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Outlaws of Inglewood


Mery it was in grene forest,
Amonge the leues grene,
Wher that man walke east and west,
With bowes and arrowes kene

– I –

The watcher on Blaze Fell, had he chosen to look around, would have seen the Forest of Inglewood stretching almost unbroken from Penrith in the south nearly to the gates of the city of Carlisle in the north. Looking to the west, the forest stretched into the distance until it merged with the forests of Blencathra and Skiddaw, whilst to its east, beyond the river, it gradually blended with the king’s Forest of Geltsdale and the Gilderdale Fells to their south, petering out as it reached the high ground where only scrubby birch, heather, cotton-grass and gorse managed to find a foothold on the limestone and grit moors.

Inglewood was home to a few cottagers who lived on the small plots of land they had cleared from the forest along the valley bottoms. It was a place of work to the foresters who protected the deer from the depredations of the displaced Saxon owners of the land. It was a land of quiet summer solitudes and frightening winter storms, of clear streams and black swamps, of tall trees, dense thickets and open glades. It was a land where deer, wolves, wild cat and wild boar could all be found by those with the necessary skills. And a land, too, of danger for those without such skills, or who were sought by the Chief Forester.

But William of Cloudesley had no eye for the view, indeed, like most people he knew, he felt a certain fear of the high wastes of the moors and the rocky fastnesses of the Lakeland fells – home, perhaps, to goblins or other unknown dangers. Instead, his eyes were fixed steadily on the small herd of deer which he’d been following for over an hour on that May morning and which was now grazing peacefully a few score paces away beside a hazel thicket that partly screened the view of the valley below. The nearest deer, a splendid stag with fine, broad antlers, not yet cast, was partly hidden by some gorse bushes and William waited patiently for it to move into his vision. The slightly greater distance to the rest of the herd was no problem for a good archer, and William was as fine an archer as was to be met with in these northern forests. But he was a proud man and had an unreasoning wish to kill this magnificent beast rather than one of the smaller animals. He knew it was unreasonable – any of the herd would have provided ample meat for him and his companions – but it was still only morning and he felt that there was plenty of time to combine a skilful hunt with the search for food.

What little breeze there was came from the west bringing with it the faint, musky scent of the animals he was hunting. He knew that, although he could smell them, they couldn’t smell him. The sun was behind him but, in his russet and dark green tunic, and with his back resting against the rough bark of a rowan growing just below the skyline, he felt he was unlikely to be seen. A lark, trilling as it climbed high into the blue sky, didn’t disturb him. Nor, when a marten slipped with a slight rustle between some young bracken, did he move. Absolute stillness was essential if he were to remain undetected. He continued to wait. Half an hour passed and most of the herd began to move slowly down the slope. The stag moved to the right so that only its rump remained in view but William knew that its head and shoulders would emerge from the other side of the gorse if he were patient. The chest, near the shoulders, was the point to aim for if he were to kill quickly and avoid a long afternoon running down a wounded quarry. In any case, as a true countryman and hunter, he had no wish to cause the magnificent creature he must kill any unnecessary suffering. Like the deer, he too was hunted and he felt an affinity for the animal that he didn’t quite recognise.

His silence, his concentration on the deer and his choice of the big stag rather than one of the other deer as his target was his undoing: without warning, a red grouse emerged from its hiding place in the bracken only a couple of paces from William’s feet and, suddenly seeing the human, rocketed into the air with a clatter of wings and a frightened go-back, go-back, back back back. William was as startled as the bird and, when he regained his composure, it was to see the stag bounding away to join the others in their flight for the valley bottom. Even for William, such a target was not worth the risk of a lost or broken arrow. With a muttered curse, partly at the grouse and partly at his own pride in concentrating on the stag, he unstrung his bow and replaced his arrow in his belt. For a moment he thought of following the deer but, recognising the futility of this, he turned and, in a few paces, reached the summit of the fell.

Now at leisure, he stood and surveyed the main valley. Carlisle, twelve miles away to the north-west was beyond his vision but, in his mind’s eye, he could make out every detail of the city. King David’s grey, crenellated walls seemed to cross the horizon and, beyond, he could easily make out the whitewashed donjon of the new castle and the roof of St Mary’s church where he and Alys had been married nine years before. He imagined the little house where she and the three boys lived and a feeling of despair almost overwhelmed him, knowing that they might as well have been in Scotland or France for all the good it was to him. He sighed a long sigh and, gripping his bow too tightly, he began to make his way down to the trees below.

While following the herd he had moved away from the track and the ground was uneven but he was a fit and active man and scarcely noticed the rough tussocks and brambles that barred his way. Nevertheless, he was careful to walk quietly and he constantly cast about for any sign that he was observed. When he reached the first of the forest trees, he began to relax a little and had time to wonder where his next meal might be found. Adam and Clym were for ever taunting him about his need to shoot the deer with the biggest antlers rather than any animal with meat on its bones and he was reluctant to return to their camp and explain his failure. Not that there was any need to explain himself to them, of course. Deer were plentiful in Inglewood but not so plentiful that a man who must hide from foresters was always able to find them, still less get in a shot. He didn’t regard himself as a liar but would it not be true to say, “I had no chance of a decent shot all day”? At a pinch it would do as an excuse and people would believe a marksman of his reputation.

Every so often, as he walked, William paused and stood listening attentively in the peace of the forest, ears cocked for the slightest sound of deer or forester. He cautiously crossed the main road to the north and, not wishing to risk being seen by casual travellers, he took the barely visible track near the river a mile or so from Hesket. Once, when he was approaching the river, he heard the sound of men and horses – foresters perhaps this far from the road. At all events, they were talking in the hated Norman language and, for a moment, he was tempted to try a shot at human prey but he knew it was no use and he waited quietly until the men, laughing and joking, had passed on. Nevertheless he was bitter that he had to skulk in this woodland that his forefathers had called their own while the Normans with their brutish language lorded it over Saxon serf and nobleman alike – William, dispossessed as he was, was proud that he knew none of the uncouth Norman tongue.

The sounds of the foresters faded away but the peace of the forest now seemed false. How could there be peace when the Normans claimed ownership of the trees and wild animals? Normans were allowed to hunt for sport but the Saxons weren’t even allowed to hunt for food. How could that be fair? The Norman landowners, whether church or lay, were indeed jealous of their usurped rights and guarded them with vigour. Perhaps things might be a little better under the new king but many a yeoman in Inglewood, Carlisle and Penrith had fallen foul of their masters and had died on the gallows. A few lucky ones had suffered the loss of a hand or now lived solitary lives as masterless men and outlaws wherever they could find shelter.

William of Cloudesley knew he was one such lucky one – although, he felt, it seemed hard to think of luck when his Alys and the three boys were in Carlisle and he was forced to live in Inglewood. As he walked he recalled the disaster that had befallen him. It had happened last year. It was barely November but winter had come early, food had been scarce for everyone, and Alys and the boys had been hungry. The Augustinian canons at the priory had helped some people, but there were many people and little food and William and his family had gone without. The Normans, of course, had beasts in the shippen and grain in the store houses but little of it found its way into Saxon homes and most people went hungry.

William had tramped around the manors of the area but had returned, foodless and hungry, to a cold house. His neighbours, Adam Bell and Clym of the Clough were sharing a loaf with his family. When the children were asleep, the talk had turned to their problems.

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