Our hope for the future of united Cumbria, as published in the Westmorland Gazette....
The ancient kingdom of Cumbria was a flourishing Celtic stronghold. After the retreat of the Roman Empire, and before the total takeover of “England” by the invading Anglo-Saxon tribes, several Celtic kingdoms flourished, especially in what is now northern England and southern Scotland. And the most powerful and famous of these was Cumbria, roughly equivalent to our Cumbria.
Our Cumbria, by contrast, is a mere babe, born in 1974 from the merger of Westmorland and Cumberland, with a few (some would say the best) bits of Lancashire. And while its creation led to some dismay at the time, most would now agree that it was a sensible move, the creation of a new “kingdom” which nevertheless retained individual historic identity. Not least, this newspaper’s title.
Cumbria makes sense, the six districts each sharing the heartland that is the Lake District, and if some believed there was a “north/south divide” (the writer Hunter Davies once asserted that there should be a border post with visa requirement at Dunmail Raise) we have settled into a comfortable co-existence that respects history but promotes modern business.
Until that fateful day last December when the main arterial route, the A591, between north and south became impassable. Imagine a barrier built just below Birmingham, cutting in two the M6 (and Toll road) and the west coast main line. And for more than five months, none shall pass.
It wasn’t just the collapsed section of road on Dunmail Raise, between Grasmere and Keswick. It wasalso the four-mile section north of Dunmail Raise, where rocks and scree had fallen down the hillside.
We, in the south Lakes, had to adjust, no more so than in Grasmere which became the end of the line. Keswick (remember Keswick? We used to go there to the market, to the theatre?) had roads open from the north, the west and the east. The south became another country. It was suddenly easier and quicker to get to Keswick from Kendal, 17 miles further down, than it was from Grasmere, once a mere 15 minute drive.
Yes, we have been grateful for the temporary bus service and the new cycleway. But psychologically we have changed, as birds do when their migration routes are blocked. Businesses have suffered, tourists needed to be persuaded that the county was still here, let alone open, and we have become separated from our cultural heritage.
The floods made us all look inwards. The big international news stories of the day (Syria, refugees) were sidelined by disaster on the home front. We had to look after and look out for our own neighbours, and that’s where the spirit of Cumbria was at its finest. We found heroes in our own neighbourhoods, and Kendal was a town where the spirit of neighbourliness was outstanding.
But we lost our sense of identity. Ironically, Cumbria was split in two at the very point where the last king of the old Celtic stronghold, Dunmail, is thought to have been defeated in battle. His followers took his crown up to the east, to Grisedale Tarn, where it is said to lie until Dunmail comes to save his kingdom once again.