Kirkleas, in spite of its apparent remoteness, is still very much the heart of the community. The church stands on a mound which from earliest times has been the meeting place for the settlement of communal affairs and at which ancient paths and lanes from all parts converge. It is dedicated to St. Machan. Legend has it that this was the first place at which he was given kindly welcome and the beautiful east window, installed in 1971, shows him standing on this mound talking to all who cared to listen.
His 6th Century church vanished amid the 9th Century Viking invasions, but revival began in the 11th Century. Dunstan's Chronicle mentions that Edric, the first recorded Lord of Arlesdale, built a wooden church here in 1070. His church was burnt by the Normans along with many houses and farms during their invasion in 1094.
Dunstan and the Sigrid Saga both relate that Sigrid built a new church at Kirkleas in thanksgiving to God and St. Machan for her victory against the Normans, but the Saga adds:- "...she built it strongly of stone... she also made a stone, finely carved, in honour of Orm Edricsson her husband slain by Normans at Arlesburgh and put it in the church..." The Saga continues:- "...she (Sigrid) ruled twenty years in Arlesdale then died greatly mourned. Edric and Rognvald her sons made a stone in her honour to stand beside their father's". A comment made later in a different hand adds ”They stand there unto this day”.
This was not always so. At an unknown date they were removed, perhaps for safety, during the Commonwealth and their whereabouts was forgotten until a fortunate accident led to their recovery. They now stand side by side on a table at the west end of the church. Both are house-shaped and of the type made for tombs of chieftains from the 10th Century. Experts are now agreed that they are indeed the stones mentioned in the Sigrid Saga. The smaller of the two (with "tiled" roof) shows on its side two armed groups standing face to face. The right hand group carry Norse type round shields while the others have Norman type pear shaped ones but, beginning with the front rank, they are laying them down in surrender. At one end of the stone is an unmistakably female figure (Sigrid) wearing a bull-horned helmet and holding a sword; at the other is Christ on the cross.
The second stone is larger; it shows more signs of wear and damage and has a roof of ”thatch”. Along one side is a spirited rendering of Normans and Norse locked in battle. At one end is a man’s bull-helmeted figure (Orm), bearing sword and shield; Christ on the cross is at the other. For the complete story of these stones and of the church itself the church Guide-book written by the Present Rector, The Rev. Peter Herrey, who is himself an archaeologist of repute, is considered the best source.
Around the church are grouped Church Farm, the School, the Rectory and the Manor House. The Drixon family is one of the oldest on Sodor. They have held the manor of Arlesdale continuously since their ancestor Edric, a lieutenant of Thorkell of Norwich, settled here in 1067. In 1977, however, Col. Ranald Drixon (Chairman of the Arlesdale Railway) was forced by the incidence of Death Duties to sell the Manor and retire to a smaller house at The Green.
The Manor House became a hotel and while extensions were being made, the footings of a Norse-type Hall and ancillary buildings were discovered. These are now cleared and on view. Since Orm Edricsson undoubtedly lived here it seemed appropriate to rename the hotel "The Ormstead". The service is good and prices are moderate. It is highly recommended to anyone visiting Kirkleas.