Workington and Wigton, Cumbria, United Kingdom.

Because the Lake District is within its boundary, Cumbria possesses some of the United Kingdom’s most beautiful mountain scenery, but, because of its beauty, the Lake District is not an unusual destination. In contrast, a lot of the West Cumbrian coast is deemed unworthy of visiting, even by British people who live nearby. Hence this post. Why not consider a visit to Cumbrian places a little less obvious than the Lake District (and, if you enjoy this post, track down my earlier posts about Barrow-in-Furness, Whitehaven and Parton)?

Workington’s most interesting sights include the tidal estuary of the River Derwent, the ruins of Workington Hall in pretty Curwen Park, Portland Square (an elongated square of considerable beauty in a conservation area. Elegant Georgian and Victorian houses enclose the cobbles. What a pity about all the parked cars, however), the streets surrounding Portland Square (e.g. Curwen, Wilson, King and Jane streets), Workington railway station, Dora Crescent (and other streets nearby, such as Dean and Bishop streets), Station Street and Belle Isle Street. Carnegie Theatre and Arts Centre on Finkle Street, and the nearby United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church and the Conservative Club are also worth seeing, as are St. Michael’s Nursery and Infant School, and St. Michael’s and St. John’s churches. St John’s Church is particularly interesting. Dating from 1823, it resembles Inigo Jones’ St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, London. Internally, thin cast iron columns support the gallery. The altar canopy is gilded with nine-carat gold.

Between St. Michael’s Church and the rugby league ground, beside the southerly branch of the River Derwent, is an old stone factory. The factory is now occupied by a small firm that uses iron and steel to make and repair things. Lots of damaged cars fill part of the open space in front of the workshops. In the past, Workington was important for iron smelting, steel production and coal mining. Today, however, in common with many West Cumbrian towns and villages, it is a settlement blighted with high unemployment.

Although Wigton has many Georgian and Victorian buildings of architectural note, it also suffers from a high level of unemployment, which means that, for most people, money is tight. Highlights in the town include the triangular market place, the George Moore Memorial Fountain (the four bronzes are the work of the pre-Raphaelite sculptor, Thomas Woolner), St. Mary’s CE Church (which dates from 1788), St. Cuthbert’s RC Church, the large Innovia Factory, and, about a mile from the centre, Highmoor Mansion (1885) with its tall tower built to house a clock, carillon and Big Joe, the latter a large bell. Highmoor Mansion has been sub-divided into flats. Water Street, Church Street, High Street, Proctor’s Row and South End are all worth walking along because so many pretty buildings exist, and George Street and North Croft have interesting houses. West Road is also excellent for houses, those closest to the town centre being Georgian and those furthest away having arts and crafts embellishments. Do not miss Wigton Manor, which lurks behind trees and bushes along the north side of West Road. The town’s swimming pool is beside Speet Gill and close to Nelson Thomlinson School, but detached from other structures. Most unusual. Even Station Road leads past some interesting buildings (e.g. houses and a small cafe in a wooden shack). Just off Station Road is an old stone building with a circular ground plan that looks like an old windmill. Note Wiza Beck, which runs for a short distance beside Station Road.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Whitehaven and Parton, Cumbria, United Kingdom.

Because the Lake District is within its boundary, Cumbria possesses some of the United Kingdom’s most beautiful mountain scenery, but, because of its beauty, the Lake District is not an unusual destination. In contrast, a lot of the West Cumbrian coast is deemed unworthy of visiting, even by British people who live nearby. Hence this post. Why not consider a visit to Cumbrian places a little less obvious than the Lake District (and, if you enjoy this post, track down my earlier post about Barrow-in-Furness)?

Central Whitehaven looks considerably older than Barrow-in-Furness (most of Barrow-in-Furness is a late 19th century creation). Many Georgian buildings survive, but often in a sadly neglected state. The town’s past prosperity was based largely on families exploiting the sea. Some families engaged in fishing, some transported goods to and from Ireland, and some transported raw materials to large industrial cities in England and Scotland. A few wealthy families engaged in the slave trade, others owned plantations on the Caribbean Islands, and yet others mined the coal and the iron ore that once existed in large quantities below the ground in West Cumbria (reminders of the coal industry survive in Whitehaven). Inevitably, given its history, Whitehaven was once an important port, and the harbour walls that remain to this day, and the evidence of what look like stone fortifications along the nearby cliffs, are as remarkable as some of the Georgian buildings that enhance the town itself. Although the inner harbour is now a marina where small leisure craft moor when not at sea with their owners, nothing can detract from the majesty of the harbour as a whole.

Central Whitehaven is said to be the most complete example of planned Georgian architecture in Europe. Most of the Georgian town was laid out with streets running at right angles to one another (the grid system of streets is another characteristic shared with most of Barrow-in-Furness). Some people believe that Whitehaven was the blueprint for the street system in New York City.

In 1778, John Paul Jones led a naval raid on Whitehaven during the American War of Independence. In the opinion of many, this was the last attempted invasion of England.

A lot of money was invested, and effort expended, in the run-up to the millennium to protect Whitehaven’s unusual architectural heritage, and to inspire economic well-being based on tourism. To some degree, the money and the effort have been a success (note the highly regarded Rum Story Museum, the popular marina and the relatively new structures overlooking the harbour), but most of the improvements then made are now thirteen years old. Some parts of central Whitehaven are very shabby and rundown. Businesses lie empty, those that survive rely on local patronage rather than the patronage of tourists, and many of the pubs and the clubs have a seedy air, not least on a wet Saturday night in May when the occasional mooner helps lift the spirits that alcohol suppresses.

