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Travel / Tours / England / Carlisle
Visit the city of Carlisle in England
  Carlisle Cathedral
  Tullie House
  Carlisle Castle
  Hadrian's Wall
  Lanercost Priory
  Cumbrian landscape
  Cumbrian food
  Further information


This page provides a brief introduction to Carlisle and the surrounding region of north Cumbria. Much of the history of this region has been shaped by its location close to the border between England and Scotland. It is just a short distance to Gretna Green, the first town in Scotland.

In about the year 120 the Roman Emperor Hadrian chose this area for the northern border for the Roman Empire. He ordered his soldiers to build a wall between here and the eastern coast (the town called Wallsend) in order to keep out the tribes to the north. Forts were created along the wall, and Carlisle grew up as a town serving these forts.

Carlisle is a city close to the border
between England and Scotland

Two of Carlisle's
street signs

Carlisle: The Border City
(visitor guide)
Author: Jane Drake
Publisher: Pitkin
Date: May 1992

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Carlisle Castle is one of the key features of the city and has played an important role in its history. It is managed by English Heritage and is open to visitors. Guided tours are available. Inside there is also the Border Regiment Museum, showing the history of the local division of the British army.

After the Romans left (at the start of the 5th century) the wall was no longer maintained as a border, and the country became divided into local kingdoms. At the end of the 7th century this area was taken over by the Angles, who also ruled the area to the east known now as Northumberland. When the Danes arrived at the end of the 9th century they completely destroyed the town. Between about 945 and 1070 Carlisle was ruled by the Scottish king Malcolm the First. After the Normans invaded it became part of England. William the Second (the son of William the Conqueror) built a castle here in 1092 (this was originally made of wood, but was later rebuilt using stone). The Scots took it over for about 20 years before it was captured by the English king Henry the Second. The Scots took it again during King John's reign, but Henry the Third captured it back. Edward the First strengthened the town's defences, and it later managed to survive an attack by the Scottish king Robert the Bruce.

(c) Eleanor McCabe
View of the castle from the Carlisle Millennium Gallery

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The Citadel was originally built by Henry the Eighth. The towers you can see today are not the original ones: they were rebuilt during the early 19th century and were used for courts. Sometimes it is possible to take a special guided tour inside the West Tower.

Henry the Eighth built the citadel as part of his attempt to improve the country's defences. His decision to break away from the Catholic church and to close the monasteries had created the possibility of an invasion from Scotland or Europe. In 1568 (during Elizabeth the First's reign) Mary Queen of Scots was kept prisoner here. Carlisle supported the king (Charles the First) during the English Civil War - it was besieged for 9 months starting in October 1644 and eventually had to surrender to the Parliamentarians. The Act of Union in 1707 established peace between England and Scotland and led to free travel across the border.

One of the round towers of the rebuilt citadel
(opposite the train station)

Court inside the West Tower. There is a staircase leading
down to one of the dungeons where prisoners were kept

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Carlisle Cathedral is built mainly using local red sandstone, but if you look carefully you will see that it also contains white stones which were taken from Hadrian's Wall. Its East window is one of the largest in Europe. Inside you can notice the strange lack of symmetry of the cathedral: this is because the western part was destroyed in the 17th century. Nearby is the Prior's Tower: the first floor contains a fine painted ceiling dating from the 16th century: the design is based on the heraldic symbols of the families which controlled the area (the tower can be visited by prior arrangement).

A Christian monastery was built somewhere in this region at the time of the Angles: it is known that it was visited by the missionary St Cuthbert in 686. King Henry the First established Carlisle Priory in 1122, and the priory church became a cathedral soon after.
The Prior's Tower is an example of a "pele tower", originally built in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 15th century. Pele towers are small square or rectangular stone buildings which were designed to withstand short attacks by the Scots. These were built throughout Cumbria because raids were common here. The towers have three floors: the ground floor was built with no windows (for safety) and was used to store animals, the first floor had a hall and kitchen, and the second floor was an area for living and sleeping and was also used as a lookout. In times of peace the Prior's Tower was used as the living quarters of the prior (the head of the monastery). Other examples of pele towers are at Lanercost Priory (see below) and at Muncaster Castle (see: Travel/Tours/England/Keswick)

(c) Eleanor McCabe
Carlisle Cathedral
(c) Carlisle City Council
Cathedral interior

Painted ceiling in Prior's Tower

Carlisle Cathedral
Publisher: Pitkin Guides
Date: July 1972

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Tullie House is a museum containing displays about local history and an art gallery, created inside a 17th century house.

One of the displays explains the history of the Border Reivers (reiver is an old word for a thief or bandit). For many years during the Middle Ages the border area between England and Scotland was not secure and was known as the "Debatable Land". The area was dominated by local family gangs who would carry out attacks to steal property and livestock from neighbours. Many people were killed during these raids: this is the origin of the English word "bereavement" (originally spelt "bereivement"), which means "the death of a close relative or friend".

