The entrance from the west has Trinity Church to adorn it, and the Infirmary, a noble Doric building, while in front frown the massy keep and ramparts of the old castle.
The road from Glasgow approaches the city from Stanwix Bank, where the Newcastle road joins it and crosses the Eden by a fine bridge.
There is a most picturesque view from the Newcastle road in spring. The green meadows enamelled with wild flowers, golden with buttercups - the woods of Rickerby clad in the tender green of the awaking year, the bridges - and over them, crowning the landscape, the castle and cathedral.
There are many fine public walks lying round Carlisle, particularly those on the northern bank of the river, along which passed the Roman Wall. From Etterby Scar on this side of the stream, at about a mile down the river, the view is very extensive and fine. Standing on the brink of the precipice, we see at our feet the swift course of the Eden, which here makes a large semi-circular sweep. In front of us is a beautiful level plain of meadow land, intersected by the Caldew, and divided by hedges; beyond it is the city, the long, high roof and square tower of the cathedral rising above it. The castle with its towers is in the centre, and far off in the misty background are the mountains. Looking in the contrary direction we just catch a glimpse of the Solway, with Criffel rising blue above it, Burnswark, and the distant Scotch mountains, to the crags that bound the wastes of Gilsland and Bewcastle.
Carlisle is now a manufacturing city, and the tall chimneys pour forth clouds of steam and smoke, contrasting strangely with the ancient aspect of the town.
The castle is in the north-west corner of the city, overlooking the Eden, and is a moated fortress, once of the greatest importance, when the Scots were constantly crossing the Border on predatory or military expeditions. It was hewn in the reign of William Rufus, and was much altered and repaired by Richard III., when he was Duke of Gloucester, and governor of the castle for his brother Edward IV. Under Henry VIII. it was again altered for the use of artillery. The angular tower, in which Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for two months, was taken down in 1835. A small garrison was kept here till 1864, but Carlisle Castle has now been abandoned as a station for troops, and the city is no longer a garrison town. In making some alterations in the castle some time ago, the skeletons of a woman and child. were found built up in the wall.
After the Rebellion of the Clans, in 1745, between 400 and 500 prisoners were lodged in Carlisle Castle; amongst them was Macdonald of Keppoch, who was imprisoned in the keep, and who covered the walls of his prison room with admirable sketches, said to have been made by him with a nail.
The cathedral is a half destroyed building, consisting only of a choir and transepts, surmounted by a stunted tower, but the remains are of beautiful Norman architecture, with low round pillars and circular arches. The ecclesiastical buildings, said to have been founded by St. Cuthbert, were all destroyed by the Danes, and the abbey was rebuilt by William Rufus, who made Carlisle a bishop's see, and the parish church a cathedral. It was rebuilt in 1246.
The greater portion of the nave, together with the cloisters, was pulled down at the Reformation, with the conventual buildings attached to them. The nave now has only two arches, supported by very massive pillars, 14 feet high and 17 feet round. This portion was built of whiter and harder stone than other parts of the building. It is separated by a wall from the choir, and has been converted into the parish church of St. Mary. The pillars supporting the tower and the transept are in age and style the same as those of the nave. Within one of the old Norman columns there is a well, the next to St. Catherine's chapel, which is separated from the south aisle by a screen very richly decorated. St. Catherine's chapel is now used as a robing room for the choristers, and in it are some decayed closets, one apparently very old.
In the cathedral has been preserved a pair of tusks, fastened to a walrus's skull, with an effaced inscription on it.
This is supposed to have been the charter-horn given by Henry I. to the Prior of the old abbey or priory, but we really cannot see how the tusks could represent a horn. Two tattered copes are also preserved here, one of crimson velvet, richly worked with gold embroidery; the other is of silk, embroidered with figures of saints. They may have been the vestments of the last prior.
The choir was begun in the reign of Edward I., and completed in 1400. The roof is supported by clustered pillars and pointed arches, with chevron ornaments between the mouldings. The sculptured foliage on the capitals is very fine, and so is the carving on the stalls with their black oak pinnacles. On the panels at the back of the stalls there are rude paintings of St. Cuthbert, the Apostles, St. Anthony, etc., which are rather curious.
The cathedral has been frequently repaired, and partially restored with skill and taste. The east window is thought to be the finest in England. "Its elegance of composition, delicacy of arrangement, and easy flow of lines, rank it higher than even the celebrated west window of York," says Rickman, "which it also exceeds in the number of divisions, having nine lights."
