Carlisle is a town steeped in a rich cultural history, although in the modern city the only reminders of this are what is left of the city walls, the castle, and the cathedral. What Carlisle may have looked like when it was Rheged, the stronghold capital of the British Chief Urien. For some three hundred years lost in history, the city was neither Roman nor French occupied.
Possibly because of the machinations of its successive conquerors, almost nothing remains of the Kingdom of Rheged. Students of history would be well advised to visit Tullie House in Carlisle, which houses many of the artifacts from the town’s chequered past.
The overwhelming majority of that which is on display here is from the late Roman period, around when Hadrian and his successor Antoninus Pius were building their respective walls. This particular outpost of that mighty empire was strategically extremely importance, with river access to the sea, and as a base from which to administrate the contested borderlands.
Currently housing an exhibition called “The Roman Frontier: stories beyond Hadrian’s Wall,” with pieces on loan from the British Museum amongst the locally-stored or discovered antiques. The story is of a town perpetually on the edge. With the popular Game of Thrones series reprising the fascinating notion of a Great Wall in the North, Carlisle is becoming more and more of a draw for visitors seeking to understand the real-world origins of the blockbuster TV series.
If this is ‘The Wall,’ then Carlisle is ‘Castle Black.’ It has been so hotly contested a city over the years, that the local people, repeatedly devastated by the passing of the armies of England or Scotland, formed their own closely-knit band of outlaws known as the Border Rievers. In Tullie House, you will also find some of their stories, although you may find it somewhat missing important details.
Many years after the Rievers had been smashed and put to flight, and you would imagine, forgotten, for the millennium celebration the local council commissioned a 14-tonne granite artwork covered with all 1069 words of a local bishop’s curse of the local Rievers. It is known as the Curse of Carlisle, and understandably stirred up some controversy amongst the people of the town. Whether the age-old dispute between the border people and their warring overlords has been completely settled or not, it is clear that something still smoulders here. You will find the stone in an underpass near the castle.