Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends:
The River Derwent is one of the fastest rivers in Europe. It is “a spate river falling some 2500 feet in elevation and travelling around 25 miles, source to sea”.
Rather than following this tumultuous river from its source in a rift on Esk Hause above Borrowdale, H.C.Ivison works his way upstream from the Guts at Workington, through Seaton and Camerton, Clifton and Brigham, Papcastle and Cockermouth and then through the secluded valley past Isel and along Bassenthwaite Lake and Dewentwater before ascending through the Jaws of Borrowdale and on to the Derwent’s source.
It is a special journey along the “river of oaks”, the “river of saints and sinners”.
The lower town in Workington “gathered around the coast and river mouth”. The Marsh and the Quay, now in the process of redevelopment, were “a vibrant community until the recent past”. The upper town with its Georgian houses “gathered around Workington Hall”.
Workington was where, many centuries before, St Cuthbert’s body is reputed “to have sought the sea”. Mary Queen of Scots, with her hair cut short and dressed as a boy, found temporary refuge in the town. A Viking sword was found when the foundations were being dug for Northside Bridge and there is “a persistent local story of a body being found in conjunction with the sword”.
After Calva Bridge and Burrow Walls comes Barepot, “a pleasant collection of houses of varying ages and styles”, once the home of Workington’s first blast furnace. Cannons and cannonballs used at the Battle of Trafalgar were made here, and, it is said, that the cannons were tested by firing the balls across the Derwent into the opposite bank.
Camerton Church, almost on an island in the river, is “loved, cared for and well-used”. After the disastrous floods of 2009, St Peter’s was threatened with closure, and it was only through “the sheer will and determination of its supporters, volunteers and friends” that the church reopened in the summer of 2011.
Gote Bridge on the edge of Cockermouth has “a rather morbid claim to fame”. The Carlisle hangman, a Mr Wilson, is said to have committed suicide here in 1752.
Cockermouth seems in an ideal situation. “It is obvious that it lies in a sheltered dip, and the town can appear almost magical, especially in the half-light.”
Ouse Bridge was once the setting for a tragic incident. A young man was riding home to introduce his pregnant fiancée to his parents. She was riding pillion and when he stopped to adjust the saddle girths, she supposedly fell off the parapet of Ouse Bridge and drowned. He appeared distraught, but two weeks later he was confronted by his fiancée and committed to Carlisle Court on a charge of attempted murder.
Looking up Derwentwater from Crow Park, H.C.Ivinson finds it “easy to see why the Norse believed that these mountaintops were the homes of their gods”.
The Derwent is a magical river. By rambling upstream H.C.Ivinson is able to take us on a leisurely journey through an interesting, varied and beautiful landscape, rich in anecdote and history. It is an affectionate portrait of a river he loves.
The book is well illustrated with photographs of the sparkling waters and of the many fine bridges, churches and houses that are found on and about the River Derwent.
The River Derwent is available from Bookends, 56 Castle Street, Carlisle, and 66 Main Street, Keswick, and from www.bookscumbria.com.