Sally's Review - Famous Cumbrians

1.    Joss Naylor MBE (1936- )

Known as the 'King of the Fells', Joss Naylor has been a champion fell runner for nearly fifty years. And yet Naylor, a sheep farmer from Nether Wasdale, was deemed unfit for National Service as a teenager and overcame a series of injuries that would have caused most of us to live life cautiously. At the age of 30, Naylor completed 72 Lake District peaks, over a distance of 100 miles, with a total ascent of 37,000ft in under 24 hours. In 1986, he complete all 214 Wainwrights in a week. At the age of 60, he ran 60 Lakeland fells in 36 hours. At the age of 70, he completed 70 Lakeland fells; 50 miles and 25,000ft in ascent in under 21 hours.

Fans run in his footsteps on the Joss Naylor Challenge – 30 Lake District summits from Pooley Bridge at Ullswater to Joss's house in Wasdale.

Further reading: 'Joss. The Life & Times of the Legendary Lake District Fell Runner and Shepherd' by Keith Richardson (Pub: River Greta Writer).

2.    Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)

Beatrix Potter was in many ways the ultimate Cumbrian, and yet she was born in London.  Unmarried until her 40s, Beatrix struggled initially to make an independent living. She finally self-published 250 copies of 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' in 1901; these were noticed by the publisher, Frederick Warne, and by the end of the following year, they had printed no less than 28,000 copies. Beatrix went on to write another 22 books, and used the proceeds to buy Hill Top Farm, near Hawkshead.

Her legacy to the Lake District is her interest in conservation and traditional farming; she was a breeder of native Lakes Herdwick sheep, and bought many acres of farmland. On her death in 1943, she bequeathed 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust, including our very own Penny Hill Farm Cottage in Eskdale. The 2006 film, Miss Potter, covers Beatrix's early life; Sally's Cottages' Low Millgillhead was one of the uncredited sets!

3.    St. Patrick (5th c)

Best known as the patron saint of Ireland, most sources agree that St. Patrick was born in Cumbria some time in the fifth century. Opinions are divided as to whether he was brought up at the Roman fort of Birdoswald, in the northeast of the county, or the west Cumbrian coastal village of Ravenglass, site of another Roman fort. Patrick, who had been kidnapped into slavery in Ireland at the age of sixteen, escaped his bondage, landed at Duddon Sands and walked to Patterdale – 'St. Patrick's Dale' near Ullswater. He travelled via Aspatria – ' ash of Patrick' – where the locals took so long to be converted that his ash walking staff grew into a tree! There's also a St. Patrick's Well near Glenridding, where the saint baptised the people of the Ullswater area.

4.    Helen Skelton (1983- )

That's right,' Blue Peter's' action woman is all-Cumbrian! Born in the Eden Valley village of Kirkby Thore, between Appleby and Penrith, Helen started her broadcasting career in local radio and Border Television before becoming a reporter for the BBC's children's news programme, 'Newsround'. She became a 'Blue Peter' presenter in 2008. Since then, Helen has completed the Namibian Ultra marathon – only the second woman to have done so – and has kayaked the length of the Amazon, gaining her two mentions in the Guinness Book of Records. Closer to home, Helen competed in the annual Muncaster Castle Festival of Fools in 2009. Muncaster's famous seventeenth-century jester, the original 'Tom Fool' was actually Thomas Skelton. Perhaps they're related?

5.    Fletcher Christian (1764 – 1793)

It's probably safe to say you're famous if Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson have all played you in blockbuster films. Fletcher Christian was born in Brigham, near Cockermouth, where he went to school with the poet, William Wordsworth. Christian had travelled to India and twice with Captain Bligh to Jamaica before they set off on the ill-fated trip to Tahiti in April, 1789. Later that year, 1300 miles west of Tahiti, Christian led the mutiny on the Bounty.

Having married a Tahitian princess, Christian, eight mutineers, six Tahitian men and eleven Tahitian women landed on Pitcairn Island. By 1808, only one mutineer was left alive. What became of Christian? One said he was shot; another variously said he died of natural causes, committed suicide, or was murdered. Rumours persist, however, that he escaped, returned to the Lake District and inspired Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. Who knows?

