Though I have written several Lake District Love Letters following my recent visit to Cumbria, it’s worth noting that the Cumbrian countryside is as beautiful as it is varied, even beyond the boundaries of the Lake District National Park. Today I pay a visit to the picturesque village of Wetheral just outside of Carlisle, and explore some secluded sites of historical and cultural interest.
In many ways a typical English village, with a neatly-manicured village green and grand houses to overlook it, Wetheral holds a hidden magic for me, probably because it was the place my mother grew up, and also where I got married.
The name ‘Wetheral’ is attested in church records as far back as 1100 AD, and the best way to introduce you to its history is to take a walk through the woods…
Walking Wetheral Woods
From the village green, take the steep road down past the parish church towards the banks of the fast-flowing River Eden. The first notable feature you see is the railway viaduct, which was completed in 1834 and stands at 100 ft (30.5 m) above the river. On the east bank of the river, you will soon see Corby Castle grounds, bordered by dramatic sandstone cliffs. It is always something of a sore point to me that these grounds were closed to the public in 1994 following a change of ownership. I remember being enchanted by these gardens in summer, in particular the sandstone grottos decorated with images of the Virgin Mary, and the formidable fountain guarded by a water-spouting dragon. Here is some drone footage I found on YouTube:
Luckily, the Wetheral side of the woods also holds hidden a hidden and enchanted secret: the Wetheral Caves, also known as St Constantine’s Cells (see Featured Image.) Follow the path high above the river Eden to emerge at a sandstone staircase leading to three rock-cut cells with a window over the river and a fireplace. These cells were reputedly used as a place of shelter for monks of the Priory (see below) during raids by the Border Reivers. They may, however, date back as far as the Roman period, when the sandstone of the area was quarried. Look out for the fascinating graffiti at the entrance to the caves, which spans many centuries and may include some occult symbols:
The caves are open to the public – take a look inside if you dare! The views over the river Eden are beautiful, and the caves themselves now contain nothing but a few mouldy leaves and perhaps some carelessly discarded litter.
Wetheral Priory Gatehouse
Retrace your steps up the sandstone staircase and take the higher path to emerge above the woods on a minor road leading to Wetheral Priory Gatehouse. The Gatehouse is all that remains of a medieval monastery (Wetheral Priory) that once stood at the site. The Gatehouse in its present form dates from the early 15th century. It is looked after by English Heritage and open to the public free of charge. We took a look around:
From here, follow the road a short distance back to the Village Green. There are several bars and restaurants in the village offering lunch, or, if you feel like exploring further, you can cross the railway viaduct footpath to the neighbouring village of Great Corby. There are regular train and bus services between Carlisle and Wetheral.