Category Archives: Cumberland

To Dacre and its Dark Four Bears


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the Dacre Bear at the NE of the St Andrew’s Church, Dacre, Cumberland

Let us harness our saddle     and ride over High Street,

Carry ourselves to Cumberland    in our searching quest;

For here in the lowlands      before looming Solway

Stand four stately creatures     alert in the grass.

Many pass by this way     more pressured by time

But not us and not now     when we land this far North:

An old castle keeps     these fields and a kirk

In some quaint ancient grasp     of feudal collusion

Where village and villager      valiantly attest

To ways I once knew     when I lived in those times.

And though all the lords     that I lived with are lost,

And all of the ladies     have long stopped their love-talk,

Four fellows still     fondly wait for me here

As they were wont to do     when I rested in winter.

The four bears of Dacre     who knew my forebears

And now stand by St Andrew’s      in quartered display

Are not what they were     and have much worn down

But still they smile yet,     these four standard bearers.

Some people attest     that they each tell a tale

Of battle and victory,     a Christian story;

But I knew them when      they were on a fortress,

Some old Roman palace     now lost long ago;

Not bears but lions     in lordly array,

Proudly on pillars     pawing the air

In Northern England     at the edge of Empire

So vast:

Four beasts soft carved in stone

In days of distant past

Are together, not alone;

May their friendship be locked fast.


More about the Dacre Bears

The Dacre bears stand in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Dacre, in Cumberland (modern day Cumbria). Though of unknown date and provenance, it is thought these sculptures came from an early British, or possibly Roman, site in the area. The style of the creatures, now thought to be lions rather than bears, is curious, being neither typically Roman nor British in style; Historic England dates them to the mediaeval period (1066-1484), although this is questionable. They have the appearance of having been decorative features taken from a much larger building now lost to time. Visitors to the church will not be disappointed; the bears alone make the trip worthwhile but the interior of the church, though restored in the nineteenth century, contains many fine features, including some exquisite segments of Viking crosses, one of which features a delightful relief carving of Adam and Eve. High up in the north wall, the eagle-eyed visitor will see preserved one tiny fragment of a Norman chancel arch; this, in addition to the font and the tomb of a knight, attest to the existence of a much earlier church on this site.

General Information on the Church: Click Here

Historic England listing for St Andrew’s Church: Click Here

Historic England listing for one of the Dacre Bears: Click Here


Images of the Dacre Bears, St Andrew’s Church, Dacre, Cumbria

 

 


More about Sir Gawain’s World – and how to have your name printed in the latest book by the author

Image of King Arthur on his Horse

King Arthur from an illustration in Michael Smith’s new telling of King Arthur’s Death, publishing soon from Unbound. This image is available as one of the pledge options

This blog is written in the style of the fourteenth century alliterative poets, by Michael Smith, whose recent translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was published in 2018.

Michael is currently crowdfunding his second book through Unbound, in this case the Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur’s Death), written by an unknown hand in c.1400.

If you would like to pledge for your own limited edition copy, with your own name in the back as a supporter (and also receive other pledge rewards including original linocut prints by the author), please click here.

 

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Filed under British Landscape, Cumberland, Cumbria, English Landscape, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, King Arthur, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet

The Viking Stones at Gosforth


Image of Gosforth Cross.

Almost like Yggdrasil itself, the Gosforth cross rises from the tree of life to be crowned with a cross.

Coming down that lane from Lakeland’s scratching crags

On Gringolet I ride towards the green of coastal plain,

And there alight at Gosforth as it lies in lowering sun

With its memories of raiders who once came this far inland.

A little bland, perhaps, this place it seems – but not on close inspection;

For there within its hedgy bounds a cross soars up to skies

That tells of Vikings and their ways, and what became of them,

When heathen gods were banished by all those that did live here.

From ashen roots of Yggdrasil its round stem turns to square

By which its upper reaches speak the triumph of the Lord

With triquetra carved declaring of the Holy Trinity

While further down our eyes will see Loki, Sigyn and more.

The church seems new compared to this but looks can be deceiving:

Inside more Viking carvings kept by those who came before.

Two hog-backed graves, all humped and whole, found buried in old times

And fine upon the wall we find the Fishing Stone of Thor!

Six hundred years have lapsed since I last walked round here

in awe:

This church has been much changed

(And with it, ancient lore);

Its stones all rearranged

Yet what joys lie through the door!


History

St Mary’s Church is to be found in the centre of the village of Gosforth in Cumberland. Although the building gives the initial appearance of being a typical Victorian church (it was rebuilt in the late 19th Century), it still retains many features from its earlier incarnations, with the oldest internal fabric dating from the 12th Century.

Of particular note is the great cross in the churchyard, which stands over fourteen feet tall and is decorated with scenes which have been interpreted as showing different elements of Norse mythology. The churchyard also contains the stump of a second cross.

Inside the church, the visitor is treated to two fine hogback graves with detailed and ornate carving. These were found buried under a 12th Century section of the old church building when the Victorian restoration of the nave took place in 1897, and clearly pre-date the original wall.

The “Fishing Stone”, also in the church, may be a fragment of the second cross outside. It features an image of Thor and Hymir the giant as they fish for Jormungandr, the great serpent which encircles the world.

Listing Details to be found here

New Book by the Author:

Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – with your name in the back – please click here

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Filed under Cumberland, English History, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet