Commemorations to mark the battle which defined the border

To mark the 1,000 th anniversary of the Battle, a Living History and Re-enactment Weekend will be held at Carham on July 7 and 8.

Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 09:18 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th June 2018, 12:22 pm
The 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Carham is being marked.

The event is part of a research project by the Battlefields Trust in partnership with the locally based Carham 1018 Society and is supported by Heritage Lottery Funding

This is a free event, from 10am to 5pm both days, with free onsite parking for cars and mini-buses and all are welcome to come along and enjoy a fun and educational family day out.

The River Tweed at Carham.

Today Carham is but a small, almost unnoticed, hamlet on the southern bank of the River Tweed, but history has not left Carham untouched and, over the centuries, this small rural community has played a vital part in the evolution of the two nations of England and Scotland.

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Carham keeps her secrets close, but if you search, there are clues to be found. Clues to times of peace, meditation and prayer.

The parish church hides the site of an ancient minster founded by St Cuthbert, which dates back to the year 674, and through this, strong links were forged to Lindisfarne and to the Cathedral at Durham, the final resting place of the Saint’s bones. Because of the links to Cuthbert, Carham became more noticeable and consequently a place likely to be attacked. But it was also a place worth defending.

But Carham has also witnessed darker times. Just one thousand years ago, as both Scotland and England were forming into the nations we recognise today, Carham was where the border was defined, in conflict.

In 1018, England was in turmoil. Cnut, a Prince of Denmark, had invaded these islands and, having disposed of the Wessex royal dynasty and brutally removed the Anglo Saxon Earls, England was now under Danish rule.

Taking advantage of the chaos in the south, two armies, both with conquest in mind, one from the north under the command of Malcolm II King of Scots, and a second from the west led by Owain the Bald King of Strathclyde, joined forces at Caddonlea, near Galashiels and marched eastwards towards Carham.

Here, they were confronted by a heavily armed, defensive contingent of Northumbrians who had been hastily gathered together by Eadwulf, Earl of Bamburgh. Battle was inevitable.

There is no surviving account of the battle itself, but using evidence from other well documented conflicts a few years after Carham, such as the Battle of Hastings of 1066 , we can perhaps imagine what might have occurred on that fateful day.

The opposing forces would have rapidly manoeuvred into fighting configuration fronted by long ranks of shields locked together to form an impenetrable wall both to push forward in attack, and to stand firm in defence.

Weapons were readied. The foes approached. Shield wall closed on shield wall. Battle was joined, and the peace of Carham shattered.

First, javelins were hurled, then sword and axe were unleashed with fury and savagery against shield, armour, bone and flesh. The defenders stood their ground, but they were outnumbered.

The Northumbrian shield wall faltered; fractured; gave way. Now was mayhem, bloody carnage and slaughter. Northumbrians who could, fled the field. But many stayed – the dead, the dying, the wounded, and those who would later be sought out and killed by the victors.

This day, 1,000 years ago, ensured that the land north of the River Tweed would become forever an integral part of the nation we know today as Scotland. The Tweed became a distinct boundary; this was the start of the Border story.

Today nothing remains to be seen that a great and decisive battle was once fought here.

Carham was beyond doubt a substantial victory for the King of Scots and the King of Strathclyde, but it was not a victory great enough to allow Malcolm II to venture further south to avenge his humiliating defeat at Durham some 12 years previously. Nothing more was written about Owain the Bald, but within a few years of Carham, the Kingdom of Strathclyde became part of the new and larger Kingdom of Scotland.

Eadwulf of Bamburgh survived the battle, and lived a few years beyond, but he became known as Eadwulf Cudel; Cudel meaning cuttlefish or coward.

No attempt was made to regain the ground lost after Carham, nor did Malcolm II again seriously threaten south of the Tweed.

Within a few decades defensive castles were built along and near the Tweed, including Berwick, Twizell, Etal, Wark, Hume and Roxburgh.

The Border was marked in its current place after Carham, but was not set in law until the Treaty of York in 1237.

Carham was the start of the Border story; first a story of conflict; then a story of reconciliation which has led to today, when the Borderlands are a fine and peaceful place in which to live.