Cumbria is in the eye of the beholder...
If Scotland and Wales came together to make a baby, Cumbria would be the gushing result. It idles, rather than wanders, lonely as a cloud in the uppermost eastern corner: a melange of shallow meres, bracing tarns and deep verdant vales hiding amidst rugged mountains interspersed with squares of tamed wilderness in the shape of camping sites.
The bare murmuring of the words “lake” and “district” can rapidly induce in England’s womenfolk, as well as its Romantic poets, a collective sigh of wished-for contentment. England’s largest area of outstanding natural beauty, smothering one-third of the county, is indisputably heart-breaking, eye-watering and jaw-dropping.
And despite what the local signs might tell you, it smells divinely of geosmin for much of the year unless one’s local farmer is out doing what farmers do with second-hand manure.
Its sheer cinematographic marvellousness makes the county the ultimate destination for retreat and rejuvenation. At least, that is according to its Tourist Board, whose sole role it is to beckon visitors to its resplendent lands as soon as England’s summer months hint at introducing themselves by just their first names. Nonetheless, those susceptible to nostalgia may be quietly captivated by Cumbria’s homage to the native Brythonic language, as the region certainly makes quaint use of the original spelling of “come”.
Alas, the single cloud under which Cumbria lies replete casts a vast shadow across the region, creating a lexicon for precipitation that is not typically heard elsewhere in the country. Cumbria is sprinkled by seventy-two inches of relief rainfall per annum, whereas the rest of England makes do with just thirty-nine. A fusion between Ireland, the Atlantic, the Irish sea and the wizardry of meteorology has the region suffering twelve unique seasons rather than the usual four. The Cumbrian seasons commence, naturally, with Spring, followed by Syling Spring; Winter Resumption; Fool’s Spring; Winter Reditus; Spring’s-Stotting-Non-Stop; Summer Hossings; By Jove! A Summer’s Day. This is abruptly demarcated by the arrival of Mizzling Autumn, followed swiftly by Hoying-Down-October, which is kicked out by Winter Presumptuous and closed out by Winter Proper.
For these reasons of seasons, Cumbria is predominantly ignored for nine months of the year, until the first English heatwaves bounces in. Thereupon the rest of the nation is hit with a slew of advertising campaigns encouraging one to decimate the tranquillity that is Cumbria. Through the marriage between hill-ascending winding lanes and caravans, sixteen million visitors are sucked into this water vortex each year. All are intent on seeking out the rural idyll deep within its region on the rare day that the sun might make an appearance, casting a shine on its unique and numerous visitor attractions.
Cumbria is host to Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, peaking at 3,209ft, or just shy of a kilometre for those better at comprehending logical maths. There is no global definition of a mountain: England has subjectively classified its lumps to include all hulking great land masses greater than 1,000 feet, or 300 metres. On the other hand, the Americans require their upwardly smashed land formations to summit above 8,200 feet or 2.5 kilometres. Furthermore, they stipulate mountains should have a properly defined slope of at least two degrees. Thus, to those over the pond, Scafell Pike is nothing but a mere hillock. All the same, climbing it is a heart-bursting endeavour undertaken by over a quarter of a million hikers each summer. Presumably, during prolonged periods of wetness and muddiness, one descends on one’s…
Best known of course, is that Cumbria is home to The Lake District - a region of outstanding national balderdash given the beauty spot only boasts one lake. Apparently all the rest are eye-watering mimics which are better described as meres, tarns, reservoirs and waters for reasons of depth, temperature and other concoctions of geographers. It’s best to simply accept they are lakes to those, like myself, lacking in suitable scientific credentials.
Least likely to be mentioned in their tourist brochure is Sellafield, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station. Once upon a commercial time, nuclear energy was thought to be so cheap to manufacture it would be deemed ‘unmeterable’. Britain’s leaders were as keen as mustard to have the nation’s power needs met, even in the era before rampant technological advancements had us morph into Gadgetman.
