Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Same Old Cumbria

Some people are very sensitive about their age - honestly, I don't see the point because there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.  I'm at that age where bits of me are beginning to go wrong - my first pair of varifocals arrive next week and I'm unable to get up out of a chair without going "oooohhhh".  On a serious note I also think we should appreciate age more instead of constantly whining about it as growing old is a luxury denied to many.

At 50 I would like to think I'm about halfway through my innings as I have big plans to hit 100 and then some, but even that impressive old age is nothing compared to many of the oldest bits of Cumbria,  Seriously, if you think you're old, check out some of these...

The Oldest Humans

Langdale Valley & Pikes
Neolithic man (and woman) left us plenty of clues to their existence in the landscape - places like Castlerigg Stone Circle for example - but the one which fascinates me the most is the Neolithic Axe Factory on the flanks of the Langdale Pikes.  Dating back to around 4000BC the axe heads made here have been found all over the UK and give us a fascinating insight into how ancient man (and woman) traded and moved around the country to places like Lincolnshire, Peterborough and Northern Ireland.  You might think it's tricky facing the challenges of either Northern Rail or the M62 to cross the Pennines these days, but imagine what it was like back then.  There would have been no GoreTex, no fluffy down jackets and definitely no refreshment cart serving a selection of overpriced beverages and snacks.

The Oldest Rocks in Cumbria

Black Combe - doesn't look its age.
At 500 million years old The Skiddaw Group are the oldest rocks in the county - and where do you think one of the best places to see them is? That's right - Black Combe in the far SW of the county. Yes, yes, yes, alright, you can also see them around Skiddaw too - but if you're planning on visiting over a sunny bank holiday, trust me, Black Combe will be quieter.  The rocks started out as fine shales and muds on a deep sea bed and have since been squished, squeezed and baked into slates; if you've ever tried to come down Skiddaw via Carl Side, you'll know exactly the rocks I'm talking about.

The Oldest Road

Eden Valley
One of the earliest thoroughfares would most likely have been along the Eden Valley - a natural wide gap between the Pennines and the Lake District Fells formed thanks to the glaciers.  There's evidence of early stone age man making good use of the route and, of course, there is plenty of evidence of Romans in the area too with an old Roman Road running parallel to the M6 along much of the valley.  The Eden Valley still carries a number of main arterial routes - the West Coast Mainline, the M6, the A6 and the River Eden.  Not that anyone travels along the River Eden but they should because it's gorgeous. Although millions of people visit the Lake District National Park very year, only a tiny fraction of that number ever explore the Eden Valley, which is a real shame as there are plenty of beautiful walks, plus a divine chocolate factory in Orton.  Take a look a the Visit Eden webpage if you need more inspiration.

The Oldest Tree

Borrowdale Valley

The Borrowdale Yews are generally thought of as being the oldest trees in the county and it's likely they are over 800 years old - if you want to get all nerdy about it take a read of this report, full of fascinating facts and references to earlier studies.  I love trees in general and yews in particular - the trunks are usually so intricate and interesting and there is so much folklore associated with them too.  Slightly off topic but still on the subject of trees, if you're after the tallest tree in Cumbria you'll find it on the Wansfell Holme estate - it's a Grand Fir and stands at 57.8m high.  Some chap from the National Trust climbed to the top and, much as I love trees, I'm not sure I'd fancy trying that.

The Oldest Bloke 

Views from Humphrey Head
I'm not sure this really counts as they didn't find all of him, but when scientists excavated Kents Bank Cave (not a million miles from where the photo above was taken) they discovered a leg bone which was carbon dated to over 10,000 years old.  Other items and bones discovered during that excavation can be found at the Dock Museum in Barrow, which is a great place to head for an interesting family day out - there's loads on the industrial history of the region as well as lots of huge models of old boats and plenty of interactive displays and activities.



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