wigton, nelson thomlinson and warnell

Wigton and Warnell

First shop-keeper: Where do you stay?

Rory:  Near Appleby

Shop-keeper: What are you doing in Wigton then?

I have been staying for the last three nights near Wigton, rather than returning home and I will be travelling around Caldbeck and Warnell this coming Tuesday (16th February), before moving onto Alston. The shop-keeper made coming from my cottage by Knock to Wigton sound like entering another country. And, of course, there are incredible differences between different parts of Cumbria. In Wigton, under a pale open blue sky with light clouds, looking over the Solway plain, I almost felt I was at the sea. Everything in the air and the colours is a reminder that Silloth is just over ten miles away. On Wednesday, I will be back in Alston – moving from sea-level to the highest market town in England, from the coastal plain to the central mountain spine of England – the light and the temperature and the agriculture and the culture will all be different – and yet it is all within the same unique constituency.

Wigton was at its most beautiful on this sunny winter Saturday. I stopped twice in the church – in the morning and the afternoon. The bell-ringer greeted me as he walked out. I noticed that one of the plaques referred to the ‘last of the Ismays’ and wondered whether this was a relative of Mr.Ismay who keeps the café at the end of town.  The organ was playing and the sunlight was streaming in through the new stained glass windows, donated by Melvyn Bragg. I spent a lot of time looking at the first window and its kaleidoscope of Wigton scenes from the auction mart ring up. It struck me, walking out, what a history of philanthropy there has been in the town which is more than just the beauty of the bronzes on the George Moore Memorial fountain but includes the Banks’ buildings and the Innovia Factory’s contribution to the town and to Nelson Thomlinson.

My Thursday visit, last month to Nelson Thomlinson was one of the best days I’ve had this year. Mrs.Downs, the headteacher, is a modest person and I don’t want to embarrass her by praising her too much in a blog but I learned a great deal from her about school management, and about how much it is still possible to get done within the current structures. Nelson Thomlinson is an example of a genuinely comprehensive school which delivers impressive results for its students. I am certainly not an inspector – and I am sure there are many things that I missed completely in walking round the school- but those students and teachers whom I met seemed genuinely committed, motivated and friendly. I’m looking forward to going back to the school soon.

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