Carlisle - the border city

Carlisle - the border city, Carlisle, England (A)

Carlisle is the haunt of Romans, reivers and rebels. Find out about Carlisle's links with St Cuthbert, Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Sir Walter Scott, the novelist. Explore a castle, a cathedral and a crypt. Take a walk in the Chinese Gardens and find out what the words of the song Loch Lomond really mean.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Carlisle - the border city
Guide Location: England » Carlisle
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: Julia Hickey
Author Bio: Graduating with a degree in History and English I became a teacher and then a university lecturer specialising in Adult Literacy. I have lived in the north of England for nearly twenty years but travel widely in the UK. Publications include text books for educators and students, travel articles and fiction. I love exploring new places, soaking up history and architecture, photography and reading.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • The Citadel
  • Plaque commemorating Bonnie Prince Charlie
  • The Market Cross
  • The Guildhall
  • St Cuthbert's Church and Tithe Barn
  • City Walls and Sally Port
  • Carlisle Cathedral Precincts
  • Carlisle Cathedral
  • Tullie House
  • The Millenium Gallery and Cursing Stone
  • Carlisle Castle
  • Bitts Park
  • The Chinese Gardens
The Citadel

1) The Citadel

The North of England has always been turbulent. Warfare with the Scots, rebellion against the monarch, deadly feud with another local family. No wonder Carlisle’s city walls have survived. In 1536 northerners rebelled against King Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries. The rebellion is known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Some of the rebels were hanged in chains in Carlisle. More practically Henry ordered that Carlisle’s defences be strengthened. He recognised the importance of Carlisle as a strategic stronghold. The citadel's two oval shaped bastions reflect the new continental practices of the period. It was designed to withstand cannon fire and to provide a platform for ordinance. It could even bear the weight of guns on its roof. The building that you see today was rebuilt between 1810-1811. In more peaceful times the citadel became the local prison and assize court.
Plaque commemorating Bonnie Prince Charlie

2) Plaque commemorating Bonnie Prince Charlie

You are currently looking at the frontage of a modern shop- Marks and Spencer's as it happens. It stands on the site of the building that once played host to Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Young Pretender as he was also known was Charles Edward Stuart, the son of James Stuart- the Old Pretender. James was the son of King James II and Mary of Modena. They were Catholic. It was believed that James II intended to restore Catholicism as the State religion. Following the birth of his son in 1688 he and his family were forced to flee into exile. James Stuart attempted to reclaim the throne for the Stuarts in 1715. Then in 1745 his son Charles Stuart landed in Scotland. He gathered an army and marched south.

A few months later the same building provided shelter for the Duke of Cumberland on his way north to put down the Jacobite Rebellion at the Battle of Culloden. There are two plaques detailing the two enemies and their stay in Carlisle.
The Market Cross

3) The Market Cross

You are standing on the site of the Roman Forum. It has remained a meeting place through the centuries. Indeed, the main road network inside Carlisle's city walls has scarcely changed since medieval times. Take a moment to look around the market square. As you stand looking towards the old town hall where the tourist information office is now housed you can see a post box dating from the reign of Queen Victoria. Its shape and the letters VR make it an unusual survivor from this period. To your right there is the Lanes Shopping Centre and to your left The Crown and Mitre, an old coaching in. This building is a fine example of Edwardian architecture and it once played host to The Beatles.

The market cross is where Bonnie Prince Charlie first proclaimed himself to be king of England and Scotland. The lion on top of the cross is holding a stone replica of Carlisle's Dormont Book. This book was written in 1561. It was a rule book outlining the powers and the constituion of the city council.
The Guildhall

4) The Guildhall

The guildhall building dating from 1405 has been owned by the City of Carlisle since the fifthteenth century. You can’t miss its blackened timber framework or its jettied upper floors. The timbers instead of being squared off at the ends are decorated by crouching men in medieval costume. Each of the rooms in the building was a meeting place for one of Carlisle’s guilds. Today you can find out about the civic history of Carlisle, law and order and see Carlisle’s Tudor racing bells. These are the oldest surviving horse racing prizes in the country.

Open from 1st April (Good Friday if sooner) until 31st October 12 noon until 4.30 pm.

It is administered by Tullie House (01228 618718)
St Cuthbert's Church and Tithe Barn

5) St Cuthbert's Church and Tithe Barn

Bede describes Carlisle in his history of Britain. The time after the Romans left, were not good for the inhabitants of Carlisle. They faced Pictish raids from the north as well as economic decline but the ballads and legends of the region place the real King Arthur here. St Cuthbert came to Carlisle in AD 686 when the city was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. He was even given a tour of the Roman walls which were still standing at that time. He may have even preached at this site.

