Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The publisher is German. Their series of travel guides offers 111 places to visit in a strangely varied range of locations. There’s everywhere from Jerusalem to Iceland with Sheffield, Malta and the Algarve in between.
And everything from the plain yellow cover with its bold white lettering and its inset image of a Herdwick sheep suggests this is a different take on the usual Lake District guide.
The author, Solange Berchemin, suggests that the Lakes, being a World Heritage site, is on par with the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands. It’s a high bar to set and she promises to take “a peek into the inmost corners” of well known locations and she ranges from the Kadampa Buddhist temple at Ulverston to the Cracker Packers in Carlisle.
The Cracker Packer statue by Hazel Reeves, unveiled on International Women’s Day in 2018, shows two women workers standing on a plinth that looks like a Carr’s Table Water biscuit. Solange finds the statue “a sensitive piece, intriguing yet humorous”.
She also recommends a visit to “the first recorded African community in Britain”. That’s at Brough by Sands. It seems that the five hundred or so soldiers garrisoned in Roman times in the fort of Alballave included a unit recruited in Morocco called the Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum.
She also recommends the hamman in James Street in Carlisle. That’s right, the splendid Edwardian Turkish Baths. “Designed in a flamboyant Moorish style of blue, green, cream and grey glazed brickwork, the central room is without a doubt the masterpiece.”
Solange also enjoys Sarah Losh’s church in Wreay, even though she, perhaps oddly, includes it in the alphabetical listing as being in Armathwaite. It’s “a must-see destination”. “The church is alive with creatures bats evoking darkness, cockerels for light . . . Nature is everywhere – lotuses on candlesticks, pinecones, symbols of regeneration and inner enlightenment gargoyles, which Sarah called ‘emblematic monsters’.”
In Armathwaite proper she visits the yellow and brown signal box. It’s painted in the Midland Railway colours. It was opened in 1899 and closed in 1983, restored in 1992 and, with its original 16 lever signals, it must be one of the smallest and prettiest museums in the country.
In Workington she recommends you visit the clock sculpture by Andy Plant called Lookout that’s to be found in the town centre. When you’re there you should “Goggle through a porthole on the giant, on the giant spherical steel body of the clock to admire it all.”
In Cockermouth she takes tea the Squirrels Pantry where every effort is being made to sustain the diminishing population of red squirrels.
In the Keswick area, of course, Solange finds plenty of attractions, many of them old favourites. There’ s the Bowder Stone, which “seems to defy gravity”, Catbells, with its tales of wildcats and a hedgehog washerwoman, the Centenary Stone on Calfclose bay, the Pencil Museum, George Fisher, the Puzzling Place and Lingholm Walled Gardens, but there’s no mention of Keswick’s own museum or Skiddaw or Derwentwater itself.
But then there’s only room for 111 places and Solange has made a delightful and eccentric choice from the infinite range of places to go and things to see. Perhaps the comparison with the Great Barrier Reef or the Galapagos Islands wasn’t so silly after all, but I’m not so sure how the publishers managed to find 111 places in Sheffield.