Boltby Scar

12 03 2011

Leaving Northallerton, we headed east towards Foxton to view the farm home of Francis Parvin, which is still owned by Parvins to this day – though my attempts to connect with them prior to our trip and find out our relation to them was not fruitful.  The farm too sits off of the Swale River and the bridge over it was narrow and wooden and old.  We stopped and I took snapshots of the old farmhouse, delapidated though it was.

As exciting as it was to see this old home and the surrounding landscapes, my stomach would not settle from the anxiousness of what was to come – Boltby Scar.  To be able to finally stand precisely where Cartimandua once did and survey her land as she likely did when she waited with nervous anticipation for the Roman defenses to arrive and help her as her husband waged war upon her, not once but twice.

To history, Cartimandua is an evil traitor who surrendered a fellow Celt over to the hands of the invading Romans.  To modern history a Jezebel, who abandoned her husband and married his arms bearer.  You’ll be hard pressed to find any saving grace documented for this Celtic tribal leader, but I tend to believe that she was not as bad as she is remembered.

The Celt she surrendered was Caratacus, an invading warrior leader who had attacked many tribes for their lands without provocation and had been at war with many tribes leading up to this.  And after being given to the Romans by Cartimandua, he was not executed but rather given the most respectful lifestyle in Rome – stopping short of being permitted to cast a vote.

As for her divorcing her husband, this was a common act in that era in Britain, in fact quite often marriages lasted only one season and marriage was not thought of as a bond for life.

For over five years I’ve been working on writing a book on her life, a historical fiction novel you could say, with the hope of redeeming her in the eyes of at least printed word.  But enough on my little history lesson here, we were almost to her final stand.  We chose back roads that weaved in and out of picturesque landscapes and antiquated little homes; take your mind to any old movie with a sight of a little village in foggy England and you can see what we saw.

Then, only miles outside of Northallerton, Alannah advises us that she has to go to the bathroom.  Britain isn’t like the US in that around every corner is a McDonald’s or an Exxon or some sort of convenience store with a bathroom.  In fact many of these towns have absolutely no visible restaurants or gas stations.  Most are only a mile long and wide.  We paused outside a home that had a hand made sign outside reading “Free Range Eggs” and decided perhaps someone would have pity.  Alannah and Glenn got out and went up to ask to use the loo.  The woman welcomed them into her home, pausing from hanging her laundry.

Kayla and I stayed in the car discussing how we would react if a random stranger pulled up to use our home restroom.  It wouldn’t happen.  Period.  I wouldn’t let them past the driveway even.  I cannot fathom allowing a person to do what my husband and daughter were welcomed to do.

Glenn waited on the stoop and reported that the view that this woman would wake up to each morning was of postcard quality – rolling green hills, vibrant yellow pastures, blue skies and a landscape that would make Aelbert Cuyp whip out a brush for.

We continued on a short ways before stopping again at a massive tree, complete with footholds for the individual brave enough to lay claim to this tree fortress.  The giant oak sat on the edge of the roadway with a sharp drop off into the deep valley below.  We decided not to give it a go, but rather shot images of the picturesque landscape while enjoying our fags.  An older woman in a riding habit came trotting up on her magnificent horse and within a matter of seconds, Kayla was out of the car and petting the beast.  The woman made small talk with us about our day’s plans and Kayla tried to keep the horse from eating her camera.

Finally we found Sneck Yate Road and began the incredibly steep ascent to Boltby Scar, or what remains.  This fortress was bulldozed by a local farmer after the war for no apparent reason, seeing as he didn’t grow any crops on it afterwards.  Lime and Ice, an archaeological team from the Yorkshire Parks has begun trying to recover and re-discover what was once here and I was so anxious to stand on this land and survey what my heroin might have seen.

Let me say that she couldn’t have picked a better area to survey her lands from.  We stood at the top of the hill, just south of Cleveland Way and to the east of Sneck Yate and I am quite certain we were viewing lands over twenty miles away.  I tried to count out the apparent towns and villages and if my calculations are right, we were viewing as far away as 23 miles.  Nonetheless, it was spectacular.

