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We’ll be hearing even more about Hillary Clinton over the next few months as she aims to become the first woman president of the United States. One small detail that probably won’t be mentioned, however, is her Lake District connection: how in 1973 - as Hillary Rodham - she turned down Bill Clinton’s first proposal of marriage on the shores of Ennerdale Water (pictured). The couple had met three years earlier at Yale Law School and were then taking a holiday in Britain.

If Hillary Clinton does win the presidency she’ll be one of a small number of American presidents with a connection to Cumbria. George Washington’s paternal grandmother, Mildred Warner, is buried in the grounds of St Nicholas Church, Whitehaven - a plaque commemorates her - while two children from her first marriage to Lawrence Washington, John and Augustine (father of George Washington), went to Appleby Grammar School. This all stems from the fact that after Lawrence’s death, Mildred married George Gale, a tobacco importer from Whitehaven (pictured). He was in America at the time of their marriage in 1700 but quickly brought her back to west Cumberland. After Mildred’s death in 1701, George Gale sent her two boys to school in Appleby. Some 80 years later, sandstone flags from St Bees near Whitehaven were laid at George Washington’s home of Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Another US president with strong connections to Cumberland was Woodrow Wilson whose mother, Janet Woodrow, was born in Carlisle (pictured) in 1826. She later moved to America with her family, marrying Joseph Ruggles Wilson. Woodrow Wilson visited Cumberland and the Lake District four times before becoming president in 1913 and then again in December, 1918 while attending the Paris peace conference.

Finally....presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, both of whom had surnames associated with the Border Reivers, the riding and raiding families who turned the border lands into one of the most lawless places in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Wednesday, 02 March 2016

The Beer District

Those who lived through the (keg) bitter years of Watneys Red Barrel, Whitbread Tankard and Courage Tavern could never have imagined that 40-50 years later in Britain there would be such a choice of real ales and craft beers as there is now. ‘Real ale is on a roll,’ says the 2016 edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide and Cumbria provides as good an example of this phenomenon as anywhere. There are now over 1400 real ale breweries in the country (the biggest number since the 1930s and 1940s), with almost 40 of them in Cumbria.

That figure includes Yates, the oldest independent (1986), Hawkshead, the biggest independent and Coniston, producer of two supreme champion beers of Britain in Bluebird Bitter and No 9 Barley Wine. Coniston, Dent and Cumbrian Legendary breweries have lovely locations and like Barngates, Carlisle Brewing Co, Watermill, Winster Valley and Hesket Newmarket have close links to or are located next to pubs.

A small number such as Jennings in Cockermouth, Hawkshead and Hesket Newmarket do brewery tours; Eden and Hardknott are well known for their craft beers. Although there are plenty of food and farm shops where you can buy bottled Cumbrian beers - Rheged near Penrith and Booths stores have a good choice - the best places to savour the likes of Loweswater Gold, T’Owd Tup, Doris’ 90th, Tag Lag, Corby Blonde and Dog’th Vader are in the cracking pubs of Cumbria. And, like its small breweries, the county is not short of those either.

The Northern Beer Festival is at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal from March 11-13

The Northern Craft Beer Festival is at Hawkshead Brewery, Staveley from March 18-20.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

#cumbriaisopen

For weeks and weeks through late November, December and January it seemed as if Cumbria would never see the sun again. But in the last few days the skies have cleared, the rain's stopped, the days are brighter and we’re all reminded again what a beautiful county it is. With Easter only a month away the message that #cumbriaisopen can’t be overstated; visitors are welcome everywhere.

Even before Easter in March there are plenty of things to do. The Words by the Water literary festival in Keswick (4-13), the World Health Innovation Summit in Carlisle (10-11), the Northern Beer Festival in Kendal (11-13), Kendal Festival of Food (12-13), Bowness Bay Blues Weekend (18-20), the World’s Original Marmalade Awards and Festival at Dalemain near Ullswater (19-20) and the Easter International Market in Carlisle (24-28) are just some of them.