Turns out Sellafield currently ranks as one of the most complex and hazardous facilities in the world. It is anticipated that it will cost the taxpayer up to £260 billion to fully decommission, notwithstanding that it will take 100,000 years for the radioactive material to become replete. Most jaw-dropping of all: the engineering has yet to be devised to safely dismantle all its component parts. Still, they've made a start.
With the benefit of hindsight, and a lack of scientific insight, I do wonder whether it was the most sensible of ideas to build a concrete nuclear monstrosity right beside the salt-corroding seaside air? No doubt a thought one does not want to go to bed on, but do blame Dalston, whoever he is.
On the plus-side, in the event of a nuclear war, Cumbria would be the only county in England to escape the radioactive fallout according to the now-defunct Estate Agent eMoov. EMoov thought it would be illuminating to draw up a map of where to live in the UK if it ever became necessary to mitigate any impact from a nuclear strike. Naturally they had assumed, of course, that the provisions and resources would remain in place to continue the decommissioning of Cumbria’s most dangerous beachside commercial property in the event of such a strike. I might suggest that the members of Britain’s seventh-least trusted profession hadn’t done their research all that thoroughly.
I arrived in Cumbria somewhere between post-winter and pre-spring. Further south, in the rest of England, the decaying remains of previously fluttering daffodils had already begun to topple over, and frolicking lambs were careening round pastures green readying their limbs for the dinner plate. Whereas at the top of the Cumbrian hills, smiley-faced sheep, some with the famous blueish fleece, still bore the livid orange and pink staining hallmarks of the rams’ rogering. They waddled fat and round nuzzling at frosted lowlands or tiptoeing along faint paths cutting through the snow-speckled ranges. My criss-crossing along well-managed single-track, stone-walled narrow lanes, up yonder and down dale, saw me and the cat saying frequent hellos to the striking white-banded black Galloway cattle. They slowly blinked back at us, others bayed, almost all, however stood resolute on the roads, gently snorting out wisps of misty clouds, knowing full well I was the interloper. The pathetically bleating Citroen horn did little to dissuade them from their road-hogging contemplation, and their sheer prominence certainly kept us on the…
Despite being England’s second largest county, fewer than one percent of Britons rightfully call Cumbria home. By rightfully, I mean they are council-tax paying members of the community, rather than the consequence of a misfiring satnav directing a van with kitchenette-cum-bathroom-cum-bedroom. Perhaps this steadfastness explains why Cumbria’s place names are the least affected by the many invasions from the Romans, Anglos, Saxons, Normans and Danes.
The cum in Cumbria is likely a remnant of the old Brythonic word for compatriot or kin, meaning countryman, just as the Welsh word for Wales is Cymru (Kum-ree). Wales, incidentally, is an old Germanic word, meaning foreigner and Scot derives from the Old Latin meaning Shot. Those lauding it further north could well have been known as the Shot Lot, even though the Shots were specially a tribe hailing from contemporary Ireland who had ventured across the region with the sole aim of tormenting Romans, along with the Picts.
The Cums that once spread across these now united lands, pre-Roman times, are more modernly referred to as The Celts. Some say it with a soft C, most with a hard K.
It’s a fashionable thing - and it is subject to change at a moment’s notice. Nonetheless, Celt is a word which simply never existed. Nowadays historians use it to describe the diaspora of tribes thought to have once wandered in from both northern and southern climes in the very, very dim and distant past. What is slightly more certain is that in Europe the occupants of these green fields were dubbed the “Pretani” - the Island of the Painted People.
