A Trip To Poland

So firstly, I have not posted in a long while which I feel great disappointment for but owing to various circumstances I am not entirely surprised. I will now however endeavour to become as prolific at posting as I was a while ago. GCSE’s went exceedingly well and I have now progressed to A-level so one would hope that my skill at writing would be greatly improved.

In October last year I went on a short history orientated visit to Poland, which I found to be greatly influencing in terms of my outlook upon history itself. Many would know that I am first and foremost an ancient and medieval orientated historian, however on this particular trip with my philosophy and ethics class we were swamped by all too modern history. Despite this I couldn’t help but come to the realisation that we are so much more emotionally attached to the history of our grandparents and great grandparents time, that we can associate so much more easily emotion with a historical event, yet when asked to think of for example how the soldiers of both sides felt at Agincourt, it is so much more difficult to feel empathetic. But why is this so? Chances are that at many of these events we had relatives involved however distant… is it perhaps because however much we may have said ‘Never Forget’ that time fades our link to events in our ancestors past. In this case I feel that for myself at least I have found a way in which modern history can perhaps appeal to me more, and that is through the transfer of emotion from such events into those of ancient or medieval history, because although the events may not be the same… humanity at least in many cases is.


A photo of Krakow showing St Mary’s Basilica (by Nico Trinkhaus – sumfinity.com)

Now on to the history, as this is after all a history blog. Kraków is a city bursting with history, but the era which was most evident to us was that of the Second World War. From the 4th November 1939 it became the capital of part of Nazi Germany’s General Government which was headed by Hans Frank who was based in Wawel Castle within the city. The majority of the cities populace at this time was made up of Jews and Poles, in order to turn Kraków into the entirely German city that the Nazi’s envisioned these sectors of society were removed, this also meant the renaming of many locations and streets into German and waves of propaganda in an attempt to portray Kraków as a historically German city. Culminating in an operation called Sonderaktion Krakau more than 180 academics were arrested and sent the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. The Jewish population of the city was also confined to a ghetto (part of the wall of which still stands) where a great many died from both starvation and illness. Of those who did not die in the Ghetto many were subsequently murdered or sent to the concentration camps of Płaszów and Auschwitz. One key resident of Kraków was Oskar Schindler who is credited with saving a great many lives through selecting employees from the Ghetto to work in his enamelware plant thus saving them from the horrors of the concentration camps. Although looted Kraków remained quite undamaged by the end of the war and thus much of the cities historical legacy was saved. On the 18th January 1945 Soviet Forces entered the city, and freed it ultimately from German occupation.


My visit to Kraków and the areas other historic sites was certainly enlightening and the vast architectural heritage which it preserves makes it a destination worth visiting whatever era of history is of most interest to you. One thing which is certain is that with a visit to a city such as Kraków is liable to come a more in depth understanding as to what history itself is, a study of humanity.


Where Did The Celts Go?

As is already known I take a great interest in Celtic history and when given the opportunity to holiday in the lake district I began to ponder, which tribe had inhabited this land and what remnants related to there existence still remained?

