five terminal bays and platforms.
The building was also considerably expanded as all seven operating companies insisted on having their own ticket offices, parcel depots and whatever else, it must have been chaos. The situation was improved considerably with the Railways Act 1921 which was the Government’s attempt to stop the serious losses being made by the 120 operting companies that were still in operation that far into the 20th century. Five of the companies using Carlisle were amalgmated into the London Midland and Scottish (LMS) which was one of the “Big Four” created by the Act.
Further major investment occurred in the 21st century, including making the entire station fully accessible, which was handy for me, and led to the very pleasant travel hub it is today.
It was still too early to check in and so I set out in search of a pub. Passing the rather smart looking hotel opposite the station, which I didn’t think I’d be allowed across the door, of I was pleased to find that I didn’t have far to go to find exactly what I wanted which was a JD Wetherspoon pub, in this case the William Rufus. I won’t get into the whole argument about Wetherspoons as I have done it several times before and it gets repetitive so I’ll tell you about this one.
The pub was clean and tidy, service was prompt although it was pretty quiet and once again I was amazed at how cheap the drink was, it really was coming as something of a shock to me. The William Rufus (William the Red) is named for the third son of William the Conqueror, subsequently King William II.
Remember that we are still very close to the Scottish border and the English had been fighting the Scots over the borderlands for some time and were to continue for centuries after. William had quelled a rebellion by King Malcolm III of Scotland and entered the strategically important city of Carlisle through Botchergate which no longer exists although the street on which the pub stands still bears the name. Having taken Carlisle he began building Carlisle Castle which effectively allowed him to control the Counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland.
William’s death was a strange affair. On 2nd August, 1100 he was hunting with a group of other nobles in the New Forest in Hampshire where he was shot in the back, the arrow, piercing his lung and killing him. Whilst hunting accidents were common then and this was generally accepted at the time but some later historians are increasingly coming to the conclusion it was murder for a number of reasons.
Firstly, and most damningly, the nobles just left William’s body in the forest where it had fallen which seems very strange behaviour towards the corpse of the monarch. It was later found by a simple arrow maker who, along with some other peasants, took the body which eventually found it’s way to Winchester Cathedral where it was interred. Secondly, later chroniclers named the man who fired the fatal shot as Walter Tirel and if so it seems unusual as he was renowned as an excellent bowman who would be unlikely to loose such an inaccurate and dangerous shot.
The final reason regards politics and power struggle as usual. On hearing of the death and with indecent haste, William’s brother Henry went immediately to Winchester to seize the Royal treasury which he then took straight to London. William had always had a fractious relationship with his siblings and there was certainly no love lost besides which, Henry had much to gain, which he did. It is interesting that he was in the fatal hunting party. Within days, and before an archbishop could even arrive, he had himself proclaimed King Henry I by the Bishop of London, a position he held for 35 years.
I am not a great one for conspiracy theories and, as usual, I shall leave the reader to make up their own mind but back now to Carlisle. It was a bit of a trek to for me to where I was staying but slow and steady got the job done and I arrived at check-in time at the Carlisle Youth Hostel where I was met by the joint owner Jono (the other owner is his partner Cath) and I immediately spotted his Dublin accent so of course that led to a good old chat. I stowed my kit in the room, which was a six bed dorm, had a quick look round what was to prove to be an absolutely superb place and headed out for a pint.
I could tell you about the hostel now but if I do I will get all out of whack with my images so I shall tell you about it in a future post and content myself here with an image I did take later of the outside of the building and which was taken from the charming gardens just across the road. Apologies for the errant finger!
Another day, another city and the trip was still going well, I had no idea how long it was going to last for nor was I worried as I can live literally for months out of an aircraft compliant suitcase which is not exactly huge. In the next post we shall go for a wander round Carlisle so if you fancy that then stay tuned.