6.    Norman Nicholson OBE (1914 – 1987)

Where the River Duddon meets the sea, under the towering form of Black Combe, lies the former mining town of Millom and life-long home to the poet, Norman Nicholson. Nicholson's Cumbrian connection defined both his reputation and his work, with many of his poems paying tribute to the town, the Duddon Valley, and local sights such as Scafell Pike, Whitehaven, Patterdale, stone circles and the western coast. His words contrast vividly the reality of the declining mining town and the timeless grandeur of the natural Lake District environment.

'There stands the base and root of the living rock
Thirty thousand feet of solid Cumberland.' (To the River Duddon)

7.    Stan Laurel (1890 – 1965)

Arthur Stanley Jefferson, better known as Stan Laurel, the skinny half of Laurel and Hardy, was born in Ulverston, where the west Cumbrian coast meets Morecambe Bay. Laurel spent much of his life in the US, meeting Oliver Hardy in 1927 before the 'talkies' had taken over the world of film. Laurel made 190 films in total, including 'Duck Soup', 'Pardon Us' and 'Saps at Sea'. After Oliver Hardy's sudden death in 1957, Laurel never acted again, although he continued to write. A statue of Stan Laurel was unveiled in Ulverston in April '09.

8.    Leo Houlding (1981 - )

Leo Houlding attracts many labels. Rock climber, extreme adventurer, mountaineer, base jumper, snowboarder, surfer and skydiver. Brought up in the village of Bolton in the Eden Valley, Houlding is now based in the Lake District but travels the world climbing. He can still be spotted at Lakes events such as the Keswick Mountain Festival, encouraging young people to try out what he loves best!

Houlding was the first Briton to free-climb El Capitan in 1998, at the age of 17. In 2007, he accompanied Conrad Anker on the Altitude Everest Expedition, which traced the steps of George Mallory; this was the first recorded ascent of the North East Ridge of Everest. Houlding is often spotted on TV these days – the BBC's 'My Right Foot', 'Top Gear', and 'Adrenaline Junkie' with Jack Osbourne.

9.    Catherine Parr (1512 – 1548)

Queen of England from 1543 – 1547, Catherine Parr was the last of Henry VIII's six wives. Catherine was born at Kendal Castle just south of the Lakes, and was an excellent example of Cumbria's strong-willed, outspoken and fair-minded womenfolk. She had been widowed twice before she caught the king's eye in 1543 and was obliged to marry him despite her relationship with Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of the nine-days' queen, Jane Seymour. For three months in 1544, Catherine was appointed Regent whilst Henry VIII was away in France, and carried out all the king's responsibilities.

In 1547, Henry died, and Catherine was free to marry Seymour; her stepdaughter, the future Elizabeth I, came to live with them. Sadly, the relationship was soured by Seymour's attraction to the young princess, and a pregnant Catherine was obliged to send Elizabeth away. Catherine died five days after giving birth to her only daughter in 1548. And the scheming Seymour? Beheaded for treason one year later.

10.    William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

William Wordsworth was promoting Cumbria way before Lake District holidays were invented! A leading figure in the Romantic movement, Wordsworth wrote poetry inspired by strong emotion, but 'remembered in tranquillity'. Born in Cockermouth and educated in Penrith and Hawkshead, Wordsworth returned to the Lake District in 1799 to live in Dove Cottage in Grasmere.

Perhaps his most famous words, written about an Ullswater spring, are:

    'I wandered lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host of golden daffodills...'

Wordsworth also loved the Duddon Valley:

    '...Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide...'

He even mentioned some Lake District trees, known to be ancient even then:

    'There is a Yew-tree, pride of Lorton Vale
    Which to this day stands single...'

    '...But worthier still of note
    Are those fraternal four of Borrowdale.'

In 1813, the Wordsworths moved to Rydal Mount (also open to the public) in Ambleside. William was appointed Poet Laureate in 1843. He died in 1850, and at St. Oswald's, Grasmere.

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