In 1644 when Cromwell closed the cathedral, St Cuthbert's became Carlisle's only church. The current building, the fourth church on the site, is an eighteenth century one, although one of the windows dates from the fourteenth century. There is also an unusual movable pulpit on rails. The peaceful churchyard is the final resting place for some of the Jacobites executed in 1745 as well as some of Carlisle's executed criminals.

The tithe barn dates from the fifteenth century. With the suppression of the monasteries the tithe barn changed its role until it was virtually derelict by 1970. It was purchased by the vicar and parishioners of St Cuthbert's and is now the church hall. Its timber cruck framework is an impressive sight. If you have the opportunity to go inside for one of the regular coffee mornings held here.
City Walls and Sally Port

6) City Walls and Sally Port

These walls date from the twelfth century but no doubt some of their stone incorporates the Roman walls that were still standing when Cuthbert came to Carlisle. You are at the top of the Sally Port Stairs. These date from the beginning of the nineteenth century. If you go down them you can see the walls and sally port. They were built on the orders of King William Rufus. The sally port itself is now blocked up. It was designed as a heavily defended gateway from which people inside the city could sally forth to attack anyone beseiging the city. In later times it may have been used to smuggle goods into the city to avoid paying tolls at the official toll boothes. The towering brick chimney that you can see stands at 305ft high. This is Dixon's Chimney and it is part of Shaddon Mills opened in 1836. It tells the story of Carlisle's industrial history as does the railway line that you can see on the far side of the car park.
Carlisle Cathedral Precincts

7) Carlisle Cathedral Precincts

This peaceful spot is full of buildings and ruins that reflect the changing role of religious life on this site. The large rectangular building to the left of the cathedral is the refectory. It was later turned into the Chapter House. There is also a two story building that looks as though a tower has been incorporated into it. This is the fifteenth century prior’s tower. It is a pele tower. Isolated examples can still be found in the countryside although they should have all been torn down when England united with Scotland on the accession of James I of England. People who could afford these towers retreated to the upper floors, their cattle in the ground floor room during times of border raids. They lit beacons on the roof to summon help and hoped that their lives and their chattels would be protected by the stout stone walls. If you get a chance to go inside do- it contains a lovely sixteenth century painted ceiling.

Outside there are the ruins of the cloister and a bronze model showing what the cathedral and its precincts would have looked like before it fell into disrepair and into the hands of soldiers. You might also want to pause and look at the well maintained grave yard. In the nineteenth century it was so full of bodies that it became extremely unhygienic.

When you’ve looked at the cathedral you will leave through Prior Slee’s Gateway which once used to be the main entrance to the precincts.
Carlisle Cathedral

8) Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral was founded as a priory in 1122 by King Henry I but the site has been a Christian one since at least the eighth century. It’s been burned by a fire started by a disinherited son, grafettied by Vikings, choir boys and prisoners. Cromwell’s Roundheads stabled their horses here and demolished half of the nave to strengthen the city walls that had been damaged during the siege. Jacobites were imprisoned here in 1745. Despite these tumultuous events Carlisle Cathedral has some excellent medieval stained glass windows and carvings as well as a dramatic barrel vaulted ceiling painted with the night sky. Take time to look at the choir stalls with their carved misericords.

The cathedral is open daily from 7.40 am until 6.15 pm (5.00pm on Sundays)
Tullie House

9) Tullie House

The garden of Tullie House contains some wonderful treasures. There’s a Roman road, a Roman mounting block and a cannonball that according to legend was thrown by the Duke of Cumberland. On a summer day sit in the garden and enjoy the scent of old fashioned roses. If you’re lucky the Japanese strawberry tree may be in flower.

Tullie House, once home to the Tullies then a public library, houses Carlisle’s award winning museum. Find out about prehistoric Cumbria, Celtic Gods, the Romans, Reivers and train travel. There’s something for everyone in this thoughtfully designed museum. It is laid out to tell Carlisle’s story from its earliest days to present times. There are interactive exhibits as well as visual and audio presentations. You might even find out if your surname originates from the borders between England and Scotland. Find out as well about the 1644 siege of Carlisle recorded by eighteen year old Isaac Tullie in his diary. Before the Royalist inhabitants of Carlisle surrendered they were reduced to eating rats.

