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WEST CUMBRIA Galleries and Information

PHOTO GALLERY Buttermere and Crummock Water
Irt - Wasdale, Gosforth and Seascale
Eskdale, Duddon Valley & Ravenglass
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Photo Gallery: Ehen
The Ehen connects old mining settlements as it flows from the mountain wilderness of Ennerdale to the Irish Sea at Sellafield.
From here a rolling, coastal plain extends north past St Bees Head to the historic Georgian harbour town of Whitehaven.


West Cumbria: A Personal View
Through the photographs of Mike Morton

Lakeland Beyond
Follow the links to explore specific regions of Cumbria, and galleries of other images by Mike Morton


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West Cumbria
Made Easy!
We have further subdivided West Cumbria following natural and political bondaries, mainly based on valleys radiating from the central massif of the Lake District. The subdivisions have been named according to the chief river into which the waters of that valley drain, for example the River Ehen which drains from Ennerdale tthrough the traditional iron-mining districts of Cleator and Egremont, where it is joined by the Keekle, and flows into the Irish Sea at Sellafield.

WW1: Cocker Cockermouth, Buttermere & Crummock Water
WW2: Ehen Whitehaven, & Ennerdale
WW3: Irt Wasdale, Gosforth & Seascale
WW4: Esk Ravenglass, Eskdale & Duddon Valley

Click on the links to the left to explore each o these regions through the lens and with additional notes and tips for visitors. These pages contain galleries and may take a moment to load.

To purchase photographs, greetings cards or large format images please contact Mike
elephone: 01900 824329
Email:
mike@lakelandbeyond.com



+44 (0)1900 824329
+44 (0)7812 210880

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UPDATED: 12/2013

This part of Cumbria has always seemed relatively isolated, the Lake District mountains creating a barrier to the south and east, and the Irish Sea to the west. Nevertheless, due to its rich mineral resources it was once a hugely important industrial heartland. Even before the coming of the railways the sheltered harbour of Whitehaven developed into one of the biggest ports in England, and an important shipbuilding centre. It grew rich on overseas trade and subsequently on coal, being at the centre of the West Cumberland coalfield. Sandstone was quarried near St Bees and used to construct the towns around the Solway coast. More important were the rich deposits of iron ore in the form of haematite which, when coupled to the abundance of coal and limestone, lead to the development of a thriving iron and steel industry.

The iron mines transformed this once pastoral backwater into a prosperous region of villages and towns extending southwards down the Ehen and Keekle valleys from Kelton Fell and Lamplugh to Rowrah, Arlecdon, Frizington, Cleator Moor, Cleator and Egremont. At one time up to 70 smoking mine chimneys could be counted from Dent Fell which overlooks Egremont and Cleator. The rivers ran red and the men who came to work the seams became known as the 'Red Men'. Immigrant workers came from Ireland, Cornwall and Scotland and populated the rapidly expanding towns. Railways, constructed to transport the ore to the iron works, blast furnaces and ports, criss-crossed the entire district with tentacles of branches and sidings feeding the mines, and quarries. In one of the pits, the Montreal No.4 at Cleator Moor, the iron ore and coal seams ran side by side so they brought both commodities to the surface through the same shaft.



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West Cumbria:
Ehen / Esk / Irt

North Cumbria: Solway
South Lakes: Leven

Dorset, Skye:


The West Cumberland iron mines boomed in the late 19th century and the railways that carried the ore paid steady dividends to their shareholders. Many people made their fortune. For others there was great hardship. However, the industry began to decline in the twentieth century, especially after the First World War, and by the 1930s most of the smaller iron mines had closed. A handful kept working and new shafts were sunk to exploit deeper reserves south of Egremont in the 1940s and 1950s but even these sucumbed to globalisation and cheaper imports. the last of them, near Beckermet, finally closed in the 1980s, though the Florence No2 at Egremont reopened on a small scale to become the last working iron ore mine in Europe.