Sunday mornings are very quiet in Whitehaven; it is as if the town has a collective hangover.

Most of Whitehaven’s best Georgian architecture now lies along Lowther Street and two or three blocks to the north and the south. Other architectural highlights include Whitehaven Castle, the substantial harbour walls (themselves largely Georgian in origin), the remains of the coal industry, and the back street warehouses that once stored goods landed by ship. A few modern structures overlook the harbour. Externally, some of the modern structures have been designed to resemble the local Georgian style. They work quite well (the windows excepted), but one or two more eye-catching structures are complete breaks with Georgian pastiche. The latter successfully employ concrete, glass and steel and have balconies overlooking the marina. Nearby is the old bus station, a large structure with art deco embellishments. Although most of the bus station is now derelict, part of it has been occupied by one of the pub chains. Sadly, Whitehaven railway station is a non-descript, instantly forgettable modern box which does not bother opening on a Sunday. Next to the station is a dire Tesco shed, a shed indistinguishable from a thousand other supermarket sheds, with a large open-air car park adjacent. People arriving in Whitehaven for the first time by train are likely to wonder why on earth they agreed to come. Another monstrosity exists in the form of a multi-storey car park off Swingpump Lane. To somewhat alleviate its dark and slab-like ugliness, the facade overlooking Swingpump Lane has been covered with rectangles of curved metal, but examine the three other sides of the building for its full horror to be revealed. Return to Lowther, Scotch and Duke streets as soon as you can!

Parton is about 2 miles north of Whitehaven. It is a small, economically disadvantaged village overlooking the Solway Firth. In Roman times, Parton Bay was used as an anchorage. As a consequence, a small Roman fort existed on the higher ground north of the modern village. A salt pan operated during the 16th century. A harbour was eventually built at Parton, but, once Whitehaven emerged as a major port, and after Parton’s harbour walls were badly damaged toward the end of the 18th century, the village declined in importance. Fishing continued for some time, but other industries were more reliable sources of income. Although Parton has had a coal mine, a glassworks, a tannery, a brewery, an iron foundry and Lowca Engineering Works, today it is little more than a dormitory settlement. Once the Maryport and Carlisle Railway extended its tracks as far as the village, communications with the outside world improved significantly.

Just beyond the village boundary is Moresby Hall (now a hotel) and Moresby Church. Today, the grey pebbly beach is Parton’s main claim to fame, but few people visit it. Among the most interesting things about the village are the tunnels under the railway which provide people with access to the beach itself.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Painted Adverts and Ghost Signs, Texas, USA.

The wonderful tradition of painting signs on walls may be dying out around the world in general and in the USA in particular, but it is amazing how many such signs can still be encountered, especially in places where respect for old structures persists, or where financial constraints deny developers the opportunity to replace old buildings with modern ones. Our recent trip to Texas revealed that many painted signs survive in the Lone Star State. Below is a selection of old and not-so-old painted signs from Nacogdoches, Pilot Point, Fort Worth, Abilene, Lockhart, Bastrop and Giddings.

Painted signs are most commonly referred to as painted adverts or, if old and fading, ghost signs. Here in the UK, Love Local Landmarks, an English Heritage-backed project, has been successful in gaining local listing status for two of Hackney’s most famous ghost signs (Hackney is a borough in north London). The Blooms Piano sign and the Waterman’s Fountain Pen sign on Stoke Newington’s Church Street have been singled out for their aesthetic or artistic merit, and for their historical significance. The impact of the listing is that the borough council must now “think about their heritage significance when considering planning applications that affect them.”

This is great news. I hope that many other painted signs secure similar protection around the world.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Sheds, Silos and Elevators, Texas, USA.

In American states such as Texas, where the plains dominate so much of the landscape, you cannot avoid the sheds, the silos and the elevators, most of which lie beside the railroads so grain and other agricultural produce can be transported easily and quickly. Often the largest buildings in the locality, even when surrounded by what qualifies locally as a town or a small city, the sheds, the silos and the elevators have an austere beauty all of their own, not least when passed by one of the many mile-long freight trains that criss-cross the continent. The sheds, the silos and the elevators in the photos below are in Paris, Amarillo, Dalhart, Dimmitt, Lubbock, Lockhart and Giddings.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas, USA.

As a recent post suggested, Texas has three must-see natural wonders, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park. Being must-see, the aforementioned do not qualify as unusual destinations, but I think a handful of other natural wonders do, Caprock Canyons State Park included.

Caprock Canyons State Park is not a large park, but it has some remarkable landscapes within its boundary. It also has a herd of bison, but, sadly, we did not see it, the hot temperatures driving the animals to seek shelter among trees far from where visitors go if they stick to the trails.

We drove along all the asphalt roads within the park marvelling at the valleys, the peaks, the creeks, the flora and the birdlife. We also followed two trails so we could engage more intimately with the landscape. Outstanding visibility – small puffs of high altitude white cloud hung in a deep blue sky – ensured that the visit would never be forgotten. Needless to say, the caprock, more resistant to erosion than the softer rock below, is the main reason why the dramatic canyons and their peaks exist, but we had not realised just how orangey-red so much of the softer rock was going to be. Such rock against the deep blue sky and puffs of white cloud ensured visual delight wherever we looked. Moreover, cacti and other plant-life beside the trails provided a stunning contrast in colour because of the different shades of green, emerald and celadon included. Some cacti were in flower, those with yellow and crimson petals being the most eye-catching. There were also some bluebonnets.

A lake near the visitor center provides a more conventional counterpoint to the magnificent scenery elsewhere inside the park, but we did not linger long to examine it. After the two trails within the canyon itself, we walked along the canyon rim.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage