It’s early on Tuesday morning, and we’ve slept a couple of nights on the floor in front of the new, super-efficient wood burner.
The house is empty – gloriously empty – and we’ve been able to get on and do a few jobs – little things, like new loo seats, curtains up in the dining room, a bolt on the gate – while two men work to install the new boiler. Visits, too, and cards – so a lovely warm welcome.
The colours we’ve chosen for the walls and carpets work. We needed to persuade the archdeacon to allow us to depart from the pastel colours that vicarages normally receive with a promise that we’ll return to magnolia when we leave. But that’s not going to be for a while yet.
It’s a friendly house, well built, and feels like it’s responding well to the colour. It’s ready to be lived in and loved.
There’s a garden all around – a good size, with a section fenced off. That’s where the chickens will go. The dog (don’t tell Peter) will have the run of the rest. There will be a pond, eventually, and rose gardens. The gardener whose been looking after it has done a great job indeed. Large trees all around. Peter’s a little concerned the removals lorry won’t fit.
We walked down towards the port yesterday evening. Lorries were taking off wood from the dock, perhaps to the local cardboard making factory.
The Vanguard sailing club had some yachts at mooring.
There were fishing boats, and all sorts, moored against the sea wall of the harbour.
This is where the River Derwent (that flooded so disastrously in 2015 (and 2009)) flows into the sea.
The website tells us that the Port of Workington is owned and operated by Cumbria County Council, which is the Statutory Harbour Authority, and is an independent Municipal Port established in 1975, serving as a strategic hub for Northern England & Scotland. The Prince of Wales Dock is a modern enclosed dock with a total water area of 2.6 hectares and a quay frontage of 773m providing 7 berths plus a roll on-roll off facility. The great advantage of the Port is its rail freight services via its main line connection. All the berths are rail-connected, with an extensive internal rail system.
There’s history to it, with the port dating back to Roman Times when there was a Hadrianic fort here.
During the 14th century Workington Hall was the hereditary seat of the Curwen family. St Michael’s Church has a tombstone to them. Our good friend Philly-Jane, who is due to visit us in September, comes from the family.
As Viv and I chugged the River Nene, we stopped at Fotheringay – where Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned and executed. I hadn’t realised then that she began her long 19 years of captivity here in Workington. On 16th May 1568 she took refuge in Workington Hall after sailing across the Solway Firth from Dundrennan Abbey. Three days of care and sanctuary, before she was escorted to Cockermouth, then to Carlisle Castle. This was the beginning of her 19 years of captivity which ended with her trial for treason and execution at Fotheringay.
The port was used to export coal for Ireland at the beginning of the 17th century. A wagonway from Seaton Colliery was opened in 1732. The Harbour Accounts of the 1730s show that there were buoys, marker posts, beacons, dredging work and new stone paving and the port was further extended by a tidal cut of 1763-9. On the south side were a series of staithes linked by wagonways to local collieries. This was extended seawards by the Dock Quay of 1798, and the Merchants Quay on the other side of the cut.
It was at Workington that Henry Bessemer introduced his revolutionary steel making process. During the 18th and 19th centuries more than thirty pits were in operation, and Workington remained the centre of steel production in northwest England for 100 years. A favourite local saying referred to the railway tracks made in Workington and exported through the Port to other countries as “holding the world together”. Lonsdale Dock was built in 1864 to handle the trade, able to accommodate vessels of 2,000 tonne dead weight.
By 1927 the iron and steel industry in West Cumberland had grown rapidly, and after the First World War the Lonsdale Dock was improved and extended. The new dock was renamed the Prince of Wales Dock, being officially opened on 30th June 1927 by HRH the Prince of Wales. In 1975 the Port transferred from a subsidiary of British Steel to Cumbria County Council.
We walked on, out towards the sea, to the lighthouse structure at the end of the harbour wall. A boy and his father were fishing in the wind, as the tide poured out. There is a distance marker, showing how far Workington is from the rest of the world.
London is 263 miles away. 271 miles to John o’Groats.
The town looks different from here, with St Michael’s Church surrounded by trees.
Up along the coast path, with meadow pipits around us. Two cormorant flew out to sea. We weren’t sure if we could hear a skylark or not.
We decided to walk to what looked like a trig point. As we approached it was a crucifix, with Christ looking out over the town. Workington’s San Paulo.
Later, in the fish and chip shop, we asked about it. ‘He lives just over there. He put it up in memory of his wife. They used to walk their dog along that stretch’, we were told. This BBC news item has more detail, describing how in 2015 Peter Nelson built it, 9ft tall, a crucifix in tribute to his late wife. “I was just in a bad place at the time and something made me go and put a cross on the top of a lonely hill in Workington.” Mr Nelson said there was “almost divine intervention” when he and some friends erected the crucifix on a Sunday morning last year. “We were surrounded by mist and fog and nobody could see us,” he said.
It was controversial at the time as he didn’t seek planning permission, but a retrospective application for permission was approved after about 1,800 supporters signed a petition. Allerdale Borough councillors decided it could stay.
Now the base is surrounded by padlocks, inscribed with names of those who have died; and perhaps boats that have gone down. Peter and I wondered if any church services happen up there at dawn on Easter day.
The coastal path opened in 2014.
The views are good southwards, towards St Bees head – beyond Whitehaven.
A skylark was singing, bravely into the wind, as we descended. White bladder campion, too.
As we walked so many people greeted us; stopped to talk. St Michael’s was there, a quiet, steady presence in this interesting town. There’s so much to discover as we begin to put roots down, to settle, after all the changes of the last year or so.
The chippy is just along from us. The lady there was surprised that it was so busy; that more folk weren’t watching the England Tunisia game. We took our cod and chips home, and ate them, sitting on the kitchen floor. Then lit the woodburner, and read Murdoch’s The Black Prince aloud.
Today starts shortly, with the boiler men returning to finish the installation; a joiner coming to sort the skirting, and shave the doors to fit over the carpets … and then the lorries arrive.