November 17, 2008

Where Food & History Meet - Cumbria

Cumbria is a place with so much to offer whatever your interests. From walking to sailing, fishing to mountain climbing, birdwatching to biking or simply admiring the wonderful scenery, it's all here.

Cumbria also has some of the best coffee shops and tea rooms in all England where you will find some excellent Cumbrian food on the menu. Such things as Cumberland sausage and Sticky Toffee Pudding but also great, locally produced cheeses and farm produced ice cream. Food is a speciality industry in Cumbria - go to any of the farmers' markets and you will be amazed at the range of what is produced in the county. Apart from cheese, meats, puddings and ice cream there are some great honey makers and jam makers. A high proportion of the food produced in Cumbria is also now organically grown or farmed. Having lived in central London for many years before moving to live up here I can clearly recall only getting excited by food at a speciality delicatessen or a trip to the Harrods food hall - 'local' food just never entered into the equation. So here in Cumbria where it is, thankfully, so very different, the pleasure of seeing so much quality, local food never fades.

If food isn't your passion, then how about history? Well, Cumbria has that in spades too.

Tangible Roman history is on the doorstep here with Hadrian's Wall and various Roman forts. Now a World Heritage Site, Hadrian's Wall attracts people from all over the world. 2,000 years of history that you can touch is not an everyday occurrence.

Then there's medieval history with medieval castles dotted about all over Cumbria. There's Naworth Castle home of the Earls of Carlisle for many generations - they also built Castle Howard in Yorkshire by the way) to Carlisle Castle known as 'the great border fortress' and regarded by many people as the second most important medieval castle in Britain - second only to the Tower of London. English Heritage look after Carlisle Castle and I have to say do a fantastic job of it. I recently visited it with my family again after a gap of several years and it made even more of an impression than ever before. The portcullis towers in an elevated position above your head as you walk through the entrance and imposing keep is one of the best castle keeps I have ever seen - a whole experience in itself. The dungeons where followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie were kept before their execution is an eery place but by contrast on the floors above you can get a feeling of what dining in the Great Hall must have been like for those in power at the castle.

The other significant history in Cumbria is that of the Border Reivers - warring families who fought over land, livestock, strongholds and power for 300 years on the Cumbria/Scotland border. Never heard of the Border Reivers? Well, I'm saving that for another story another day!