Sunday, 26 July 2009

Day 14 - North West England Coast - Cumbria - Whitehaven - Slaves, poetry, the best view in Britain...and the last invasion of the UK

At first sight, Whitehaven (click to see on my Google Map) seems like any other mid-size town along the west coast of England. But it's rich in history. For a seemingly pretty, innocuous place, Whitehaven punched far above its weight in the global stakes.

Whitehaven on the image to enlarge.

I was lucky enough to stay with Trevor Lloyd in his 1860 Victorian B&B called Lowther House. It looks out over the town, towards the harbour. Trevor was born in Whitehaven, and after living abroad, has returned.

Some locals are so passionate about their home towns, that they go way out of their path to show you the nooks and crannies...Trevor is like this. He could be the mayor, champion and protector - all in one - of Whitehaven.

As he talks, the intonations in his voice rise quickly when he points out the three-storey Georgian architecture (considered by many to be the best example in Britain), or the grid system used to plan the town's layout (one of the few in the UK), or the lock system in the harbour, which keeps the water in when the tide goes out. Or how the water for his house still comes from the brightwaters of Ennerdale Lake, and how the famous English poet William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850) came to spend the summers in Whitehaven, from his childhood home in nearby Cockermouth. Wordsworth remembered the town well...

" With this coast I have been familiar from my earliest childhood, and remember being struck for the first time by the town and port of Whitehaven, and the white waves breaking against its quays and piers, as the whole came into view from the top of the high ground down which the road (it has since been altered) then descended abruptly.

My sister, when she first heard the voice of the sea from this point, and beheld the scene spread before her, burst into tears. Our family then lived at Cockermouth, and this fact was often mentioned among us as indicating the sensibility for which she was so remarkable."

Trevor kept me entertained and informed.

If you stay at Lowther House, you'll enjoy things like the first-rate Victorian bedrooms and bathrooms, and the antique Whitehaven grandfather clock (world-renowned, and one of which is also owned by Bill Clinton), or the original townplanning map of Whitehaven, which hangs on the passage wall.

Trevor will also point out softly how his great grandfather, a Captain Robert Wilson, was honoured by the Norwegian King in 1902, for rescuing the passengers of the Bengal, a Norwegian ship that had come aground near Whitehaven. The captain was awarded a gold medal and £25 as a reward (£10 000 today). Trevor's quiet pride for his town, and for his family is clear (including his son who has just become a barrister, at the exceptional age of 21).

Trevor Lloyd of Lowther House... Whitehaven's "unofficial mayor", and its biggest fan.

Trevor does everything himself in Lowther House, eventhough he owns a successful and sizeable business in China. He restored the house, he decorated it, he welcomes the guests, he cooks for them, he drives them around town on a quick tour...he even cleans everything himself - and then walks through the house afterwards, and pretends to be a new guest to see if he's missed anything!

The rooms at Lowther House are original Victoriana, and Trevor Lloyd the owner is justifiably's a stately place, and you feel like you are back in the days of the town's glory as Britain's second largest port after London. And Trevor could well have been the mayor...

But it's his knowledge and entertaining stories of Whitehaven which make a stay at Lowther House special. Here are a couple of snippets from my time with Trevor...they are a poor rendition of his, so make sure you get Trevor to tell you himself.

- The Last Invasion of England...

Back in 1778, the town was the scene of the last invasion of the British mainland. During the American War of Independence, a Scotsman called John Paul Jones (who had started his naval career in Whitehaven), had defected to the American side. On April 17 of 1778, he and his crew of his ship The Ranger, sneaked ashore and attempted to set fire to the English merchant ships. They failed, but he and The Ranger went on to cause the Brits all sorts of trouble. For his efforts, Americans took him in as one of their own, and Paul Jones is still an American naval hero to this day, his remains interred in a bronze sarcophagus in Annapolis.

- The Dark Spirit of Whitehaven

The town was for many years the second busiest port after London. The reason? In the 1700s, Whitehaven ship merchants were importing vast amounts of tobacco from Virginia in the US. When the American War of Independence was lost by the English, the traders had to find new markets to exploit. So they turned to the Caribbean, and started importing sugar and rum. However, slaves were needed to work the fields in Jamaica and Trinidad, and so the ship merchants supplied their vessels for the transportation of slaves from West Africa.

There is an excellent visitor attraction in Whitehaven, called The Rum Story, which takes one through this period of history...the tour itself is called The Dark Spirit of reference to the rum that was imported, as well as the pernicious implications of the slave trade.

- The Best View in Britain...Wastwater Lake

Trevor took me inland to Wastwater Lake, which was voted by the British public as the prettiest view in all of the UK, on an ITV TV program in 2007. It is also the deepest lake in England, at 260 feet.

Wastwater was pouring with rain when I went there.

When Trevor took me, it was pouring with rain, and a strong wind was blowing. We rounded a corner, and were confronted quickly with a huge mountain plunging near-vertical into the inky-black lake. On our side, the landscape is more friendly, and we could drive along the edge, and look across at the huge granite screes, which were created by massive glaciers in the last ice age. It is worthy of an accolade such as the one it received from the nation.

For more ideas on what to do in the area, Trevor's website is full of suggestions...or go to the official Cumbrian Tourism website.

Day 13 - North West England Coast - Cumbria - Silecroft - Some stunning photos from John Parminter at

John Parminter is a Silecroft (click to see on my Google Map) local who spends a lot of time running on the hills in Cumbria, as well as taking some stunning photographs. Here are a few of them...for more, check out his superb website

Wastwater Lake

Wastwater Lake

Finsthwaite beech trees in autumn

Beach sunset at Bootle...

Neglected boat at Ravenglass beach

Below are some photos I snapped of the beautiful pebbles and stones on Silecroft beach..(the low tide area is soft sand).