Bewcastle Legends and stories
- The runic inscriptions of Barron’s Pike: there is a rock carving above High Grains, close to what was thought to be an ancient burial mound. The discovery was made in 1864 by a shepherd who worked for Mr Little of the Bush Farm. He told the vicar of Bewcastle, the Reverend Maughan, that the carvings were similar to those on the Bewcastle Cross. The Reverend Maughan went to the site and eventually deciphered the runes which appeared to confirm an ancient legend.
The Legend: In the early 12th century Ranulph le Meschin gave the lands of Gilsland to his brother William who lost them to Gilles son of Bueth of Bewcastle. When Henry II came to the throne he gave the lands to Hubert de Vallibus (or Vaux) and they were passed to his son Robert. Robert was still in conflict with Gilles and he arranged a meeting apparently wishing to come to a peaceful with his enemy. Robert killed Gilles at that meeting and founded the priory of Lanercost as a penance – since disproved.
The Reverend was very excited by the discovery since his interpretation of the runes very clearly supported the legend: He wrote an article submitted to several archaeological bodies and the site was visited by a professor from Copenhagen.
The inscription said: ‘Bara wrote in memory of Gilles Bueth who was slain in truce by Robert de Vaulks. For his patrimony now called Llanerkasta’
In 1872, John Davidson a shepherd living at High Grains told the vicar he had found another runic inscription at Hazelrigg Crag – a short distance north of Barron’s Pike. Maughan transcribed this to show that Gil’s henchman Ask had carved the memorial and that Gil was buried nearby, where there is a trace of a ring barrow. He again published his findings to the Cumberland and Westmoreland Archaeological Society. He died in 1873 – but not before some disquiet had arisen concerning the validity of the runes. Some of the experts visited the site and suggested the carvings looked too modern and were obvious forgeries. It is still a mystery as to who might have been the author of the hoax. Speculation revolved around the schoolmaster at the time – Thomas Smith. He was a well educated man with great local knowledge – but was thought to have been too respectable! Suspicion has fallen on James Waugh who lived at the Limekiln. He had attended the school in Bewcastle and in fact taught at the school sometimes, helping the Reverend Maughan. It was well known that the two men did not get on well. Perhaps James intended the deception as a joke; he apparently left Bewcastle very abruptly just before the hoax was discovered. It may be that he no longer wished to embarrass the vicar, but no-one knows the truth. The inscription at Barron’s Pike is still there; the second carving was destroyed by Forestry Commission workers some time ago.
- The murder of Thomas Davidson 1849: he was a gamewatcher for Sir James Graham and was murdered in the Kershope Forest, apparently by poachers. Three men: Andrew Turnbull and brothers John and Joseph Hogg were arrested. Andrew Turnbull committed suicide in prison – the brothers were found guilty. The Davidson family erected a monument to Thomas’s memory on the spot where he died in the forest; his grave is in Stapleton churchyard.
- Jesse James: the infamous American outlaw is said to be related to the James family of Bewcastle. The family moved there in the 16thcentury, living on a smallholding near the church. A few of them also had land at Scaleby Hill and they would take refuge in one or other of the houses when times were too hot for them at the other! An old family verse says:
The James five of Scaleby Hill
Wad fly to face the fiercest Scot
But ne’er wad to a neighbour ill
She raised a batch of honest men
And chained the foreman to the mill
- William Ewart Gladstone: The Ewart family of Roadhead claimed to be related to the great Liberal politician
Sir Walter Scott: visited this area – he certainly stayed at Gilsland Spa and included aspects of life in this area in his books. He wrote about the local method of catching (some said murdering) fish using a barbed fork called a leister.