The Celts had started migrating to Britain from Europe at around 500bc and remained undisturbed for about 550 years before the Romans arrived in Britain. During the Iron Age the Carvetii occupied Cumbria in north-west England, historical speculation places their settlement on either the Solway Plain, possibly the Lune Valley or the Eden Valley. The evidence of their existence is sparse and they are known from only three roman third and fourth century A.D inscriptions, unfortunately one of these is now lost. One is situated at Frenchfield (north of the roman fort of Brocavum)and another of the sites is situated at Langwathby fairly near Penrith both of these inscriptions were on milestones. One of the milestones closes with the statement ‘… R(es) P(ublicae) C(ivitas) Car(vetiorum)’, …the Public Works of the Carvetian State’.  The other was inscribed on a tombstone found in 1600 in Old Penrith (the Voreda Roman Fort) a fair way north of present day Penrith. The tombstone of Flavius Martius recorded poportedly that he was ‘Sen(ator) In C(ivitas) Carvetior (um)’, a senator on the tribal council of the Carvetii tribe. The combination of all three inscriptions infers the existence of the ‘civitas Carvetiorum’, the land of the Carvetii and the existence of its leading body. Suprisingly the Carvetii are not mentioned in Ptolemy’s Geography. The capital of the Carvetii is thought to have been by many Luguvalium (modern day Carlisle) as this was the only walled town known in the region at the time. It has also been suggested that because of the vicinity of the inscriptions and the location of the most fertile land in the area and the known existence of an enclosed settlement some miles east of Penrith in the fertile Eden Valley that the logical location of the Carvetii capital is near the modern day Clifton Dykes. It is accepted that Carlisle was an important part of Carvetii lands as it was a centre of activity following the Roman invasion of Britain, preceding this the Eden Valley was certainly the centre of Carvetii lands. A strategic point within the Eden Valley is Brougham and its surrounding area which held importance with the cult of Belatucadrus, it also seems to be an important trade route with routes east across Stainmore and several important meeting places with several stone circles and monoliths and the presumed pre-roman capital of Clifton Dykes. This concentration of sites of importance may be at least a part of the reasoning behind the construction of the roman fort at Brocavum.

One of these sites is the Bronze Age stone circle Long Meg and Her Daughters is situated near Penrith in Cumbria. The stone circle is the sixth biggest example in north-western Europe, it consists of 59 stones 27 of which remain standing. The stones are stood in an oval shape and is 100m in diameter at its longest point. Originally there may have been as many as 70 stones in the circle. The megalith Long Meg herself is 3.6m high and is of red sandstone and is 25m to the southwest of the circle formed by her daughters. Long Meg is inscribed with examples of early art consisting of spirals and concentric circles. Several enclosures that predate the circle have been identified and Little Meg a smaller stone circle is situated close by. As mentioned earlier the monolith is local red sandstone, from either the River Eden or the Lazonby hills nearby, the circle stones however are rhyolite and are glacial erratic’s. Two large stones are placed to the east and west and there are two doorway stones placed to the south-west. The placement of Long Meg is aligned down the centre of the circle and the point of the midwinter sunset. In it’s early days the circle may have had a bank running around it and the centre may have been concave to some extent. Four of the stones in the circle don’t appear to be local and are formed from quartz crystal, they seem to have been deliberately placed at specific points that mark calendric events, for example on Samhain an alignment involves a portal stone, a quartz stone and Long Meg. The stones seem to mark solar and lunar timings as well as equinox’s. Long Meg and Her Daughters is the source of a great many legends, one being that the stones were originally a coven of witches who were turned to stone by the Scottish wizard called Michael Scott. Another legend is that the stones are uncountable and that if anybody counts the same number twice then Michael Scott’s spell will be broken and the witches released. Yet another legend is that when a local squire, Colonel Lacy planned to blow up the stones perhaps in search of treasure which was often said to be buried under such monuments in the 1700’s, but before they could ignite the black powder a fearful storm began to rage and the attempt was mercifully abandoned, a sought of supernatural protection. Long Meg is said to have been named after a local witch Meg of Meldon who lived in the early 17th century. It is said that if the monolith is damaged it will bleed.

Compass pointing east showing the alignment from Long Meg through the monoliths.

One of the earliest and largest stone circles - Long Meg And Her Daughters

One of the earliest and largest stone circles – Long Meg And Her Daughters

Concentric circle inscription on the Long Meg monolith.

Concentric circle inscription on the Long Meg monolith.

The Long Meg monolith in all her glory.

The Long Meg monolith in all her glory.

Little Meg although less impressive is equally important and would have been revered by the Carvetii although it is much older than the tribes origins. It is the remains of a burial mound or round cairn, it would have originally consisted of a central burial cist surrounded by kerb stones, the cist unfortunately has been destroyed but was found to contain a cremation urn. The central mound is now gone though there are 10 or 11 kerb stone remains. The cairn is situated half a mile north-east of Long Meg and Her Daughters. In age it is thought to have been constructed in the later Bronze Age. Two intricately carved stones were found there one still remains in place the other was removed and can be seen in all its glory in Penrith Museum, it shows a spiral motif and a series of concentric circles.

