Who would want to live in the wild border country nestled between Scotland and England? Not this little black duck, that’s for sure – especially in the 16th century. But if your surname happens to be: Armstrong, Murray, Carr, Nixon, Henderson, Young, Taylor or Reed; then you might have ‘reiver’ ancestors – those lawless Scots who pillaged English villages in quick-fire raids for cattle and booty. Some were imprisoned in the great castle. Others must have stayed to set up home for their surnames are still in evidence today in the Carlisle area.
The 17th century was no less dangerous for the English Civil War was in full tilt and the walled town of Carlisle endured the longest siege in English history. Royalist supporters were forced to eat horses, dogs and rats – and hopefully, not each other – when they were besieged by Parliamentarian and Covenanter forces.
A century later, we meet Bonnie Prince Charlie (AKA Charles Edward Stuart) as he led 6000 of his Scottish supporters into England. It’s a complicated history, to be sure!
After a week, the poorly resourced garrison of Carlisle Castle surrendered. When I learned the prince entered through the castle gates with one hundred pipers, it was thrilling to think that the stirring old pipers’ song had found its inspiration here.
The Jacobite army moved further into England but support for the Scottish royal family, formerly exiled to France, was missing. The Scottish force returned north. By December 1745, the army was in Carlisle. Before heading back to Scotland (and dark times ahead on the fields of Culloden), a small garrison was left at the castle. Leading the English forces, the Duke of Cumberland soon arrived. After ten days of bombardment, the city’s dungeons were filled with Jacobite prisoners and the ‘Butcher of Cumberland’ earned his nickname.
Some of you might know the poignant song believed to have been composed about a prisoner – soon to be executed at Carlisle castle – to his lady love, telling her that he will reach their beloved Loch Lomond, before her. It goes something like this….
“Oh…. ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland before ye.”
A popular national song, it is often sung at football matches and a moving experience, especially for me, when played as the last song at functions in Scotland. The next best thing to Auld Lang Syne!
Once a Scottish stronghold, Carlisle Castle is filled with ghosts from its dark past. There’s no doubt in my mind, you’ll love it! And the pipes are a’calling…
References: historical resources at Carlisle – castle and cathedral