The village of Gilsland stands on the south-east side of the River Irthing at its confluence with the Poltross Burn, a fast flowing stream which approaches through a steep sided valley from the south. Although it stands only a mile north of the A69 and is passed immediately to the west and south by Hadrian's Wall, Gilsland has a slightly remote feel. It is most easily reached along the B6318 from Greenhead, two miles to the south-east.
One surprise if you are travelling east through the centre of the village is a large road sign welcoming you to Northumberland. The boundary between Cumbria and Northumberland follows the Poltross Burn, and then the River Irthing, and leaves a small part of the western side of the village in Cumbria, and the larger, eastern part of the village, in Northumberland. As if this were not enough, the village is also divided between three civil parish councils. This must make organising the delivery of local services an interesting task, and, on the face of it, doesn't seem either the most sensible or the most efficient arrangement.
Gilsland is closely associated with Hadrian's Wall. A well preserved stretch of the wall approaches the village from the west, and it is possible to take an enjoyable walk from the village that takes in Willowford Wall, Turrets and Bridge. Meanwhile, perched on the upper edge of the steep sided valley of the Poltross Burn is one of the best preserved milecastles on the wall, the Poltross Burn Milecastle. This can be reached along a path from the Station Inn, or along another which heads across fields from near the ruined old vicarage at the western end of Gilsland.
Cumbria came under the control of King Henry II during the 1100s, and he sought to control it in the time-honoured Norman fashion, by dividing it up into baronies, each under the control of a trusted knight. The Barony of Gilsland covered a wide area of eastern Cumbria and is believed to have taken its name from the family first granted control of it.
There were a number of small settlements in what is now the village of Gilsland when the Newcastle to Carlisle railway arrived in 1838. The station was named "Rose Hill", after the nearest hamlet, Rosehill. In about 1860 the station was renamed Gilsland, which seems to have reflected the coming together of the hamlets of Rosehill, Mumpshall and Crooks under the name first given only to that part of the village on the west side of the Poltross Burn (and so within the old Barony of Gilsland).
If you look north from Gilsland, you can see the imposing Gilsland Spa Hotel on its hillside location three quarters of a mile away. This started life as The Shaws Hotel in the 1740s. By the end of the 1700s The Shaws Hotel was seen as a destination in its own right by travellers who came to enjoy the scenery and benefit from the healing waters of the mineral springs found close by. Amongst those who came to enjoy the waters was Walter Scott, who stayed here in 1797. While staying at The Shaws he met Charlotte Carpenter. After a whirlwind romance, he proposed to her at "The Popping Stone", a boulder in valley of the River Irthing with long standing romantic connection. They were married later in the same year at Carlisle Cathedral.
The Shaws was destroyed by fire in 1859, but was soon rebuilt on a much larger scale to take advantage of the additional custom arriving by rail. In 1893 the hotel changed its name to Gilsland Spa Hotel and Hydro. Since 1902 it has been owned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Not far from the Gilsland Spa Hotel is St Mary Magdalene's Church. This serves as the parish church for Gilsland, but its slightly remote location does lead to the thought that it was intended to be as convenient as possible for those visiting the spa.
In the centre of Gilsland is its Village Hall, built in 1894, and the village has no shortage of pubs and inns, including the Station Inn, the nearby Samson Inn, and the Bridge Inn, close to the bridge over the Poltross Burn.