If Cumbria’s Lake District became, in modern terms, a place to ascend to the heights in contemplation of nature, or even simply to ‘escape from reality’ as critics would suggest, then the landscapes of West Cumbria, by comparison, exemplified something like the exact opposite. Rather than the open space and elevated viewpoints afforded by the mountainous Lake District, West Cumbria was another world; a place darkened by smoke and soot, and grime and pollution. It contained countless mines – hundreds of them – ensuring that its people spent much of their lives underground and in darkness. Whitehaven, its first port of any significance, was able to boast the first sub-marine mine in the world, which extended miles out from the coast under the seabed. This was remarkable enough to attract 18th century tourists who found the industrial underworld at once exotic and terrifying.
This 21st century tour of West Cumbria (undertaken in June 2019), was a means of revealing some of the other cultural and geographical factors that shaped this place on the edge. Working with partners in the region, the project will publish a number of cultural tour guides in 2020.
This element of the project departs from an examination of the cultural landscapes of Cumbria, looking in particular at the way the two Cumbrias (of the Lake District and the coastal west) have been formed as distinctive places through literary, environmental, economic and other influences over the last three hundred years. This work has focused in particular on the role of roads and other modern incursions in making the region – and West Cumbria, specifically – accessible against what was historically perceived as the natural barrier of the Lake District mountain landscape. The landscapes of the Lake District and the coastal region of West Cumbria are revealed as culturally distinct, yet now forever tied together through the construction of the A66 road.
West Cumbria: On the Edge is an exploration of a place that has existed throughout its modern history on the edge of things. Drawing insights from cultural and economic history, geography, architecture and the built environment, as well as literary and artistic representations, this illustrated publication presents a perspective on a place defined not only by its western location, its coast and other boundaries, but by its existence on the margins of the Lake District. West Cumbria: On the Edge reveals a little known and often overlooked place that by contrast with its more celebrated neighbour has always pushed up against and into the future.