The old boundaries of the Kingdom of Northumbria- now a new regional identity stirs
A WALKING holiday in one of the ancient strongholds of the old enemy served as both a reminder of age-old loyalties and a suggestion of some common ground that could be explored in future.
The holiday took a good friend and myself up to Northumbria right at the top of northern England, bordering with Scotland.
Northumbria is probably one of the most beautiful counties in the whole of England- acres of lush and fruitful countryside extending to the horizon wherever you look, along with the verdant Cheviot Hills, a spectacular coastline and a string of attractive market towns to boot. It can also probably lay claim to the energetic and incredibly friendly city of Newcastle- one of the highlights of our trip.
But the area also has some painful connotations for a Welsh nationalist when you consider the antecedents of modern-day Northumbria, i.e the ancient kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira.
Painful reminder of lost Brythonic Kingdoms
These two expansionist kingdoms which moved in from the east coast destroyed four of the Brythonic( Welsh-speaking) kingdoms of northern England, Bryneich, Elmet, Gododdin and Rheged in turn, after the departure of the Romans from Ynys Prydain in the the 4th century.
The ruthless expansionism of Bernicia and Deira prompted one of the most heroic and unrecognised episodes in the whole of Welsh history, in the form of of a year long campaign waged in the area in 632 by the King of Gwynedd, Cadwallon, to try and stem the Anglicizing tide and terminate the lines of Northumbrian Kings to prevent the disintegration of the territory of the original Britons.
Cadwallon, despite reigning supreme in the area for well over a year, was finally defeated by King Oswald in 634. This was a victory which set in motion Northumbria’s rise to prominence as one of England’s most powerful and influential kingdoms over the next several centuries.
Northumbria’s role in Welsh War of Independence
Strangely enough, Northumbria also features in another momentous episode in Welsh history in the form of the Tripartite Indenture signed during the Welsh War Of Indepenendence launched by Owain Glyndwr in 1400.
At the apogee of that war in 1405 when his star was in the ascendancy, Glyndwr came to an agreement with two of the most most powerful magnates in England, Henry Percy and Edmund Mortimer to divide Wales and England into three parts. Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, would have control of northern England, and Mortimer would have control of southern England.
And Glyndwr’s share? Well, the Welsh nation under the Tripartite Indenture would have included Merseyside and would indeed have extended as far as Onnau Meigion( 6 miles from Birmingham!). Alas, the Tripartite Indenture collapsed as the English crown under Henry IV regained the initiative in the war. The rest as they say is history.
And there’s always been that sense of Welsh wistfulness as to what could have been for Cymru had that historic agreement been allowed to take shape.
The past and the present intertwined
But with the modern-day campaign for Welsh Independence growing apace, the walking trip up north also showed how the past and the present are intimately intertwined both in Wales and Northumbria.
Many Welsh nationalists fear a renewed British triumphalism under the leadership of Tory PM Boris Johnson.And there may well be grounds for concerns in that respect.
But, it was most interesting to notice that the most prominent flag on display in Northumbria by far was not the union jack, or even the Cross of St George, but the native flag of the county itself, which in its bright red and yellow ensign is very similar to the flag of Catalunya.
The Red and Yellow flag of Northumbria, associated with King Oswald himself according to the historian, the Venerable Bede, probably gives Y Ddraig Goch a good run for its money as the oldest flag on these isles.
A slumbering regional identity reignited
The preponderance of the flag and its accompanying slogan “Discover Our Land” suggests that a slumbering regional identity has been awakened in Northumbria, using what could almost be termed nationalist symbols and images.
It’s not only Wales and Scotland who have now given up on the UK because of the dominance of London and the south-east-it’s historic and ancient counties like Northumbria, who are fast realising that the Westminster circus and its associated ringmasters has nothing at all to offer them.
Many Northumbrians are now looking back to that period of time when Northumbria was the most important kingdom in the whole of England, and starting to ask themselves if they could be better served by regaining some of that power for themselves in a modern context.
Belonging, connection and a sense of place
What was striking on the visit was how similar the people of Northumbria are to Welsh people in many respects: sharing a strong sense of identity, a sense of place, and a sense of belonging. Along with a strong sense of connection to each other. Those human qualities that money just cannot buy.
Some of the values of those ancient Welsh kingdoms in the north still endure in modern Northumbria it would seem despite the passage of time.
The Metropolitan worldview which so dominates our airwaves, and which unfortunately infects all of the mainstream parties today, including parties here in Wales, seems just light years away from the lives of ordinary people in Northumbria and all their hopes and concerns. Just as it is for many people here in Wales as well.
An Independent Wales would need to put the failures of the past to one side and forge informal connections with up and coming regions like Northumbria.
One of the contributing editors of Ein Gwlad’s News Portal.
Cyfieithydd,Blogiwr, Awdur a Gweithiwr Eglwys. Hefyd yn rhedeg asiantaeth gyfathrebu ar-lein o’r enw www.creativewriting.cymru. Am weld Cymry Rhydd mewn Cymru Rydd.
Translator, Blogger, Author and Church Worker. Also runs an on-line Communications Agency: www.creativewriting.cymru. Wants to see a state of “Cymry rhydd mewn Cymru Rydd”