A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 5 October 2015

Carlisle Castle

Just about a year after our last visit, we spent the weekend at the Crown, in Wetheral, Cumbria. Very pleasant – it was mostly misty and wet, so we didn’t do a lot of walking, but we had a good time, and – once again – I am pleased to record that I ate far too much.

Wetheral station
On Saturday morning we took the train into Carlisle – just one stop – the last hop of the Newcastle-Carlisle service – cheap and quick and easy. Carlisle is a significant, ancient Northern city in its own right – I saw some of it while walking through from West to East in pouring rain, three years ago, in search of Hadrian and his jobbing builders. Its cathedral is imposing, the castle has been an important garrison from Roman times (though its importance dropped off a bit in the last two centuries, since the Scots became less of a threat – discuss), it was the site of a siege during the ECW (more of this in a moment), and it is generally familiar as a big railway station on the West Coast line (the old London, Midland & Scottish route up through Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester to Scotland) and as a city with a big Post Office transmitting mast, somewhere alongside the M6 motorway.

I regret to say that I found the pedestrianised city centre to be clean and tidy, but dismal – uninspiring - I'm sure the weather didn't help. The range of shops is very poor – predictable for a provincial English town, maybe – there is no local character at all – it seems that the people of Carlisle spend their money on mobile phones, birthday cards, sweets, cheap shoes, body lotion and burgers, much like everyone else. Franchises and mediocrity – the place wasn’t even busy, for a Saturday. Astonishingly, I was unable to purchase any kind of town map or guide – drew a complete blank. The station bookshop had a visitor’s guide to New York, any amount of stuff about the Lake District, souvenirs of London (discuss) and nothing else. The manager told me that her head office refused to supply guide maps for Carlisle, and that she would be grateful if I would make a complaint. The man in the newsagents looked at me as if I had made him an indecent proposal, and shook his head. The girl in the book department in the sizeable WH Smith (which, strangely, seems to have a Post Office as part of  the upper floor) said that she’d never been asked for such a thing before, and wondered if anyone ever visited Carlisle. Hmmm.

Waterstone’s had a few books about local history, and a Nicolson’s street map, which simply gives a plan of the entire city and surrounding area, with no information. We gave up, and headed for the castle.

The castle is pretty good. It is not cheap to get in (it’s cheaper if you are a member of English Heritage), and I was a bit disappointed to learn that you must pay again to get access to the Cumbria Museum of Military Life, which belongs to the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment Museum Fund. The museum was small, but worth the extra admission charge.

View of the Captain's Tower and the gate out of the Inner Ward

View from the walls, across the Inner Ward to the massive keep

Nothing in the view to tempt the ECW garrison out, though a change
from stewed rat might appeal
The rest of the castle is dominated by a working barracks – the Outer Ward contains a number of Victorian buildings which until 1959 were the home of the Border Regt (which regiment became part of the King’s Own Royal Border Regt at that date, having been formed in 1881 from the amalgamation of the 34th (Cumberland) and 55th (Westmoreland) Regiments of Foot). The garrison buildings are currently the County HQ of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regt, whose main depot is at Preston, down the M6 a bit.

Official photo courtesy of Visit Cumbria
Beyond that, the older Inner Ward holds the tatty but pretty complete remains of what has obviously been a working castle for many centuries – this has never been anyone’s stately home, neither did it benefit from any major Victorian makeover. The old keep is remarkable – not only is it still standing, but I found myself wondering how it could ever be demolished.

Oh yes – the ECW. Carlisle was a Royalist stronghold from the beginning of the Civil wars, but was largely ignored until the King’s influence in the North was diminished by Marston Moor, after which date there was a formal siege at Carlisle from 1644 until the following year, when it surrendered. The claim that it was the longest siege of the Wars only stands up, I think, if you include the passive period from 1642 to 1644, but the actual siege was notable for the sufferings of the garrison. One Isaac Tullie, who was the teenage son of a local merchant, wrote a diary of the siege, and this very morning I have ordered a used copy from Amazon. I have to confess that my track record of reading such eyewitness accounts from the ECW is not great – I find the style of written expression of the day rather fatiguing – I have a growing collection of partly-read booklets…

Very pleasant - view of the River Eden at Wetheral, from the railway bridge

On the way home we stopped at Rothbury - I noted that we were too early for a talk on Waterloo by Capt Cavalie Mercer of the RHA, in the guise of Northumberland lawyer, historian and battlefield guide, Dr John Sadler. For those who didn't know, Rothbury is on the River Coquet, and very nice too.


  1. Our local WHSmiths in sunny Gravesend has Gravesend's main Post Office located in it, but luckily, they do sell local maps, so if your ever in town you'll be fine.

    1. Hi Ray - that must be a thing that WH Smith does, then - obviously your local branch is properly geared up for tourists.

  2. Entertaining post; thank you !

  3. Looks great, nice to see!
    A shame the prices to see history are so high,
    looks like they don't want to share history anymore...