And yet, the Romans re-branded these lands to Albion, meaning white land. One presumes that they likened Great Britain to an oversized chalk pencil. To be fair, “Great Albion!” sounds like an exclamation of surprise, wonder or disbelief that could even outrank the barely-ever uttered “Great Scot!”. Alas, Albion fell out of favour due to the Romans tendency to personify their colonies as Goddesses. The Goddess of Britannia was thus depicted as a helmet-headed, trident-wielding, single-boob-exposing woman with a fierce, yet submissive, character. Her image, forever cast into coinage, welcomed the Roman Emperor with “Veni Expectate”, or more the more everyday, “Come, O expected one.” I think we’ve all politely demanded that once or twice although perhaps not as eloquently.
Then the Romans departed. Britannia remained all the rage until it was forgotten about. It might have briefly morphed into Bretwalda or Brytenwealda during early Anglo-Saxon times and at least until England was unified. Then dropped the English Renaissance in the 16th and 17th centuries albeit too few sons. Buxom-covered Queens aplenty brought about the joining together of England and Scotland in holy matrimony. From then on Britannia, albeit now with her boob popped back in, was the nom de rigueur. Since then, Britons high and dry have been singing about ruling waves at The Proms, the world’s greatest classical music festival held by the BBC annually.
I finished my days beside the murky-brown seaside contemplating times past. As one would expect, Cumbria’s waters are still and shallow, a giant cove shielded by Ireland and Scotland, who take the brunt of the buffeting Irish Sea on our behalf. Seas I had intimate knowledge of.
I once attempted to jetski around the UK at a time when no woman had succeeded in doing so. I have absolutely no recollection of how I came up with this grand plan but suffice to say it involved a lot of Bicardi and some Diet Coke. The following morning I, along with my then husband, became the proud owner of two three-seater jetskis and quite clueless as to why. It was following this moment, I discovered only three men had successfully accomplished the task: two royal marines and the pee-drinking Bear Grylls. Cut out for this task, I most definitely wasn't.
“But how will I pee?” was a much conjugated question. In fact, it’s remarkable how many people have asked me over the years how a woman combines jet-skiing with the craft of outdoor peeing. Shewees and their ilk weren’t a solution for me. Others assume we wore wet-suits, but they are too chilly for prolonged exposure to the northern climes.
I had, in my great wisdom, sufficient forethought to ask for a specialist dry-suit to be tailored. Thick rubber cuffs and collars, along with the waterproof material, would guarantee that nothing would bring watery discomfort except to our faces. I designed a hefty piece of baggy neoprene, permitting many layers of underclothing and a lot of space for air. It would protect against the blasting north winds and stone cold seas. It was so roomy I looked like a deflated hot air balloon.
I had specifically asked that they situate the large waterproof zip so it dragged deep into space between my legs. A tug on a cord would open up the region, permitting a quick side-swipe of one’s underwear. It would keep it all discreet, and with gravity doing its thing, I could deflate the inner balloon whenever sea conditions were sufficiently calm that I could safely idle the jetski and balance. Then, another tug on the cord, would have it all sea-proof once again.
Imagine, then, my despair when just days before I was due to set off, I unpacked my dry suit to see that the zip was, in fact, better positioned for a man’s, shall we say, erogenous zone. Furious, I rang the tailor in an attempt to explain that without the prerequisite manhose this design was as good as useless. I even went into the explicit engineering differences between men and women’s urinary compositions. Alas, it was too late to change anything, and the man on the other end of the phone assured me his design, identical to the significantly cheaper off-the-shelf suit purchased by my husband, was far superior and suitable for my needs. Mansplaining at its finest.
One thing one might not know about jet-skis is that when one is stationary, the water-bike gracefully pirouettes, ultimately giving the rider a 360° view of one’s land and seascape in the time it takes to relieve oneself.
Thankfully, back in those days, I had quite the robust pelvic floor: that enviable trait that permits young women to stop and start the flow at whim. Not noticing the three Cumbrian fisherman minding their rods, crouched on the nearby cliffs, I incidentally demonstrated, whilst wearing a dry-suit suitable only for men, how one pees using a plastic cup purloined from McDonalds. My bladder can fill up to four of them.
They were decent enough to give me a round of applause when I had finished.