The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were marked by the decline of these primary industries. One by one the last remaining iron mines closed marking an end of an era. The same was true of the coal industry and, although a few open cast sites remained, the last coal mine in Cumbria, the Haig Pit at Whitehaven, finally closed down iafter the miners' strikes of the 1980s. The legacy of this decline, was one of rundown and decay, unemployment and dereliction. However, time doesn't stand still. Over the past decades new industries have moved in, and there has been investment in local infrastructure and tourism. There are still the red scars of spoil heaps in places but where they once dominated the landscape, you now have to search for them. Much of the industrial heritage of the region has been lost though some has been preserved or put to other uses. For example there have been attempts to reopen the Florence Mine and Haig Pits as heritage centres, though not altogether successful, while the trackbed of the erstwhile Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway has been converted into an excellent cycleway from Rowrah, via Moor Row to Whitehaven. Nowadays, Whitehaven is better known for its impressive Georgian architecture, the tall ships that visit the harbour during maritime and other festivals, the marina which has revitalised the harbour, and its award-winning Beacon and Rum Story museums.

Despite all of this industrial baggage, this corner of West Cumbria is full of surprises: the hospitality of close-knit communities, the spectacular coastline of St Bees Head, flower-filled hedgerows, and the enduring, natural beauty of Ennerdale. Here, for the last few decades, an experiment has been transforming the former landscape of regimented Forestry Commission plantations into England's only true, wilderness. This remote, almost innaccessible valley is now a patchwork of native tree species and understory, attracting in turn the return of bird and animals which had been lost, such as otters and peregrine falcons. Nature has also reclaimed many other former industrial sites such as Clints Quarry near Egremont, where the rubble strewn floor now harbours a rich grassland flora including rare Bee and Pyramidal Orchids. Other attractions include the annual Crab Fair at Egremont (don't miss the gurning contest), Egremont Castle which overlooks a horseshoe bend in the meandering River Ehen, Calder Abbey, St Bees Priory, and Matty Ben's packhorse bridge and Kinniside Stone Circle on Cold Fell. There are excellent local pubs and some good places to eat ranging from the stylish Zest to Crosby's Fish & Chips, both in Whitehaven or, not to be missed, Hartley's ice cream from their shop in Egremont or parlour beside the beach at St Bees.



Little can compare with sitting on the harbour wall at Whitehaven watching the sunset, the best, fresh fish and chips from Crosby's still steaming in the paper wrapper on your knee! Top left is one of those spectacular sunsets, viewed between the lighthouses at the harbour entrance; top right is Duke Street reflecting the low evening light, with the old lighthouse in the background. Bottom left is Whitehaven harbour looking north to Bransty and Parton. This is where the last attempted invasion of the British mainland took place, in 1778 during the American War of Independence. A Naval Force under the command of John Paul Jones attacked the harbour with the intention of setting fire to the entire merchant fleet. However, the alarm had been raised and the raiders were repelled. At that time Whitehaven was one of the largest, most important ports in England. Lower right: sunset over the fishing harbour.


More views of Whitehaven. Top left is the impressive marker for the end of the C2C (Coast to Coast) cycle route, and in the background the Millennium Wave structure which runs down the length of the former Lime Tongue and is illuminated at night; Right is a view of the inner harbour with a couple of 'Tall Ships' tied up for one of the town festivals; Bottom left the inner harbour. Apartments reflect the style of the warehouses which once lined the busy harbour walls. In the seventies the harbour still echoed to the clanking of steam engines hauling coal truck from the mines, and to the myriad sounds of a busy fishing fleet. There were two major coal mines, one at the either end of the harbour, the William Pit and the Wellington Pit, and more on the cliff top, Haig Pit and Ladysmith Colliery. The Haig which had deep tunnels extending far out under the seabed was the last to close and may reopen as a heritage centre. The history of Whitehaven revolves as much around coal mining as it does around the sea, and in particular mining disasters. The worst was at Wellington Pit in 1910 when 136 miners lost their lives. There are still relics of the former Wellington Pit around the South Shore including the ventillation chimney know as the candlestick, and a memorial. The final picture shows some fine architecture along Queen Street which leads up to St. James' Church of 1752. As well as the lovely geometry of the Georgian buildings, many now tastefully renovated, there are other architectural styles including Italianate, Art Deco, Neo-classical, and even a smattering of Art Nouveau with some of the Victorian buildings.