The Discover Carlisle website certainly speaks for everyone in Cumbria when it says: ‘We are still welcoming visitors with open arms and a friendly smile. Events go ahead. Our shops still trade. Our food and drink establishments still serve. Our attractions still offer a fantastic range of things to see and do. Our accommodation providers still provide a warm and cosy bed to rest your head’. All that and some of the best scenery in Britain.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Harris Tweed: From the Land

Design, craftsmanship, community, heritage and landscape. All things close to my heart and all subjects embraced by a beautiful and moving new exhibition at Rheged near Penrith. Harris Tweed: From the Land is the culmination of ten years work by fine art photographer Ian Lawson, ‘capturing the essence of the place we call home’, the chairman of the Harris Tweed Authority, Norman Macdonald, told those at last night’s exhibition launch. Home is Harris, Lewis and their 35 or so associated islands in the Outer Hebrides, ‘some of the most remote parts of Europe’. Remoteness didn’t stop 24 islanders making their way to Cumbria to celebrate Ian Lawson’s talent and sensitivity, his photographs complemented by a display of bags and jackets, all marked with the ‘oldest, continuous trademark in the UK’ (since 1906). Bags, clothes and furniture can also be seen in Rheged’s new Harris Tweed shop where Ian’s photographic book Harris Tweed: From the Land is also sold. Opening the show last night, Patrick Grant, creative director of Norton & Sons in Savile Row, and judge on the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee, enthused over the way Ian had ‘paired the cloth with the landscape’ in numerous photographs (see pictures). The Outer Hebrides, he said, were ‘one of the most beautiful places on earth’. Having seen the exhibition, heard the words, smelt the sea and felt the cloth, I’m checking the ferry times already.

Tuesday, 09 February 2016

How to succeed in a busy café market

A few minutes walk from the view in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria that John Ruskin described as ‘one of the loveliest in England, therefore in the world’, is The crossing point café. It’s owned and run by John Strange, former restaurant manager at Rogan and Company in Cartmel (sister restaurant to Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume) and his wife Renata. Popping in to the café yesterday after delivering a pile of Dymond Guide books to nearby Parma Violet, I could see why The crossing point (lower case deliberate) stands out in a busy café market. OK, lots of places do local sourcing of produce but here it extends to using salad stuff and vegetables which are grown in neighbouring gardens. Added to that is a choice of 15 loose leaf teas, Carvetii coffee from near Cockermouth, homemade cakes and scones, a gin and tonic menu, a range of Cuban cigars to buy, monthly supper evenings and a very small wine shop, with few bottles over £10. All in all, a café.... and then some.

Friday, 05 February 2016

Independent shops in Cumbria

This morning I had the luxury of popping out to my local butcher to buy a chicken, six sausages and two pounds of mince. I say luxury because in many parts of Britain, the habit of using a small, family butcher is ‘so last century’. But this is Cumbria where family-owned shops - butchers, bakers, greengrocers, fishmongers, clothes shops and hardware stores - are still much in evidence. And thank goodness for that. Visit towns like Ambleside, Cockermouth, Kirkby Lonsdale, Penrith, Ulverston and Windermere and you’ll see what I mean.

Two recent stories have raised the issue again. In Penrith, still a bastion of small independents, traders say that the increasing number of supermarkets is having a ‘detrimental effect’ on them. Then today, The Cumberland News reports that in its Our Cumbria survey, ‘41% of respondents insist that independent shops are the lifeblood of our town centres and should be protected from the arrival of further major retailers.’ Considering that Carlisle, home city of that newspaper, is almost overrun with supermarkets and national chains, that is certainly encouraging. The attractions of local stores are often and loudly proclaimed but it does no harm to state them again. Well run independent shops bring variety and character to the high street - and often a different level of service - and are not always the expensive retail option that many people suppose they are. And unlike the profits of major chains which may well flow out of the county, the profits of the small, family shop will probably, and largely, stay in the community.

Pictured are More? The Artisan Bakery in Staveley, near Kendal and The Sporting Lodge at Sandside near Milnthorpe.

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