Dunmail Raise

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Dunmail Raise is the name of a large and ancient cairn in the English Lake District, which may have been an old boundary marker. It has given its name to the Pass of Dunmail Raise, on which it stands. This mountain pass forms part of the only low-level route through the mountains between the northern and southern sides of the Lake District. According to legend, the pass was the site of a battle in which the last king of Cumberland was slain, and the cairn was raised up over his body.

The Pass of Dunmail Raise[edit]

A horse-drawn coach passes northwards over Dunmail Raise in the late 19th or early 20th century

The Pass of Dunmail Raise connects the Vale of Grasmere to the Thirlmere valley. It forms part of the main east-west watershed of the Lake District: all streams to the north eventually drain into the Solway Firth or the adjacent coast, while those to the south drain into Morecambe Bay. To the east of the pass are the mountains of Helvellyn and Seat Sandal, and to the west lies Steel Fell, part of the High Raise massif.

The pass rises to a height of only 238 m,[1] so the two valleys it connects provide a low-level route of communication, in fact, the only low-level route, between the northern and southern parts of the Lake District. Today the A591 road between Kendal and Keswick takes this route, and the section over Dunmail Raise is a short length of dual-carriageway. There remains a rare example of an AA phone box in a layby to the south of the pass.

Dunmail Raise (the cairn)[edit]

The cairn of Dunmail Raise, beside the A591 road

Dunmail Raise is also the name of a large cairn which stands on the top of the pass, on the central reservation between the two carriageways of the road. The cairn appears to be ancient although it has been disturbed by road-building. "Raise" is an old name for a cairn, a construction which has been "raised up" by depositing stones. There are a number of theories to account for this cairn.

1. It may have been an old boundary marker. Dunmail Raise used to lie on the boundary between the former counties of Cumberland and Westmorland. At an earlier time, Cumberland may have been a part of (or allied with) the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde, which gives greater significance to this boundary.[2]

2. Cumbrian folklore claims that the cairn was raised over the body of King Dunmail, the last king of Cumbria, and believed to have been killed in battle with King Edmund I of England.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 945 "King Edmund overran all Cumbraland; and let (it) to Malcolm King of the Scots, on the condition that he became his ally..." The defeated king, Dunmail, has sometimes been identified with Dyfnwal ab Owain, the British king of Strathclyde. There are a number of historical problems with this identification, including the claim in an Irish source that Dyfnwal died not in battle in 945, but on pilgrimage in Rome in 975.[2][3]

3. A third theory claims that Dunmail Raise is not a burial cairn but a pile of "soul stones". Each stone added to the pile represented the life of one warrior, and was to be removed after the victory. As a result the stones of the cairn represent the number of men killed.[3]

The Thirlmere Aqueduct[edit]

The Thirlmere Aqueduct, which conducts water from Thirlmere Reservoir to Manchester, passes through a tunnel beneath Dunmail Raise. A water treatment plant, owned and operated by United Utilities, is situated at the southern end of the tunnel, beside the A591. Here the water is filtered by passing it through screens and microstrainers, its pH is adjusted with sodium hydroxide and it is treated with chlorine.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger map
  2. ^ a b Tim Clarkson. "Senchus: Notes on early medieval Scotland". Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Diane McIlmoyle. "Esmerelda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore". Retrieved 28 July 2014. 

Coordinates: 54°29′46″N 3°02′25″W / 54.496°N 3.0404°W / 54.496; -3.0404