How strange it is to come across a cluster of buildings where the stone has been dug and shaped by Roman hands, robbed from Hadrian’s great wall nearby – and formed by medieval French monks into a vibrant community.
Not far from the Scottish border in Cumbria, Lanercost Priory nestles midst lush meadows – a shadowed, queer place. Oak leaves slip down over lichened graves. Strange paths entice the unwary – evocative, seeping with history. Old walls offer stepping stones. A whisper on the wind.. come this way. Can you hear it?
It was here that King Edward of England rested, fed his army, planned his northern attacks. Augustinian monks welcomed England’s great monarch in 1306 – frail, unable to rise from his sick bed. For months, they nursed the old king. Indeed, Robert the Bruce’s younger brothers must have stayed here en route to their execution in Carlisle – a place of misery and sadness. King Edward’s spite for the Bruce family and Scotland’s fight for independence knew no bounds. It fed his life force.
But it all came to an end. Easter 1307 saw the English king take his last breath a few miles to the west on the Solway marshes, cursing his Scottish enemies. Midst flocks of inquisitive sheep, crying gulls overhead, a tall monument marks the lonely spot. An unlikely place for such a powerful king to expire.
For years, Scots forces rampaged through these lands, fiery raids by Wallace and Bruce. In 1311, King Robert actually stayed here in one of the old buildings. Monks were imprisoned, then released; crops burnt, buildings damaged. Many armies have come and gone. Now only echoes remain.
By 1538, Henry VIII’s reformation saw the end of monastic life at Lanercost and for years, it lay in ruins.
But today, Lanercost Priory is part of a thriving community, managed by English heritage, and once again the voices of parishioners fill the old church.
We stayed on site – a great base from which to explore the area; terrific also to wander at will around the grounds as night closes in…
Watch for my next post on the intriguing history of Carlise Castle…