Open daily, all year round except 25th/26th December and 1st January

High Season – 1st April – 31st October

Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm (Restaurant open 9.30am)

Sunday 11am – 5pm

Low Season – 1st November – 31st March

Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm (Galleries close at 4pm, Restaurant open 9.30am)

Sunday – 12 noon – 5pm (Galleries close at 4pm)
The Millenium Gallery and Cursing Stone

10) The Millenium Gallery and Cursing Stone

An underpass is an unusual stopping point but it is quite some underpass. The walls are decorated with mementoes from Carlisle’s Industrial heritage. As well has having strong links to the railway Carlisle was also home to Cowan and Sheldon a world famous builder of cranes.

The floor is paved by stones engraved with the names of border families or kin. In Medieval and Tudor Carlisle your surname was more important than your nationality.

By Tudor times the countryside around Carlisle had been fought over for more than three hundred years. Men and women obeyed their own laws and had their own code of conduct. The men, or wardens, who governed the region held truce days and led retaliatory raids across the border. The reivers as they were called gave the English language the words bereave and blackmail.

The cursing stone is a modern fourteen tonne sculpture created by Gordon Young bearing the words of an Archbishop of Glasgow who was so fed up with the reivers and their goings on that he cursed them very thoroughly in deed. In a moment you’re going to visit the stronghold of the Lord Warden of the Western Marches who had problems of his own with the border reivers and would have sympathised with the Archbishop of Glasgow. In Queen Elizabeth I’s reign the warden was Lord Scrope and when a truce day was broken with the capture of a notorious border reiver called Kinmont Willie. The scene was set for a dramatic rescue that is still recalled in song, history and fiction. Reiving came to an end with the reign of King James I of England – also known as James VI of Scotland.
Carlisle Castle

11) Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle has been a fort, a home, a garrison and a prison. It sits on the border between two kingdoms. A Roman cavalry fort lies at its foundations and it has seen both English and Scottish monarchs claim it for their own. It was first built in stone by William II but was upgraded in 1122 by King Henry I. His work was completed by King David I of Scotland. Its history reflects its strategic importance in the Anglo-Scottish power struggle. The squat sandstone keep dates to those times and in its dungeons you can see the ‘licking stone’. Prisoners were forced drink the moisture from the stone if they wanted water. It was cold and dark and unpleasant. Spare a thought for the Jacobite rebels imprisoned here in 1745.

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in far grander style. You can see the remains of the tower where she was housed in the far corner of the inner bailey. Some of the Royal Apartments are now part of the Regimental Museum for the King’s Border Regiment that is also housed inside the castle. There is a separate charge for entry to this building.

The castle has been besieged by Robert the Bruce and by Cromwell’s Roundheads. It has been the home of the Warden of the Western March during the fifthteenth and sixteenth centuries and it was from here that Kinmont Willie Armstrong a notorious border reiver was rescued.

Henry VIII was so concerned about the role of the castle that he had the half moon battery installed of the inner bailey gateway so that it would withstand cannon fire and so that a double row of cannon could have raked the outer bailey if the need arose. Find out about the castle tumultuous past and also its role as a garrison. You might even encounter the ghost of a lady said to be immured in the Inner Gatehouse.

The castle is open seven days a week April to September from 9.30 a.m - 5.00 pm, October to March Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. The castle is closed 24th-30th December and 1st January. Full details of opening times and special events can be found at
Bitts Park

12) Bitts Park

The River Eden runs through this Green Flag Award park. During the Medieval and Tudor periods there was no need for a city wall here because of marshes. It remained prone to flooding until flood defences were built two hundred years ago by unemployed weavers. Today the path on top of the embankment forms part of the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. As well as playing fields and a flower garden the 18 hectares gardens include a children's play area and a maze. There are also regular events and entertainments including a popular November 5th celebration. If you continue to the Chinese Gardens you will cross the River Eden. Hadrian's Wall once crossed the river near this point.

The park is open every day from 8.30 am – dusk.
The Chinese Gardens

13) The Chinese Gardens

The Chinese Gardens are part of Rickerby Park. Rickerby Park is ‘natural’ parkland with mature trees and grazing livestock. The park was dedicated to the fallen of World War One when it was opened in 1922. There is a war memorial at its heart with the names of the fallen of Carlisle.

As for the Chinese Gardens, well, they're actually Italian rather than Chinese. They were designed by Thomas Mawson and built at the cost of £3,000 during the 1930s when the road and bridge over the Eden were widened. The estimated cost was greater but Mawson recycled the old stone work from the bridge. Like the weavers' flood defences the gardens were an attempt to create employment. There are pergolas and roses and lily ponds. The gardens were restored with a lottery grant in 2009.

Open 8.30 am - dusk daily.