When: 9th March 2013 from 12 noon
Where: Cockermouth, Cumbria
£: 14 for a Saturday day pass
What was it?
Until recently not many people had heard of Cockermouth. Then the floods came. But there is more to this part of Cumbria than water damage. As part of the Cumbria Contemporary weekender, Contrary Life spent the day in the town to do some beer tasting, walking and listening to tales.
Beer buffs at a boozy lunch
The day began at 12pm with some food and ale tasting at The Trout Hotel. Beer experts Neil Bowness and Jeff Pickthall helped to match dishes with some local brews at a lunch presided over by radio presenter and author, Stuart Maconie. We were sat on a table with some of the local brewers, one of the day’s tour guides and people who had travelled from Lancashire, Glasgow and the USA. It made for a friendly, relaxed and informative meal.
We had four courses with four local beers, starting with a blonde from the Ennerdale Brewery. We got an interesting introduction to each beer served and some local brewing history including The Carlisle Experiment. The Carlisle Experiment was a State Management Scheme to control drunkenness. During World War I the government took over the public houses and breweries in Carlisle because of of the behaviour of workers from the munitions factory. This experiment nationalised brewing and imposed rules such as ‘no treating’, which essentially meant you couldn’t buy a round (oh darn). It also introduced a more family atmosphere to the pubs allowing women and children in to the bars. We also got an interesting insight into Cockermouth through the conversation on our table. So not only was I beginning to see beer in a new light but also the town.
Hidden history with an artistic air
Next on the day’s schedule was a secret ramble through some of the town’s well-known attractions and best kept-secrets. The tour lasted about two hours and called in at the Percy House Gallery, one of Cockermouth’s oldest buildings. Upstairs held a lovely surprise in the form of a historic ceiling and coat of arms dating from 1598. Today the gallery holds a range of interesting works by Cumbrian artists including paintings, photography, textiles and woodwork.
Taking a wander down the back lanes of the town we were shown to a small yard hidden from the main street. Cockton’s Yard is a pretty example of the narrow housing and weaving workshops that ran back from the Main Street in Cockermouth and are part of what makes the town unique.
The tour also took in one of the main attractions in Cockermouth, Wordsworth’s birthplace. Now run by the National Trust, the Georgian townhouse shows the dwelling as it would have been in the 1770s with a formal dining room, bustling kitchen and garden.
The tour also took in one of the town’s other major landmarks, its castle. Cockermouth Castle is privately owned but can occasionally be visited by the public. We were lucky enough to be allowed to look inside the ruins and were given an interesting talk on its history. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photographs of the inside but there are some to be found on www.cockermouth.org.uk.
The last stop on the tour provided us with a poetry reading at the Castlegate House Gallery by a local poet who read poems about sheep and the local landscape. The gallery is currently exhibiting work by Bill Bell, who rather than painting pretty mountain landscapes preferred to depict another side to life in the north with colliery scenes, mills, terrace houses and kids playing in the street. The tour ended at the Kirkgate Centre, which is Cockermouth’s arts and entertainment hub.
Conversation at the Kirkgate
Warming up with a cup of tea we listened to sound artist, Lee Patterson’s immersive sound sculpture, The Laughing Water Dashes Through. Patterson’s piece was composed using recordings created using homemade hydrophones (microphones designed for use in water). From exploring local waterways, Patterson managed to capture the sound and energy of the hidden world under water. After listening to the piece there was a short Q & A with Lee Patterson by Stuart Maconie. This perhaps was the most interesting part, finding out about how the artist worked and developed his ideas.
At 8pm we returned to the Kirkgate Centre for the last of the day’s events, Stuart Maconie in conversation. He read extracts from his book, Hope and Glory, as well as rambling through some funny family anecdotes and answering some of the audience questions. Maconie is a natural storyteller and tales from his first ever concert, the finding of the World Cup and the perculiarities of northerners was an entertaining way to round off a great day out.
I couldn’t fault the day’s events, the guides and the town for its hospitality and entertainment. I only hope there are more events like this held not only in Cockermouth but the rest of the UK. It highlighted the best that the county has to offer.
More info: If you are interested in taking a trip to Cockermouth visit www.golakes.co.uk/cockermouth and www.cockermouth.org.uk for ideas on what to do. The town holds an annual midsummer festival called Cockermouth LIVE! and a biannual Georgian Fair (the next one is in May 2014).