Cumberland Back to Homepage >>


• A high, often bleak land of moors and high fells, sheep-dotted and resounding with the lonely cry of the curlew, Cumberland shares the northern edge of England on the west, while Northumberland takes the east In both these English counties the often harsh and heathery uplands fold into the splendid scenery and softness of the Scottish Border country, while the barrier between the two is the northern spine of the Pennines .

• Cumberland enfolds in its high mountain terrain of mossed and grassy hills, sculpted by glaciers in a long- ago ice Age, the jewel- bright lakes of the Lake District , and with Westmorland to the south the county completes this spectacular area.

• Along the western edge of the county, part from the valley of the Eden and the Solway Plain, the hills nearly abut the sea, a narrow strip of coastal land faces the often stormy water and is made up of long stony strands with viewpoints from prominent capes such as St Bee's Head.


Origin of name: The name comes from the same sources as Cymru, the Ancient Briton's name for Wales . The Angles knew this name but pronounced it Cumbri. Name first recorded: 945 as Cumbriland.


County Town: CARLISLE A cheerful place, well laid out with a wide central market, a medieval guildhall, a lively museum of local history and the pretty Jacobean-style Tullie House with formal gardens.

Other Towns

ALSTON: Some 900 feet up in the Pennines and reputedly the highest market town in England - two passes leading to the town rise to 2,000 feet. it's often the first English town to have snow each year.

BRAMPTON : On the River Irthing with Naworth Castle set in a splendid park.

COCKERMOUTH: A Georgian feel but also remains of the town's industrial past - a 17th-century windmill, old cotton mill and tannery buildings. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the castle in 1568.

KESWICK: Pleasant and popular Lake District centre with largely Victorian feeling and striking Moot Hall.

MARYPORT: At the mouth of the Ellen river at Solway Firth with harbour, sands, and bathing, and Roman stations on the nearby cliffs, it took its name from where Mary Queen of Scots landed as she fled from Scotland .

PENRITH: A chief road and rail centre and market town for the district; nearby 12th-century Brougham Castle is the most extensive surviving example of military architecture in the county.

SELLAFIELD: Near to the town of Egremont and known in those parts for its nuclear reprocessing plant, parts of which can be visited on guided tours from the Sellafield Visitors Centre.

SILLOTH: Small port on the Solway Filth with sands and good bathing, and on a clear day you see Criffell Hill in Kirkcudbrightshire.

WETHERAL: Very attractive village above the Eden river with ancient priory gatehouse looking towards Corby Castle and local caves.

WHITEHAVEN: Seaport and coal-mining town with sand at low tide (some mines extend miles into the sea).

WIGTON A market town that once boasted a three- day fair where heavy Clydesdale horses (bred in the neighbourhood) changed hands. WORKINGTON industrial iron and steel town.

• Aspatria • Cleator Moor • Egremont •Frizington • Millom • St Bees • Seaton


Eden, Derwent, Esk, Duddon.


Scafell Pike at 3,210 feet is the highest mountain in England


• Keswick Jazz Festival takes place each May with over 40 leading British and international bands delivering high- quality jazz. There is also a fine street parade.

• Carlisle Castle is host to many English Heritage events, often costumed battles and displays of falconry, as well as musical and theatre events.

• Lanercost Priory has special events all the year round.

• Regular boating events and races on the lakes.

• Mid-June has a Victorian flavour at Silloth Green with its Victorian fair including charity and craft market, vintage vehicles, funfair and flower festival.

• September sees the annual Crab Fair and World Gurney Championships at Egremont.


• John Peel's name echoes in the wild north lands of Cumberland - he is the famous red-jacketed huntsman of 'D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so goy.' - not the disc jockey of the same name!

• The name of novelist Sir Walter Scott calls up his Scottish homeland, but he also has associations here. He used Naworth Castle as a setting for The Lay of the Lost Minstrel and he was married in Carlisle Cathedral.

• The poet William Wordsworth is closely associated with Cumberland , having been born in Cockermouth

• Radio and TV presenter Melvyn Bragg was born in Carlisle and went to school in Wigton.


A two tier system prevails in Cumberland , it is called Cumbria County Council on one level and below it are four districts - Allerdale, Carlisle, Copeland and Eden which is shared with the County of Westmorland .


THIS IS QUINTESSENTIAL Lakeland : a region of outstanding beauty but sorely tested by tourists - which is why I prefer it in winter. Cumberland lies in the far northwest of England with a large share of the stunning lakes and dales. In its own way it has a kind of Cornish Land's End feel about it: the people are more akin to the Celts than the Lancastrians with whom they rub shoulders; the clue is in Cumberland 's name!