Late Bronze Age Cairn - Little Meg

Late Bronze Age Cairn – Little Meg

At the time of the Carvetii, both monuments would have been magnificent in all their glory. We can only speculate that there use continued and indeed what there use may have been. I personally believe that such noble monuments would have been sites of political and spiritual importance, places of worship and meetings, as indeed they continue to be today.

And now I will continue with a bit of a rant, whilst holidaying in the lake district I search the nearest town Ambleside high and low for reading material concerning Cumbria’s Celtic heritage, I was dismayed not only that I could not find any reading material at all on Cumbria’s Celtic heritage but the sheer lack of history books concerning any era. I hate to see any history being ignored, I have hope and am sure that this absence of recorded history is not wide spread. Get out there and write about the Celts!

Anyway rant over, there are some stunning Bronze and Iron age sights in the Lake District, you should definitely go see them I know I will!

Dying To Be Famous

It was just recently that I went on a short holiday to the lake district, during this short stay I climbed the 3rd highest mountain in England, the mighty Helvellyn. After a hair-raising climb over Striding Edge and then enduring the steep scree scramble to the summit, I was surprised to see (even through the fog) an impressive stone monument. Upon closer inspection this monument was dedicated to Charles Gough (born 1784) an aspiring artist of the early English Romantic movement.

Memorial stone for Charles Gough erected in 1890, with an inscription containing quotes from Wordsworth's poem 'Fidelity'.

Memorial stone for Charles Gough erected in 1890, with an inscription containing quotes from Wordsworth’s poem ‘Fidelity’.

On the 17th of April 1805 the 21 year old artist visiting the Lake District (reputedly by Wordsworth for the sake of angling in Patterdale) from Manchester set out to walk over Helvellyn to Grasmere. At the beginning of the 19th century mountaineering for enjoyment and not out of necessity was a relatively new pursuit, and as such Gough would be facing the mountain with no specialist clothing or equipment. It was advisable even then to take a guide with you when scaling the mountain, Gough had indeed secured a guide, however as a member of the local militia his guide was called up for training that unfortunate day. So Gough set out alone, with the exception of his dog Foxie on his way eventually to Grasmere via Striding Edge. He was never again seen alive, with no one expecting him to venture back the way he came and seemingly no one expecting him to arrive in Grasmere. For 3 months he seemed to have vanished, until on the 27th of July a shepherd heard a dogs frantic barking near Red Tarn and upon further investigation discovered Foxie beside Gough’s dispersed bones and threadbare clothing. Depending on which report you read it is debatable as to whether the shepherd then asked the assistance of some walkers or left the scene and returned with a crowd and collected Gough’s remains and possessions consisting of some fishing tackle and reel, a gold watch, a silver propelling pencil and two Claude glasses (a darkened convex mirror used by landscape painters), they also recovered Gough’s hat which had been torn in two. From this it was surmised that Gough had fallen to his death from the treacherous Striding Edge and had died from the head injuries procured or from exposure to the elements. The barks which had alerted the shepherd to Gough’s resting place had of course originated from Foxie, not only had she survived the months exposed to the elements beside her dead master, but also given birth to a pup, which unfortunately died shortly after their discovery and subsequent rescue. Foxie’s seemingly impossible health and the skeletal remains of her master caused a Carlisle newspaper to report  ‘The bitch had pupped in a furze near the body of her master, and, shocking to relate, had torn the cloaths from his body and eaten him to a perfect skeleton.’ Yet another report suggested that Gough had been eaten by Helvellyn’s resident ravens. The mystery encompassing Gough’s death, not only how he died but why he took the risk of ascending Helvellyn without a guide, continues to inspire those who climb Helvellyn lending the mountain an element of history all its own. Gough had been asked by a local artist to copy some drawing, but Gough was known for taking risks. Thomas Clarkson an abolitionist who had met Gough stated that Gough was a ‘venturesome person’ whose headstrong nature had caused the local shepherds alarm. Gough’s body is now interred in a Quaker graveyard in Tirril.

