Cumbria (ˈkʌmbriə – KUM-bree-a) is a county in North West England. Cumbria’s largest settlement and county town is Carlisle and the only other major urban area is Barrow-in-Furness on the south-western tip of the county.
The county of Cumbria consists of six districts: Allerdale, Barrow-in-Furness, Carlisle, Copeland, Eden and South Lakeland. With a population of just under half a million. Cumbria is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the United Kingdom.
Cumbria is bounded to the north by the Scottish council areas of Dumfries and Galloway and to the west by the Irish Sea, to the south by Lancashire, to the southeast by North Yorkshire, and to the east by County Durham and Northumberland.
Cumbria is predominantly rural and contains the Lake District and Lake District National Park, considered one of England’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty, serving as inspiration for artists, writers, and musicians.
Much of Cumbria is mountainous, and it contains every peak in England over 3,000 feet above sea level, with Scafell Pike at 3,209 feet being the highest point of England.
An upland, coastal, and rural area, Cumbria’s history is characterised by invasions, migration, and settlement, as well as battles and skirmishes between the English and Scottish. Historic sites in Cumbria include Carlisle Castle, Furness Abbey, and Hadrian’s Wall.
The Castlerigg stone circle (left) dates from the late Neolithic age and was constructed by some of the earliest inhabitants of Cumbria
At the end of Roman Britain (c. 410 AD) the inhabitants of Cumberland (created in 1974 from Cumberland and Westmorland) were Cumbric-speaking native “Romano-Britons” who were probably descendants of the Brigantes tribe that the Roman Empire had conquered in about 85 AD. (Cumbric was a language related to Old Welsh and there are many Cumbrian dialect words and phrases which take their origins from this language).
The Roman civitas of the Carvetii (sometimes considered to be a sub-tribe of the Brigantes) covered almost the same area as what is now Cumbria.
Because Cumbria was on the very edge of the Roman province of Britannia, “Romano-Briton” is probably not a very accurate term for the people of these parts, because even after more than three hundred years of Roman military occupation it is unlikely very many of them understood Latin or were particularly enthusiastic about Roman customs.
The names “Cumbria” and “Cumberland” are derived from the name these people gave themselves, Cymru (pronounced cum-ri), which originally meant ‘compatriots’ in Old Welsh.The place name Cymru, its Latinised version Cambria, Cumbria and Cumberland all derive their names from this common root.
During the Early Middle Ages Cumberland formed the core of the Brythonic kingdom of Rheged. By the end of the 7th century most of Cumberland had been incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Most of modern-day Cumbria was ruled by Scotland at the time of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 and thus was excluded from the Domesday Book survey of 1086.
In 1092 Cumberland was invaded by William II and incorporated into England. Nevertheless, the region was dominated by the many wars and border skirmishes between England and Scotland of the Latter Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, and the associated Border Reivers who exploited the dynamic political situation of the region.
There were at least three sieges of Carlisle fought between England and Scotland, and two further sieges during the Jacobite Risings of the 18th century. After the Risings, Cumberland became a more stable place and, as in the rest of Northern England, the Industrial Revolution caused a large growth in urban populations. In particular, the west-coast towns of Workington, Millom and Barrow-in-Furness saw large iron and steelworks develop.
Barrow also developed a significant shipbuilding industry. Kendal, Keswick and Carlisle all became mill towns, with textiles, pencils and biscuits among the products manufactured in the region.
The early 19th century saw the county gain fame as the Lake Poets and other artists of the romantic movement, such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, lived among, and were inspired by, the lakes and mountains of the region.
Later, the children’s writer Beatrix Potter also wrote in the region and became a major landowner, granting much of her property to the National Trust on her death. In turn, the large amount of land owned by the National Trust assisted in the formation of the Lake District National Park (area 2 on the map above) in 1951, which remains the largest National Park in England and has come to dominate the identity and economy of the county.
The Westmorland Gazette and Cumberland and Westmorland Herald continue to use the ancient regional names of the region. Many large companies and organisations are based in Cumbria. The county council itself employs around 17,000 individuals, while the largest private employer in Cumbria, the Sellafield nuclear processing site, has a workforce of 10,000. Tata Steel owns a cast products plant at Workington, The Stobart Group, owns a large haulage depot at Workington, Carr’s is a successful foodstuff and agricultural brand that was established in 1831 in Carlisle and Center Parcs owns a large resort in Whinfell Forest near Penrith. But tourism remains the largest and most widespread industry in Cumbria. The Lake District National Park alone receives some 15.8m visitors every year and over 36,000 Cumbrians are employed in the tourism industry which adds £1.1 billion a year to the county’s economy. The Lake District and county as a whole attracts visitors from across the UK, Europe, North America and the Far East (particularly Japan).
Parnassia palustris, above right, commonly called Marsh Grass-of-Parnassus or Bog-star, is the county flower of Cumbria and Sutherland.