As I stared out to the field, the view was such that I could actually see moving objects such as farm animals that were over five miles away; what a place to be able to be on the lookout for approaching enemy from.  There would have been not only significant amount of advanced notice, but the site itself was secure from easy access as well.  Constructed on part of the cliff wall, it would have been nearly impassible for anyone traveling by horse or foot to have sneaked up at night without detection.  Even with the car we had a difficult time making our way up the path that accessed the plateau crest.

There was a small gate through which we could enter the bridleway and we ventured out into the open field, mindful of the sheep droppings scattered along the way.  I just couldn’t stop looking out at the view, feeling the wind as it blew freely over the plain.  Alannah began yelling from way off in the distance and she made her way back to us to say she had found part of the dig site that the archaeologists had been working on the previous year.  It was a trek, but I hiked up the area to follow her back to the site.

Visually, it wasn’t much to look at, an exposed area of dirt that had been sifted to reveal a shallow hole, with another area nearby.  I realized at this point that the beginning stages of a dig are obviously not very encouraging and I could understand why they would want to use the scanners that they employ to locate prime dig spots.  But with all my dissatisfaction at the aesthetics of this dig area, Alannah was overjoyed.  She was careful not to disturb anything they may have done and instead proudly looked at the efforts with appreciation.  She boldly announced that someday she too could be able to find something of this magnitude – though I quietly argued to myself “there is nothing grand here”.

Mostly because there wasn’t.

Unless you knew the history of the area, the significance of the battles, the impact of this tribe on the whole of Rome’s conquests on the area – this looked like nothing more than a shallow grave in rocky soil.  But this tribe was one of the largest in all of Britain.  And they weren’t conquered by Rome but rather agreed to an allegiance with the empire.  And the battles here only strengthened that bond that eventually led to Cartimandua handing over her lands to Roman occupation – willingly.  Thereby granting them the largest territory in the very heart of all Britannia.

Slowly I made my way back to the car with Alannah.  I desperately wanted to snag a bit of earth or rock or flower to remember this site – but I couldn’t bring myself to in anyway disfigure such a place with even the removal of a single twig.

We drove to Cleveland way and I explained to everyone the difference in wall constructions between the Roman style and post-500 CE styles.  We drove along and I just absorbed the moment.  We made our way to the cliff of Roulston Scar, which we didn’t stop for as it is the cliff face.

Then down the hill we went to see the white horse.  It was comical because Alannah saw the horse first and was wowwing at the view (we approached it from the base instead of at the top).  Kayla and Glenn both looked around and couldn’t figure out what her amazement was for.  Then Kayla spied a Yorkshire Dales Creamery stand and began ooooing at the ice cream.

When they all piled out though, there was no missing the Kilburn white horse then.  Larger than life, this magnificent chalk horse booms out of the hillside, stark white along the brilliant green grass.  I decided to stay down at the base, I’d walked enough.  But the three of them (on a sugar high from the 99 Flake ice cream), hiked up the steps to the top of the horse and posed for a few pictures.

Driving away, I have to say, was somber for me.  All I could think on was how much longer I would have loved to have sat there at Cartimandua’s site, how irritable I was for having nothing better to see there because of some insensitive farmer, but mostly how I longed to take something away with me to keep that moment fresher in my mind.



2 responses

19 03 2011

I love Yorkshire! Your description makes me homesick … if one can be homesick for a place in which they’ve spent but a few days … Glorious, bleak, wild Yorkshire …

20 03 2011

I wish we had spent more time there, it was really a remarkable landscape and every person we encountered was just so kind…not just the lady who let random strangers use her toilet, but also people out walking around who would just strike up conversation and offer suggestions. And the views – oh my lord I don’t think there is a single spot in the entire area that doesn’t have some remarkable view.

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