Cumbria in Scotland (Background)

 The Scots’ Dike today, viewed from the Scottish side, western end.

A thousand years ago, Cumbria was in Scotland.  It did not become part of England until 1157 – but the border was not finally fixed until 1552.

The early medieval Kingdom of Strathclyde had covered much of what is today southern Scotland and northern England.  Then just on a thousand years ago, the kingdom of Strathclyde appears to have been conquered by the Scots, most probably during the reign of Malcolm II, and the area we today call Cumbria became part of Scotland: although around 1050 some parts, including the Keswick area, were conquered by Siward, Earl of Northumbria.  As a result, when the Domesday Book came to be compiled in 1086 the only part of present-day Cumbria to be included was that part around the Furness peninsula – which had been part of the Northumbria possessions, and were now regarded as being in Yorkshire (see

Then in 1092 the region was conquered by William II (William Rufus), William the Conqueror’s son and successor. He created the Earldom of Carlisle, which he granted to Ranulf le Meschin: and in 1133, Carlisle was made the see of a new diocese.  However in 1135, on the death of King Henry I , King David I of Scotland took back control of the area, making Carlisle one of his chief seats of Scots government, until Henry II took it  back again in 1157. Two new counties were now formed from the former earldom: Westmorland and what later became known as Cumberland.  The treaty of York of 1237 settled the border between England and Scotland for all time.

Apart, that is, from ‘The Debatable Land’ which lay between the lower reaches of the Esk and Sark rivers, and which was regarded as no-man’s-land, neither in England nor Scotland.  In 1550, the Treaty of Boulogne between England and France, followed by the Treaty of Norham (1551) which involved Scotland, put an end to the war known as the ‘Rough Wooing’, when it was agreed to set up a commission to determine the border. English and Scottish commissioners were appointed, with the French Ambassador acting as Arbitrator.  After various lines were had been put forward, one was settled upon, on 24 September 1552.  That line was soon to be marked on the ground with a dyke, with a marker stone at each end.  Now known as the Scots’ Dike, and more than 5kms long, it has remained the Anglo-Scottish Border to this day.

Photo: The Scots’ Dike today, viewed from the Scottish side, western end.

Text and photo by Bill Shannon