The Longtown munitions depot, which has been threatened with closure for years, has been saved today. We have preserved two hundred jobs in an area where there is not enough good employment. It is very good news. But this story didn’t begin in 2005 when the first announcement of closure was made. In 1914 the […]


Cumbrians and Northumbrians must have felt isolated and marginalised fourteen hundred years ago. Agriculture had collapsed around them, the population had plummeted, there had not been a new road or stone building constructed in two centuries. Education, industry, and trade had collapsed. We were one of the most underdeveloped places in Europe or Asia. But […]


It is August 1805, two friends have risen early, on a cold Cumbrian morning, to climb Striding edge to Helvellyn. The previous night, they are recognised in the inn, but they have fun pretending not to be who they are. They are well-educated, have travelled abroad, and have lived in great capital cities. But their […]

british rural identity

I stood, on Sunday, with a friend, looking at his fields, which slope down, from the fellside to the water. The river was in spate, and silver lakes had formed in the meadows. He had got up early, to save his Swaledales from drowning. But where was he to put them? His drier fields, to […]

burying bad news – the debate over nuclear waste

The battle over nuclear waste, which ended on Wednesday, shows why, sometimes at least, politics still matters. The story behind it was straightforward: the government, which plans to build more nuclear power-stations, wanted a community willing to host an underground, concrete bunker for the storage of waste. Copeland, in part because of its experience of […]

Strength in Unity

On Tuesday, the chamber was a quarter-full. The journalists were in the coffee-shops, gathering gossip on the Prime Minister’s forthcoming speech on Europe. And the television was investigating horsemeat in hamburgers. No-one it seems was listening to the debate in the main chamber. But the subject –a referendum for Scottish independence – was the most important political decision of […]

affordable housing

In many Cumbrian villages, residents cannot afford to buy or rent homes, so they leave, taking their families and their businesses with them. As a result, shops, pubs, and primary schools close.  And villages become increasingly reserves for the elderly, whose children and grandchildren live in distant towns. We talk about this all the time. But […]

Lessons from our woodlands

If you had climbed the pale soaking fell-grass out of Bewcastle, and passed the Bloody Bush, you would have seen Tynedale:  close-cropped pasture behind dry-stone walls,  owner-occupied farms, Milburns and Dodds, and the bastle-houses of bandits, converted to barns. But now the shape of the valley can only be guessed at. A rough carpet of […]

Alone on the Marches

I recently came to the end of five weeks walking in Cumbria and the Borders. It was a thirty nine mile day, and twelve of those fourteen hours were spent in almost empty space. In a car I can be transported at a mile a minute from centre to centre – from one room with […]

Incongruous Lives and Unexpected Voices

It is the Parliamentary recess, and I have been walking through Cumbria and the Borders. On the second day I climbed over Helvellyn and Great Dodd, and slept in cloud on the summit of Blencathra. Day six was along the sand from Maryport to Silloth. Day nine was over lowland raised mires from Wigton to […]