Whitehaven was a boomtown in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, chiefly on the back of coalmining, shipbuilding and iron ore, and the clonisation of the Americas. The slave trade brought rum, tobacco, molasses and coffee, to Whitehaven and great riches to the town's merchants. The handsome houses which rise up behind the town, looking across the harbour, are testimony to their success. But it wasn't to last...
The Industrial Revolution drew businesses away to the larger northern cities and by the second half of the 19th century, Whitehaven's fortunes really started to decline.
More recently Sellafield, just down the road, was a big employer, but not any longer.
Today the town's having a renaissance. Millions of pounds have been poured in – there is a fantastic museum called The Beacon which shows all about the changing fortunes of the town from Roman times to Sellafield, and The Rum Story tells the story of the smuggling that came with the importing of rum, etc.There is a thriving marina, and a smart development of flats and small businesses has been built on the quayside. The town centre still looks a bit shabby but large businesses are opening up there – including the Inland Revenue.
Egremont Castle, south of Whitehaven, dates back to the 12thC (and probably to Roman times) but today the town's story is based around the iron ore industry. Large deposits of hematite iron ore were found in West Cumbria, and in the early 18th C the region prospered from exporting the iron ore. In the latter part of the century Victorian industrialists began smelting the iron ore, but when the railway arrived they began importing more rather than they had been exporting.
|Florence Mine, Egremont|
Today the Florence mine, just outside Egremont, is the only open iron ore mine left – and it produces paint pigments, not iron ore. I met an artist called Kevin Weaver there at his show of vivid, dotted, Impressionist canvases of Cumbria. One was a wonderful picture of Wastwater, the deepest and perhaps the most dramatic lake in the Lake District, with Scafell Pike behind. He said I must go and camp there, and so I did. There is a campsite at the head of the lake and I drove up the west side (you can't drive round the lake, the east side is sheer hill and scree) but when I got there the campsite was tucked away under trees and not looking over
Wastwater. So I retraced my
steps and eventually found a level patch of grass which didn't have a
'No overnight camping' sign, and stopped. A few more visitors came
to watch the sun setting and then left and I was alone with Baa and a
lot of Herdwicks, pretty sheep with sweet faces, dark bodies and
white heads and legs. I awoke to rain, the sheep still grazing
|My campsite at Wastwater|
Next stop was Waberthwaite, a village on the A595, where a shop called Woodalls had been recommended to me as purveyors of the best home-cured meat and sausages. The lady there said they bring in the black pudding, but everything else is theirs.