However Skiddaw came to be laid down, it is quite certain that it took an immeasurable number of years to build. Geologists speak of six millions of years as possible for its growth, and think this new world began to be evolved from an older continent more than sixty millions of years ago. It is also quite certain that it was gradually upheaved out of the water, and that millions of years may have intervened before, by some sudden buckling of the earth perhaps and great upheaval of its strata, the volcanoes that gave birth to the Lake District south of Skiddaw came into activity. (pp. 3-4)….
People who are interested in geology, if they walk up the small ghyll that descends from Castlerigg Fell to Causeway foot, may actually see the ashes of the later geological era, which gave us the Lake District to the south, overlying the Skiddaw slate at the fault. At Castle Head in the quiet sunshine to-day, we can hardly imagine the stormy cataclysms that gave birth to this serene landscape. (p. 5)
But it is not only fire that has been at work in this Keswick vale. The very mound upon which Crosthwaite Church stands is a moraine mound, and the ice plow of a glacier age as it passed downward towards the south has written its characters plainly on the rocks, not only in Borrowdale, but in the Vale of St. John’s. (p. 5)
And who were the people who lived hereabouts in the days that followed the glacier age? They were Brigantes or Brigands of a Neolithic time, who, from at least 3,000 B.C., made their stone axes in the valley from the fine chert which they got from Scafell. They tamed the wild goat and the long-fronted ox, and lived for the most part on the tops of the hills, in order to avoid the beasts of prey and enemies in the forest below them. They shepherded their goats without the help of dogs, for the dog had not yet been tamed; they grew corn which they ground in stone querns, and, knowing nothing of iron or bronze, worked with wooden hoes and horn rakes, and when they died buried their dead in long barrows. (pp. 5-6)
Anyone who visits the museum at the Fitz Park will find exquisite specimens of the stone axe and hammer, with the querns or handmills which these people used. We, who are only just beginning to return to stone-ground flour, know less than these men did of wherein consisted the staff of life. What masters they were of the art of stone cutting and polishing we know, and how laboriously they worked with sand and wood to bore the holes for the haft in their stone hammers. (p. 6)….
Perhaps a thousand years ago B.C. there appeared in the valley another race, men of larger stature with fair hair and blue eyes and round heads, who had spears in their hands, and when they went to cut down the forest trees, laughed to scorn the stone axe of the original inhabitants, for they knew the use of iron and bronze, and wore upon their arms, and perhaps upon their necks, twisted ornaments of bronze, and sometimes round their necks torques of gold. You will see two of these armlets, worn by a woman probably, in the Fitz Park Museum. Silver work was unknown to them. (p. 7)
Dogs, too, were at their side when they hunted the wolf, or when they shepherded their goats. They dispossessed the Long-heads, and made them their servants. They, too, dwelt in the villages of the Long-heads on Threlkeld Knott and Bleaberry Fell, and these men appear to have used beehive dwellings, and seem to have been sun-worshippers, for they lit a small fire upon the bodies of those they buried. It is possible that they were the builders of the Druids’ Circle on Castrigg Fell. (p. 7)
With huge labour they dragged the stones in memory of the great chieftains and stood them in the stone circle, and built the little sanctuary to the east, and set the stone in the middle to make that circle a sun clock; and kept time and calendar by the stars as they rose above this or that upstanding stone. Little did they think that their stone circle would be some day used as a doomring, court of judgement, and place of tribal meeting by another race, larger of limb, and fairer of hair, and bluer of eye, the Vikings from over the sea. (pp. 7-8)
But between the coming of these Round-heads and the invasion of the Norsemen, another race was seen in the valley. These were the Romans, who, after running their road by the sea coast in the first century, built their Roman Wall, and made their military roads along High Street and over Shap fell and Stainmoor to Old Carlisle. These dark-eyed foreigners were obliged for security’s sake to have their camps and signalling places throughout the Lake District. They have left very little behind them in this neighbourhood, but Castrigg Fell preserves to us a memory of their camping ground, and traces of a Roman road have been discovered on Armboth Fell, while Causey Pike by its name suggests that the Roman road ran at its foot, and one or two bronze tripod kettles and several Roman coins have been found that speak to us of their existence hereabout. (p. 8)….
But how did we get the name of Keswick? I believe that we got it from the Norsemen somewhere between 870 and 950 A.D. These forefathers of the dalesmen of our day came over under their leaders Ingolf and Thorolf in two invasions. One of these men was Ketel, son of Ormr. He came up the Derwent, and ran his boast ashore at the wyke, which was thence called Ketel’s Wyke. That Ketel’s Wyke became Kelsick or Keswick. He probably did not settle here because, a Norseman born, he would be attracted by the Falls of Lodore. He would love the sound of falling water, and the flash of the torrent would remind him of his native home, so he would move thither; and Ketel’s Well in the meadow near Lodore, perhaps, remains to us as a memory of the love of his native country. (p. 9)
In whatever direction we look we find traces in the place names of this Norse occupation. Here immediately to our left, is Walla Crag, the Crag of Walla. Away to the south rises Honig Stadhr, the farm of Honig the Viking, Honister of to-day. Right opposite is Swinside, the seat or high camp of Sweyn or Svein. Across the fell a little further to the north is Thornthwaite, which means ‘the clearing’ of Thornig. Nearer lies a farm called the Howe, which keeps in mind the Heough or High Place, a raised mound made by some farmer Viking for the burial of his dead, and from the top of which he could look out for his enemies. There under Skiddaw is Ormathwaite, the thwaite or ‘clearing in the wood’ of Ormr, perhaps the father of Ketel. (pp. 9-10)….