Top left is another view of the inner harbour at Whitehaven. Right of it is the sun setting between the lighthouses at the harbour mouth; Bottom left is Thrift, or Sea Pink (Armeria maritima) which flourishes on the sandstone sea cliffs of St Bees Head; Right a close up of the cliffs at Fleswick Bay, St Bees Head.


Top left: the scenic Cumbrian Coast railway line hugs the coastline between St Bees and Sellafield. This view was taken at Nethertown looking southwards towards Braystones where holiday cottages are strung along the shingle beach. The building on the skyline is the massive THORP (Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), part of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. In some respects the decline of the traditional industries of West Cumbria has been countered by the expansion of the muclear industry down the coast at Sellafield, which is now by far the regions biggest employer; Right is a Tree Mallow (Lavatera arborea) on Nethertown beach; Bottom left: shadows of the past: In the foreground is Braystones Tower, a folly built in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It stands over a bend in the River Ehen. In the background are vestiges from the beginning of the atomic age on the Sellafield site. On the far right of the picture is one of the rmagnox reactors (now closed down) at Calder Hall, the world's first commercial nuclear power station. It was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1956. She pulled a lever to direct electricity to the National Grid for the first time. Right of the Braystones tower is Windscale Atomic Pile No.1 with its associated chimney stack and filter gallery. The two Windscale Piles were early reactors built to produce plutonium for the British atomic bomb project. The graphite core of Windscale Pile No.1 caught fire in 1957 releasing radioactive contamination into the surrounding area, and creating the most serious nuclear accident in British history. Both reactors were closed down, never to be restarted. Pile No.1 is currently in the final phase of decommissioning. The stainless-steel sphere in front of the chimney stack is more the sterotypical image people harbour of a nuclear reactor! This is the prototype AGR (Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor) which used enriched uranium dioxide fuel, and came into full power in 1963. It is also in the process of decommissioning. Bottom left: Hogweed growing on the sandstone cliffs of St Bees Head, near Fleswick Bay.



Sandstone cliffs tower over Fleswick Bay at St Bees Head. This little bay can only be reached at low tide. It is noted for its fine pebble beach which contains semi-precious stones such as agate, jasper and carnelian. St Bees Head is also a RSPB bird reserve and the sea cliffs are an important nesting site for guillemots, razorbills, puffins, shags, fulmars, kittiwakes, and a special rarity black guillemots; top right: red doors - a typical West Cumbrian farm building in the sleepy village of Haile; Bottom: Ox-Eye daisies photographed growing in profusion at Clints Quarry near Egremont.


Clints Quarry near Egremont is a former limestone quarry that is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a nature reserve managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust. The quarry which yielded limestone for the iron industry was closed in 1929 and has been reclaimed by nature. It is reached from the back road from Egremont to Woodend, via a narrow, wooded gorge through which a railway line once passed. The floor of the quarry has been colonised by a fabulous rich, grassland flora including twayblades, ox-eye daisies, quaking grass, buttercups, vetches and a variety of orchids, the rarest being bee orchids and pyramidal orchids. These picture show the huge numbers of Ox-Eye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) that bloom all over the site in the late spring. Bottom left is Common Twayblade (Listera ovata) which is abundant in the damper parts of the quarry floor.



Ennerdale is one of the Lake District's best kep secrets. For decades the valley was blighted by endless uniforn Forestry Commission plantations of uniform spruce and fir. However, over the past decades this has changed as part of a project to create one of England's last true wilderness areas. The plantations have been replaced with a hotchpotch ofmixed native species which in turn have created a wonderful haven for wildlife with deer and otters returning to the valley. Another advantage for nature is the limited access. There is a car park at the end of the lake togetehr with a scout camp. The track that leads along the lake is private access to the tiny hamlet of Gillerthwaite. However, a walk round the lake domiated by the bulk of Pillar is relatively easy. For the more hardy there are trails up the wild valley beyond the lake to Blacksail refuge, situatedbetween the Blacksail and Scarth Gap pass routes which lead to Wasdale and Buttermere respectively. So apart from the seasoned walkers that pass through Blacksail, and the weekend visitors from the coast, this is part of the Lakes where you really can escape!





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