The window in the north transept was put in by the town as a mark of sympathy with their then dean and his wife (Dr. Tait, who afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury), who had lost five children within a few weeks, of scarlet fever. Christ is represented in the centre light blessing the little children, and in the middle of the great wheel of the tracery is the Saviour with open arms, saying, "Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not." The side lights show parents bringing their little ones to Christ. The deanery, in which these little darlings died, has a remarkably fine flat oak ceiling, beautifully carved, and richly painted with heraldic bearings and scrolls.
The refectory to the south of the cathedral is used now as a library and chapterhouse.
Sentence of excommunication was pronounced against Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland (for having murdered the Red Comyn in a church), in this cathedral by the Papal Legate, in the presence of Edward I. and his parliament, with the usual awful ceremonies of the act.
The old walls of Carlisle were in the form of a not very perfect triangle; very little now remains of them, and that is above the river Caldew. They were often in the old days adorned with human heads of so-called rebels.
Carlisle can boast of a great antiquity. It is said in many a ballad and tale to have been the chief residence of King Arthur; and near Penrith is still seen a large circle, surrounded by a mound of earth, which is called Arthur's Round Table.
It was here that the pretty legend of the lothely lady is localised by the ballad.
But King Arthur went on a long excursion, and returned in a very sad mood, as all his knights perceived.
Arthur tells him that he has been taken captive by a fierce gigantic chief, who has only released him and spared his life till he can pay his ransom - the date fixed being New Year's day. And the ransom is to tell the victor "that which all women most desire." Naturally King Arthur is nearly in despair, for all the ladies he asks answer differently.
However, he started to surrender himself on the appointed day, as bound in honour, being unable to give his ransom. As he rode over a moor he saw a lady, dressed in scarlet, sitting between an oak and a green holly. Glancing at her, the king perceived that she was absolutely hideous.
King Arthur rode on, pretending not to notice her, but she called him back, and said that she could help him with his ransom. The king scarcely believed this, but answered, "If you can release me from my bond, lady, I shall be grateful, and you shall marry my nephew Gawain, with a golden ring." Then the lothely lady told Arthur that the thing all women desired was to "have their will," or, as we should say, "to have their own way."
The answer proved correct, and the giant, though vexed, accepted it as Arthur's ransom. The "gentle Gawain" was however now bound by his uncle's promise, and would not break it. The "lothely lady" came to Carlisle, and was wedded in the church to Gawain. When they were alone after the ceremony, she told him that she could be ugly by day, or lovely by night, or vice versa, as he pleased. For her sake, and that she might appear at court, he chose that she should be ugly at night and lovely by day. Then she begged him to kiss her, and with a shudder he did so. In a moment the spell cast over her by a witch-stepmother was broken, and Gawain beheld a young and lovely maiden. She was presented to Arthur and Guenevere, and was no longer a "lothely lady."
The generosity and loyalty of Sir Gawain are charmingly set forth in this story.
Carlisle was sacked by the Danes in 875, but it was repaired and fortified by William Rufus. It was afterwards strongly fortified, and was the bulwark of the north (of the Borders) as Newcastle and Derwick were of the east.
It was repeatedly attacked by the Scots, sacked, and plundered, but with no lasting success on their part; and it was here that Edward I. collected his great army, and held his parliament before the invasion of Scotland.
In the civil wars of the seventeenth century it was held by Montrose for the king (1644), and afterwards it suffered from a long siege by the Parliamentary army under Leslie. It was most bravely defended by Sir Thomas Glenham. But food failed before courage waned, and the inhabitants had to eat horses, dogs, and rats without bread or salt. A resident states in his diary that "the citizens were so shrunk from starvation, that they could not choose but laugh at one another, to see their clothes hang upon them as upon men on gibbets." The city was, however, compelled by famine to surrender after an eight months' siege.
A hundred years afterwards Carlisle had again to surrender to Prince Charles Edward, and without having made any defence, as it had no available garrison. Bonnie Prince Charlie entered it, riding on a milk white steed, and preceded by 100 pipers. A few weeks afterwards the town was retaken by the Duke of Cumberland.
As we have said before, four or five hundred followers of Prince Charles were brought prisoners to Carlisle after the final defeat of the prince, and the place where they were executed, near this city, is still called Gallows Hill. Gibbets were to be seen there in 1798. Some of the prince's adherents were beheaded, and their heads were put on the walls, according to the barbarous fashion of the time.