The ancient capital of Carlisle long faced attacks from the north and it remains a border town on the edge of England with many aspects of Scottish confrontation still evident in its fortified fastness. The impressive walls are now embedded in grass. Of course you can't omit the castle where Mary Queen of Scots visited and then was held prisoner (Queen Mary's Tower still stands) and the cathedral, both made of the local rufous sandstone. A great treasure is the spread of 14th-century stained glass in the cathedral's famously fine large east window. There's also a unique painted ceiling. Part of this compact and atmospheric cathedral is the chapel of the famed Border Regiment. That great Roman stone-built barrier against savage northern tribes, the Emperor Hadrian's Wall, ran through Carlisle before ending on the long grey shore of the Solway Firth at Bowness-on-Solway. It drives on in the other direction up over lonely fells and along the River Irthing to cross Northumberland's border, north east of Brampton. North of Carlisle , and towards the border, the largest settlement is Longtown, a place where main roads meet. This was pirate country not so long ago, the domain of the cattle rustlers, roving bands of thieves known as reivers. The museum in Carlisle has a gallery telling the story and background of these violent men, and their small fortified castles can still be seen here among the frowning fells.

In romantically wild and heathery hill country to the east of the old coach road, now the A6, are several typical villages, their grey stone cottages clinging close to the earth as if rooted in it. Some have notable churches: Wetheral, which is gothic and has river-bank cells where a saint once lived, Armathwaite, recovered from ruin, Kirkoswald, with its separate tower, and Great Salkeld, with a Norman building. Penrith, a small contained town with a medieval church and Norman tower, is on the border with Westmorland. As you progress west from here you are in the unforgettable

country of the northern Lakes. There are ancient stone bridges, such as the pack horse one at Ashness. Here the settlements are small, yet often hill-perched and picturesque. As it rains a lot, the green-blue slatey walls have weathered, slate-tiled roofs and are mossed; while satisfying stone cottages stand in walled gardens awash with flowers in spring and summer. They in their turn are framed with lush pastures, and sometimes almost hidden against the misted grey-green hills which rise to lofty heights as they roll on towards the sea.

Roads are narrow and sometimes hard to navigate here, but the ascent is always worth the effort with plunging views over the dry stone walls. These lovely mountains are the haunt of many sheep, a local breed being the Herdwick with its white face. The hills often carry fleecy yet rain-bearing clouds on their shoulders, and enfold in their sudden steep valleys the spectacular lakes that give the whole district its name. Each has its devotees, each name has a magical ring and each depth of blue-black water shows different sides and colours in different weathers. In short, as any lover of Lakeland will tell you, every brilliant stretch of water has a character all its own.

The main town here is Keswick, a busy centre at the head of Derwentwater, belted to the southeast by the Borrowdale Fells. To the north is Cockermouth, where William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were born in a house that can be visited. The town has a 12th-centurycastle with dungeons and -views of the wild fells to the 17 March 2007 north. When spring comes to Cumberland the lines Wordsworth's most famous poem come alive again as the Lakeland valleys glow with the gold of massed daffodils. Yet there are also poor but proud workers' towns with small and plain terraces of houses that betray a hard life away from the hilly farmland of the interior. A chain of settlements along the sea includes Maryport and Workington, all the way down to Drigg and Millom, the latter's Norman church containing alabaster statues. Whitehaven is a well-planned and handsome little town, while St Bees church was once part of a nunnery. At Muncaster Castle by Ravenglass, the castellated mansion is still a family home with tapestries, paintings and antiques. set in fine gardens that feature shrubs, notably the showy rhododendron.

Local delicacies include Cumberland rum butter made with dark brown sugar, grated nutmeg, butter, icing sugar and of course rum. It's delicious with unsweetened biscuits at tea time! But it's the long coiled Cumberland sausage highly flavoured with herbs and spices that springs to mind, as well as the cold sauce for meats made from redcurrant jelly flavoured with orange, lemon and port and known as - yes! - Cumberland Sauce.


There are marks of ancient occupation from the Bronze Age fort of Carrock Fell to the stone circles of Castlerigg with more than 40 standing stones and the oval-shaped site of Long Meg and her Daughters. At a site south of Penrith is King Arthur's Round Table, an embanked circle of the Neolithic period, as is the nearby Mayburgh. There are many Roman remains. Most famous of these is Hadrian's Wall. Much of this stone girdle defending Rome 's British dominion can be walked, even though it has been plundered for building material - not an uncommon practice before ancient monuments were appreciated.

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