Close at my side as in fancy I stand on Latrigg to gaze over the country with its ghylls and howes and thwaites and dodds and kelds and forces (i.e. fosses) that remind me of that Norseman age, the Herdwick sheep are pasturing. They were the sheep, as I believe, that were brought over by these Norse farmers, sheep of mountain breed, as hardy as the hardy Norseman himself. It is quite clear that wherever these herdwicks came from, they came from a country where snow abounded, for the ruffs of the sheep, more hair than wool, and the thick woollen covering upon their legs show that they were meant to find their food in snowy places. (pp. 10-11)
Herdwick mutton is the sweetest in the world, and deserves to be much better known than it is. As one eats it, one seems to be eating game, but how little its characteristic flavour and goodness are known, may be guessed from the fact that when I go to reside in Carlisle, I am unable to obtain it from the butchers there. The Herdwick sheep supplied our Norse farmer folk of old times and their descendants with their hodden grey, and those who will take the trouble to have it woven into woollen cloth will not only find themselves clad in the ‘cwoat sea grey’ that John Peel wore when he went out hunting, but will find it pleasant in colour and very serviceable against the storm. (p. 11)
Our farmer folk of later time used seldom to kill mutton for fresh meat, though mutton ham, that is, the mutton salted down and dried in the chimney smoke, was a dainty indulged in, in winter time. The staple food used to be ‘poddish,’ cheese and ‘haver bread,’ and their fine teeth and their large bones were the result. Thirty years ago one could not enter a farmhouse without finding this ‘haver bread’ in the basket upon the table at meal times, and the sooner we return to those good old days the better will it be for the people’s health. This ‘haver bread,’ as I believe, came originally from Norway, and was the ‘flat brod’ of our Norse invaders. (p. 12)
If we go into the Keswick market place on Saturday, we shall meet with the sons of these Vikings. Men with long limbs, long arms, long noses, grey eyes, big square set jaws, so little altered by the lapse of centuries in feature and form, that if you attend any fair in Norway or Sweden to-day, you would believe that you were among Cumberland folk. Still also may you hear as they talk, echoes of their Norseman tongue. Such words as ‘rake’ for sheep that move one after another across the fell, such words as ‘ingle’ for the ingle nook, or seat by the fireplace at the farm; such words as ‘throng’ in the sense of busy, and ‘elding’ for firewood, all bespeak the place of their birth.(pp. 12-13)
And echoes of that Northern faith, their faith in Thor and Odin and faith in Baldr, still survive in the place names and even in the herbs they planted and cared for. The old fashion of giving ‘arvel’ bread to those who had attended a funeral is a Norse one, and the Balderwort or ‘Bald-money’ grew within memory upon the Vicarage Hill. It is believed that this plant was always planted near a Viking sanctuary. (p. 13)
If we go into the farmhouse dairy and ask to be shown the cream pot, we shall see the cream stick in it made of rowan-tree wood; a stick made of any other wood would not prevent the cream going sour too soon, but why the Viking farmer’s wife should pin her faith on rowan wood she has forgotten. The Igdrasil was the holy tree of the Vikings, and the rowan wood was the ‘holy azil,’ or holy ash, sacred to the gods, so the good wife would place her cream pot in the charge of a divine Providence, and would see that as a charm for her butter making, nothing but the holy wood of the rowan should stir her cream pot. (p. 13)
There is one other Norse custom which tradition has handed on from those Viking times among the people. It is the use of nicknames. Most people grow up with some such name by which they are known throughout the neighbourhood. Sometimes it is given because of a peculiarity in the shape of a nose, such as ‘Nebby’; sometimes because of their work, ‘Clocky,’ e.g. watchmaker; sometimes because of the mere height of a person, he or she will be known as ‘Lang Tom’ or ‘Lang Sarah.’ Sometimes a person known to be a gossip going from house to house, will be called ‘Clashy betty,’ ‘Clashy Sally.’ Whatever the nickname may be given to them in early days, it sticks to them through life, and this, as readers of Sagas know, was the Norseman’s way. (pp. 13-14)….
One other thing remains as an inheritance from the Norse times. It is the love of hard work. A people accustomed from far-off generations to wrestling with Nature in its wildest moods, have never forgotten the powers they have inherited to go on wrestling still. Wrestlers in their games as they are, they are wrestlers in their work also, and the secret of success wherever our Cumbrians go, either as colonists abroad, or as shopmen into the great houses of commerce in our cities, lies in their indefatigable effort to work and their thrifty will to save. (p. 15)
There has been one other invasion of the Keswick valley by a foreign race since the time the Vikings came hither. Of this invasion my dear old friend, the late Fisher Crosthwaite, has been the chief historian. In the year 1561, Queen Elizabeth conferred through her secretary Cecil, with John Steynbergh, a German, and James Thurland, Master of the Savoy, upon warrant for the incorporation of a company for the working of mines in England. Three years after, these grants for working mines and minerals in England and Wales were transferred to another German, a certain Daniel Hecksterrer. In May of 1565 copper ore said to contain silver was found in certain places in Cumberland, and the Queen was requested to grant warrant to bring three hundred or four hundred foreign workmen to work it. On the 20th September of the same year, the first contingent of German miners, twenty in number, came to Keswick. (pp. 15-16)….
The works of the mines in this country were destroyed, we are told, by Cromwell’s army. Many of the miners were slain in the Civil Wars, and the copper mines, both at Coniston and Keswick, were closed. (p. 18)….
It is quite true that they have left behind them some facial characteristics. The broad square head of the German may still be seen both in boys and girls in Keswick, who come from the mixed stock of Norse and German. But as to the language, except for the words, ‘forebye’ and ‘clem,’ which are in constant use, not a trace of the German tongue remains. (p. 19)
(By Fell and Dale at the English Lakes, pp. 1-19)