Quiet Earth Now

Firstly and very importantly we need to get a few things absolutely straight. The Lake District is not Cumbria, nor is Cumbria the Lake District. The Lake District is the central part, and not the major part, of a big county. Secondly, Whitehaven is not a sleepy, picturesque fishing village or whatever romanticised vision the latest media take on it is. Fishing village it may have been two hundred and fifty years ago, but since then it has been a Georgian centre for trading rum and slaves and then a Victorian port, prosperous because of coal, mining and exporting. Since then its industry has deserted it leaving a bedraggled poulation and large, poor local authority estates riddled with social problems and a town centre desperately trying to re-invent itself.  The West Cumbrian coast is a battered and bruised old face, exploited and despoiled yet still with a noble character. Its sea is not the bracing clear sea of Cornwall or Wales or the North Sea or even of Wales because it is becalmed by Ireland and the Isle of Man. Because of this, no-one reallly wants to go there. Its industry blights the place as it limps along. Its tourism struggles to survive. Even on a benign sunny day like yesterday, like so many days this Spring (and Winter – where are the Lake District rain jokes now?) it is a tough landscape yet filled with pockets of softness and beauty. I have often thought that if our Lake District had the coast of Cornwall too we would have to put up barriers to stop people coming in.

Turn with your back to the sea and there are the mountains; there is ‘The Lake District’. Travel a few miles up very winding hedged and drystone walled lanes and soon enough you will be in ‘The Lake District’. The irony which has always been there ever since the romantic poets is that beauty lives alongside ugliness, prosperity beside poverty. In this little country they could never be far apart. Yet it is imortant to emphasise that the coast of West Cumbria from Barrow to Silloth is poor and neglected and forgotten. The unenlightened burghers in London, when they can be bothered to glance in this direction simply see The Lake District and are ignorant of anything else. Consequently all of North West Cumbria’s post industrial problems go unnoticed.

What happened yesterday is horrific because it involved people who just happened to be in view when the killer went past. Totally innocent, un-connected people, going about their business on a lovely sunny ordinary day. However it really has to be said; THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED ANYWHERE!!! and the fact that he drove a few miles up Eskdale does not mean that he rampaged through the Lake District! 

The sun continues to shine and the birds sing. Days of heat penetrate into the evening and now a zephyr blows gently from the wooded hills above the lake bringing with it the scent of clematis and lilac, honeysuckle, larch and may. The evening sky, still luminous blue at 10.30pm  makes dark silhouettes of dense broad Wellingtonias and Horse Chestnuts, framing glimpses of settled reflections across the water. We have had rain to refresh the land enough, which is more verdant that you could know. We need the rain to fill our reservoirs but this year has brought us the climate we always hope for in this country. They fret when the rain doesn’t come and moan when it does. The balance will come; we need to learn again what it takes to be patient, to be courteous, to not be afraid, to contemplate.



2 Responses to “Quiet Earth Now”

  1. Lionel Playford Says:

    I know parts of the south and west Cumbrian coast well such as Maryport and Barrow so your comments about the media’s distorting focus on The Lake District were well understood. From the age of 18 I worked in the shipyard iat Barrow for 10 years living in Dalton, Great Urswick, Ulverston and always had that sense cycling and walking through it of an old used and battered landscape with plenty of remannts to discover but one that was and is beautifully undiscovered by mass tourism and taken for granted by the locals. The ordinariness of it is what captivated me and its proximity to both sea and mountains, a landscape of transition. Driving into the southern lakes, as we often did after work to walk up the Duddon valley or Coniston, I often had that feeling of artificiality which the partial preservation of the National Park has created around the Lake District. Everybody comes to do Wainwrights and sup beer in trad pubs. The fringes have been left to get on with themselves and I think this feels humbler and more real somehow- and the light’s better. Love the salt marshes from Silverdale to Ulverston, Walney Island, Millom, Ulverston slagbank and your favorite Whitbarrow. Don’t often get down there now but I remember spending days painting very small pictures of the wide flat spaces of the NNR peat bogs at Fishhouse Moss on the other side of the estuary from Penny Bridge near Cartmel. I did these as a kind of Corot-like reaction against all my experimentalness of the fine art final year at Newcastle Poly. Quite therapeutic and such a quiet place not far from the A590.
    Looking forward to seeing more of your paintings in the flesh.

    • mgreenland Says:

      Hello Lionel

      You must be wondering why I haven’t replied to this. Sorry.

      I have only just re-opened my blog after ten months or so. The longer I left it the more I avoided starting again. I shall try to keep it going again this time.
      I really appreciate all of your comments. Cumbria is quite claustrophobic yet it is very intriguing.


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