Tullie House contains a museum
about the region and its history

Roman soldier
on Hadrian's Wall

Curse stone (in the subway linking
Tullie House to Carlisle Castle)


Tullie House
Publisher: Pitkin Unichrome
Date: July 1998

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The local football team is called Carlisle United. The grounds were part of the area affected by a severe flood in January 2005. When the water was drained away a goldfish was found alive under the goalposts - this was considered to be a sign of good luck and the fish was put in a new bowl and looked after by the club. The team came top of its division in each of the next two seasons ...

There is a leading racetrack on the south side of the city. Horses have been raced here for hundreds of years. The course is used both for flat and jump racing.

Carlisle United Football Club
(c) Carlisle City Council
Carlisle Racecourse

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Carlisle is a convenient base from which to explore Hadrian's Wall. Several sections of the wall still exist, and the remains of some of the Roman forts along the wall have been excavated and may be visited (the nearest one to Carlisle is Birdoswald Fort). Hadrian's Wall Bus is a special service (AD122) which runs along the length of the wall, stopping at the main attractions.

Hadrian's Wall Path: an 84 mile walking route
from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend

Hadrian's Wall
(section near Birdoswald Fort)

Hadrian's Wall Path: Wallsend to Bowness-on Stow (British Walking Guide Series)
Author: Henry Stedman
Publisher: Trailblazer Publications
Date: May 2006
Hadrian's Wall
Author: D.J. Breeze
Publisher: English Heritage
Date: August 2003

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Lanercost Priory is close to Hadrian's Wall. The English king Edward the First stayed here for six months before his last campaign against the Scots in 1306-7. It was damaged during Scottish raids, before being dissolved by Henry the Eighth in 1537. Today the property is managed by English Heritage and is open to visitors.

Entrance gate

The ruins of the priory

Lanercost Priory
Author: Graham Keevil
Publisher: English Heritage
Date: March 2005

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The Cumbrian landscape around Carlisle is varied and very attractive, making it popular with walkers. The red sandstone used to build Carlisle Cathedral can be seen in places such as Gelt Woods, not far from the city. Much of the route of Hadrian's Walls is made up of rolling hills where sheep and cattle graze. To the west are the salt marshes of the Solway Firth, from which you can look across at Scotland.

River cuts through the red sandstone
in Gelt Woods

View of the hills around
Birdoswald Fort

Sheep graze
in the fields

Solway Firth:
view across to Scotland
(c) Eleanor McCabe
River Eden
(viewed from Eden Bridge in Carlisle)

Cattle in

Carlisle, Brampton, Longtown and Gretna Green (Explorer Maps)
Publisher: Ordnance Survey
Date: July 2005

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While staying in Cumbria make sure that you taste some of the local food and drink. For example, these are some of the products you can enjoy (note that Cumberland and Westmorland is the old name for this region):

Local farms produce
a variety of cheeses (*)

Carr's table water biscuits:
made in Carlisle (*)
(c) Carlisle City Council
Have a meal in a local
pub or restaurant (**)

Jennings Cumberland ale:
brewed in Cockermouth (**)

Cumberland sausage: made from pork
using a traditional recipe (**)

Sticky toffee pudding:
a speciality from Cartmel (**)

Photos taken in:
(*) Laird's Larder, 16 Fisher Street, Carlisle [fine foods shop, including many local products]
(**) The Stag Inn, Crosby-on-Eden CA6 4QN (map)

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A train waits at Carlisle's Citadel station.
Virgin runs the train service to here from London.

Bus route 122 is Hadrian's Wall Bus: this takes you to the
main Roman sites, and sometimes includes a guide.

* Visitor information

Historic Carlisle:
Visit Cumbria:

Tullie House (museum and art gallery):
Guildhall (museum):
Carlisle Castle:
The Laird's Larder (fine food shop):
Carlisle United:
Carlisle Racecourse:
Lanercost Priory:
Birdoswald Roman Fort:
Hadrian's Wall Country:
Hadrian's Wall Path:

Swallow Hilltop Hotel, Carlisle: click here
Other hotels in Carlisle: click here

Street map:

* Independent travel
- By train it takes about 4 hours to travel to Carlisle from London's Euston station. For train timetables and to buy a ticket online, see: Shop/Company/TheTrainline.
- By coach direct services take about 7 hours to Carlisle from London's Victoria Coach Station, or 3 hours 30 minutes from Edinburgh. For timetables and to buy a ticket online, see: Shop/Company/NationalExpress.
- Local bus services:

* Weather forecast
BBC weather forecast for Carlisle:

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Keswick (northern Lake District): Travel/Tours/England/Keswick
Windermere (southern Lake District): Travel/Tours/England/Windermere
Newcastle: Travel/Tours/England/Newcastle

Home page: Home

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