Category Archives: Cumbria

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

Swinside: Stone Sentinels of Past Centuries


Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Travelling, Le Gringalet has called me to Lancashire and Cumberland in my cause;
My horse lifts me high upon heath and mighty on mound
Through lofty lowlands and limp inlets sandy on Furness fallow.
Climbing now with Morcambe bay massive on my left shoulder
I soon rise to fields thrashed by winds, throttling life and thrusting sheep against walls
Where now we reach a circle stoney, standing guard sternly:
Swinside, the sunkenkirk, swept by swarming blasts, many stones sleeping close to the ground.

When I walked here last on the warmest of days under King Richard
These stones still stood circular and knowledge was dim as to their purpose.
And nothing now has changed save the passing of the years from one new one to the next.
Yes, more of this henge no longer hangs but hugs the soil where wind has pushed it
But whether warm to the ground or still windswept and upright
These robust stones remain in their entirety from my day and before.

What celebration have they seen in the years they stood?
What flushed face of youth feebly withstood young love here?
What women grew round and with birth gave the earth?
What men fought fights for far-flung tribal rites?
Did Romans see, stare and set apart?
Did Norman knights ennoble themselves through nuance of connection?
Did woman out of wedlock worry in tears for her child?

These stone sentinels of past centuries have seen it all:
The clasped hands of heaving lovers; the glistening eyes of sorrow;
The last sight of a land once loved by men away to foreign wars;
The coming and going of the seasons, from sweet to sweat;
The growing old of children, as childhood became but yesterday
And men grew weary, weeping for the youth they’d squandered.

Swindside is a site of yesterdays, steward of memories and holding them in its silent grasp:
If we could know its secrets we would without melancholy accept our fate
But yet the passage of time slips through our fingers and from our feeble grasp
And with it we see our lives pass by as particles of sand sieved with fumbling futility.
Swinside with certainty in its silent ways sways us to reflection
On how we lead our lives.

As we journey on our way, take care;
Our errors cause much pain.
But if through all our acts we’re fair
Our honour will remain.

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Filed under British History, British Landscape, Cumbria, English History, English myths and legends, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, Stone Circles, Touring Britain, Touring England