Perhaps Carlisle’s most impressive construction and monument to its rich history is Carlisle Castle itself. Unlike many of England’s great old castles, this one has survived to the modern day still in fairly splendid condition. No doubt its position right near the border has meant that the ruling monarchs have always needed to keep this castle, although it does bear the honour of being the most besieged place in England. Siege armies have occupied the castle surrounds no less than eleven times during its chequered history.
The Romans built a fort here around AD 73 and maintained a presence here for at least another three hundred years. Following their departure, the history of the area is shrouded in darkness for around three hundred years, during which time it seems that the area stabilised as the native British kingdom of Rheged. This period, perhaps because of the lack of primary sources to enlighten us as to what had been happening, has taken on a semi-mythic importance. The Welsh bard Taliesin, who may or may not have been the same as the mythical Taliesin who gained poetic insight from the drops of a magic cauldron, became the chief bard of Urien, Rheged’s king.
Due to this confusion of names, and historical and mythic figures, this tale has become mixed up with the Arthurian legend, which in turn is mixed up with the myth of the Grail. To make things even more confusing, one of Carlisle’s three rivers is called the Eden!
The Kingdom of Rheged, which took its name from the stronghold of Carlisle Castle, came under the control of Northumbria in around AD 700, by marriage and inheritance. By the time Carlisle appears in the official history books again another three and a half centuries have passed. This is when William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, takes back the area from Scottish rule. The Castle is renovated and strengthened in stone and has stood here ever since. That was almost exactly 900 years ago in AD 1112.