The Cultural Coast

 
 Ancient stone circles dating back to the Bronze Age (Cumbria Tourism)
Celebrating the maritime heritage at Whitehaven. (Cumbria Tourism)
 
 Colourful modern festivals. (Lake District National Park)
The Rum Story at Whitehaven. (Visit Cumbria)
The Beacon at Whitehaven. (Jan Fialkowski/Visit Cumbria)
 
Fine food too! (Cumbria Tourism) 

Some see West Cumbria as a quiet, scenic backwater where little has happened for centuries. This is far from the truth as West Cumbria  has been a vibrant and multi-cultural place for thousands of years. There is evidence of stone circles dating back to the Bronze Age plus the abiding influences of the early Britons, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Georgian businesmen and the Victorian industrialists, not to mention invading Americans and German miners brought in during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

At the time of the Roman occupation, the celtic tribes in what is now Cumbria included the Carvetii in the north and the Setantii in the south of the county. These tribes were part of th Brigantian confederation which, at times, caused trouble for the Romans but over three centuries became increasingly romanised.

 Many people think that the Romans went away around the year 410 AD but even though the Legions did leave Britain, many of the troops at the forts along Hadrians Wall and along the coastal defences probably stayed and continued to mix with the local Britons. Some locals would have been taken into the army but other auxiliary units came to Cumbria from as far away as modern Romania, Greece, Germany and Spain. At least some of these men remained in their settlements with their families, as shown by archaeology at Birdoswald and in Carlisle itself.

Legends have grown up about this post-Roman era, especially about Old Carlisle, near Wigton, which was within the new British Kingdom of Rheged. Even today, names of ancient British origin survive, in places such as Carlisle (Caer Luol), Penrith, Blencathra and Helvelyn. Pockets of celtic settlement and language remained in parts of Cumbria until the 10th century. However, the areas now known as Dumfries and Cumbria came under the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria in the early seventh century. Saxon settlement was strongest around the coasts and especially in the modern Cartmel area.

The Saxon monk and writer, Bede, refers to the town of Carlisle as having some remaining Roman buildings and by then the military way along the old wall had become the Saxon Karelgate (Carlisle road). Evidence of Saxon control and settlements can be seen in place names like, Workington, Parton, Broughton, Harrington, Dalston, etc. Things continued to change and at times the region was ruled by Scottish or Danish kings and these in turn became subject to Viking settlement from the 9th Century.

Cumbria was heavily settled by the Vikings and many Norse names remind people of Cumbria's Viking heritage: these include Flimby, Seascale, Beckside, the various Kirkbys and many more. It is possible to visit most of The Viking Trail by train though some walking will also be involved.  Many Viking treasures have been found  from Waberthwaite and Muncaster in the south to Haile, Beckermet and St Bees in the north of the county.

After the Norman conquest, much of the land was given to a few new rulers but throughout the middle ages the area was subject to raids by the Scotts and Carlisle and Cumbria were within Scotland for a while. There is evidence of these troubled times in the shape of the many Pele Towers throughout the county. The Cistercian monks at Furness Abbey controlled large areas of the Cumbrian coast during this time, possibly as far north as Egremont near Whitehaven.

Although the sea is often seen as an obsticle between countries and people these days, in the past it was often the main transport route and coastal trade dating back thousands of years brought about cultural exchange as well as trade. Ravenglass, Maryport and Whitehaven grew as ports and the merchant fleet in Whitehaven was attacked on the 23rd April, 1778, by the American navy, led by John Paul Jones. The ships were too wet to burn and so everybody retired to the pubs and the invasion ended quietly the next morning. Every two years, Whitehaven celebrates its maritime links by holding a spectacular Maritime Festival, including tall ships. Whitehaven is also home to The Rum Story, housed in the shop, courtyard and warehouses of the Jefferson family and shows how the port was the centre of Britain's rum trade.

West Cumbria has many of the scenic wonders of the central Lake District but without the crowds at the tourist "honey-pots". It is also a vibrant place where much goes on; from sheep dog trials to exotic festivals such as the "Crab Fair" at Egremont, 8 km/5 miles south of Whitehaven.

Now, West Cumbria is home to galleries, museums, festivals and events. Galleries include The Beacon at Whitehaven, The Lowes Court Gallery at Egremont and Tullie House in Carlisle. There is also the Bitter Beck Pottery at Cockermouth and the Haig Pit Mining Museum at Whitehaven.Other museums that can easily be be visited by railway passengers include the Barrow Dock Museum, Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, the Senhouse Roman Museum at Maryport and the Rum Story at Whitehaven. For those travelling up Eskdale, why not visit Eskdale Mill, dating back to 1578, at Boot?

Festivals and events are numerous and include the Whitehaven Festival, the Cockermouth Midsummer and Georgian festivals, the Pirelli International Rally in Carlisle, The Maryport Blues festival, and for real tradition, the Eskdale Fete. For more details of these and many other events see. www.visitcumbria.com , www.thewhitehavenfestival.co.uk, www.barrowbc.gov.uk and www.cockermouthfestival.org . In addition to the festivals there are other events like the steam charter trains.

Cumbria is also home to some fine food and drink.

 
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