We should probably have stopped at Carlisle. Well, for more than just a supermarket to stock the car with biscuits and suchlike. It has another of those thousand year old castles… and another cathedral that used to be the priory… and Roman remains… We would, to be fair, have needed more than the time we had to do it justice. Long before the Romans came it was a settlement of the Carvetii tribe of Brythonic Celts. The Romans occupied the site as part of their fortifications along Hadrian’s Wall and named it Luguvalium… which is thought to be based on the older native name of Luguwaljon… the strength of Lugus. Had we known that, we might have stopped… for the god known as Lugus figures largely in the mythologies we explore under many names.
Having said that, it was already lunchtime and the days are short in January in the north. We were hoping to make it to our friend’s home north of the Firth of Forth by evening… and there had been snow warnings…and the engine warning light had come back on in the car… and there was Ruthwell to consider. We had to see Ruthwell. This would mean that even without side trips to sites we just had to see, we had a drive of 200 miles that day. And, of course, we weren’t planning on taking the motorway either, but taking the road through the Borders, cross country to Edinburgh. Carlisle would have to wait.
Did I mention that we were in Scotland by now? We passed through Gretna Green… famous worldwide for the runaway marriages that took place there from the 17th Century, legal under Scottish law, when the blacksmith became known as the ‘anvil priest’. We were obliged to stop there on our way back from Ruthwell for a comfort break. I knew there would be facilities there. Frankly, were I ever to marry again, which I shan’t, Gretna Green is the last place on earth I would choose these days. Even in January the place is heaving with coach parties and visitors, shopping in the many gift shops. They have all come to see the home of Romance… and it has become big business, thus killing any romance that might have remained. I was there once decades ago… the place was just a quiet backwater with little more than the historic blacksmith’s shop to see. Now, the only good thing was the music of the pipes. We couldn’t wait to leave.
Ruthwell, now, that was a different matter altogether. The tiny village where the first commercial savings bank in the world was founded… though the church stands at a distance from the small collection of houses. We were back on a River Esk … not the same one as earlier that morning, but the Scottish one…where it joins the sea at the Solway Firth. The roads became progressively narrower, the weather bleaker and colder. It wouldn’t be long before we were seeing odd flurries of snow. Even the gravestones seemed to huddle together for warmth. This had better be good… we were miles from where we needed to be. And, as usual, we didn’t really know what to expect. We just knew there was a famous carved cross. I pottered in the freezing churchyard photographing blackbirds and yet another robin while my companion went in search of the key at the Manse. We opened the door… and gawped…