Aerial photograph of St Bees Head and St Bees village (Scotland can be seen on the far horizon)
The area around St Bees, known as Copeland (along the coast from Workington to Ravenglass, and inland as far as Keswick), accounts for more Hodgson families than anywhere else in the UK.
In 902 AD the Viking Norse were temporarily forced out of Ireland. Many crossed the Irish sea to settle on the Isle of Man and the west coast of Cumberland. At that time, Cumberland was ruled by the Strathclyde Britons.
St Bees offered an ideal initial location for the Norse settlers. The headland is an undulating plateau reaching an altitude of 141 metres above sea level at its highest point. To the north and west there are steep cliffs, in places as high as 80 metres. The boundary of the elevated headland on its eastern side is a low-lying valley which drains to the north and to the south: its line is traced by the modern railway.
The heights of the headland provided ideal locations for fiery beacons to guide the Viking longboats across the Irish Sea. Just to the south of the headland and its cliffs - and close to the modern village of St Bees - there is a long, sandy shore where boats can easily be beached. Alternatively, a small bay lay at the northern end of the headland, at the site of the modern town of Whitehaven. An initial Viking settlement on the headland would have found a clearly-demarcated area of about 16 square kilometres. Agriculture would have been possible. With its high cliffs and bounded elevation the whole area could easily be defended from land or sea.
It is believed that the Vikings bought Copeland from the Strathclyde Britons with pillaged loot from the Irish monasteries. 'Copeland' derives from a Norse name kaupa-land meaning 'bought land'.
The Norse eventually established a chain of coastal settlements in Cumbria that stretched roughly from the mouth of the River Derwent - at modern Workington - to the Furness peninsula to the south. There are several Viking monuments in this area, including the Gosforth Cross and impressive carved monuments in the churchard at St Bees. Later generations migrated inland, eventually crossing the Pennine Hills to the east.
St Bees is an important religious site, commemorating the Irish Saint Bega. In a legend, she avoided marriage to the son of a pagan Norwegian king by fleeing across the Irish Sea to the promontory that takes her name. Saint Bega was given a ring by a heavenly visitor and she was admonished to wear it on her arm as a Divine aid in the preservation of her virginity.