A view of the knife-edge striding edge, where Charles Gough fell from.

A view of the knife-edge Striding Edge, where Charles Gough fell from.

At the time William Wordsworth lived at Grasmere and news of this tragedy inspired his creative genius. As word spread Sir Walter Scott also became intrigued by the calamity and Wordsworth guided him and Humphry Davy (a chemist) to the area in which Gough met his end. Subsequently both poets were motivated to write poems romanticizing and recording the event for eternity. They both certainly believed that Foxie remained guarding Gough’s body out of loyalty, the truth however was probably darker.

William Wordsworth’s poem ‘Fidelity’ written in 1805 and published in 1807.

A barking sound the Shepherd hears,
A cry as of a Dog or Fox;
He halts, and searches with his eyes
Among the scatter’d rocks:
And now at distance can discern
A stirring in a brake of fern;
From which immediately leaps out
A Dog, and yelping runs about.

The Dog is not of mountain breed;
It’s motions, too, are wild and shy;
With something, as the Shepherd thinks,
Unusual in its’ cry:
Nor is there any one in sight
All round, in Hollow or on Height;
Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear;
What is the Creature doing here?

It was a Cove, a huge Recess,
That keeps till June December’s snow;
A lofty Precipice in front,
A silent Tarn below!
Far in the bosom of Helvellyn,
Remote from public Road or Dwelling,
Pathway, or cultivated land;
From trace of human foot or hand.

There, sometimes does a leaping Fish
Send through the Tarn a lonely chear;
The Crags repeat the Raven’s croak,
In symphony austere;
Thither the Rainbow comes, the Cloud;
And Mists that spread the flying shroud;
And Sun-beams; and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past,
But that enormous Barrier binds it fast.

Not knowing what to think, a while
The Shepherd stood: then makes his way
Towards the Dog, o’er rocks and stones,
As quickly as he may;
Nor far had gone before he found
A human skeleton on the ground,
Sad sight! the Shepherd with a sigh
Looks round, to learn the history.

From those abrupt and perilous rocks,
The Man had fallen, that place of fear!
At length upon the Shepherd’s mind
It breaks, and all is clear:
He instantly recall’d the Name,
And who he was, and whence he came;
Remember’d, too, the very day
On which the Traveller pass’d this way.

But hear a wonder now, for sake
Of which this mournful Tale I tell!
A lasting monument of words
This wonder merits well.
The Dog, which still was hovering nigh,
Repeating the same timid cry,
This Dog had been through three months’ space
A Dweller in that savage place.

Yes, proof was plain that since the day
On which the Traveller thus had died
The Dog had watch’d about the spot,
Or by his Master’s side:
How nourish’d here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime,
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate.

And Gough was not only immortalised in words, several famous painters of the time also immortalised him and Foxie. Both Francis Danby and one of queen Victoria’s favourite painters Edwin Landseer painted the event. Landseer’s painting entitled ‘Attachment’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1830 in conjunction with Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘Helvellyn’.

Edward Landseer's painting entitled Attachment. Painted in 1829.

Edward Landseer’s painting entitled ‘Attachment’. Painted in 1829.

So Charles Gough achieved fame certainly not in the way he would have wished, his death on the mighty Helvellyn and the subsequent interest of poets and painters romanticizing the loyalty of his dog Foxie, has immortalised him forever more on the eerie summit of Helvellyn. As for me I realised when I reached the summit that despite my aching joints and burning lungs I had enjoyed the challenge and the summits landscape unaffected as it was by time, is I believe a memorial enough for Gough. In short I loved every moment of it and dad and me will definitely be climbing Helvellyn again, although he may not know it yet!

Me and Dad about to climb Helvellyn.

Me and Dad about to climb Helvellyn.