Culture, Destinations

Revealed: Cumbria’s 50 Finest Icons

Guidebook author Alfred Wainwright has been voted Cumbria’s greatest icon in a poll to define the spirit and character of Britain’s best-loved region.

Melvyn Bragg, Chris Bonington, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, author and broadcaster Stuart Maconie, Joss Naylor and Hunter Davies are among those who helped to create the definitive list of Cumbria’s Finest 50 Icons.

Alfred Wainwright, guidebook author and reluctant celebrity, won the poll by a significant margin. His victory confirms the experience at Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, where a summer-long exhibition devoted to his life and works, titled Wainwright: A Love Letter to the Lakeland Fells, has drawn record attendance figures.

The special poll, the scope of which spanned the modern county of Cumbria from the west coast to the North Pennines and the Scottish to the Yorkshire/Lancashire borders, was held to identify the elements which together define the spirit and character of Britain’s best-loved region. It was conducted among readers of Cumbria magazine and the full list of the Finest 50 icons appears in the October issue of the monthly magazine (available from September 24).

A number of celebrities and public figures were invited to describe their personal icons and their choices appear in the special October issue along with those of Cumbria magazine’s readers and contributors.

Among the familiar names featured are Lord Melvyn Bragg, Beatles and Alfred Wainwright biographer Hunter Davies, climber Sir Chris Bonington, fell running legend Joss Naylor, LibDem leader Tim Farron and broadcaster Eric Robson, who is chairman of the Wainwright Society.

Icons as diverse as Lakeland mountains, delicacies, authors, visitor attractions and wildlife attracted, between them, thousands of votes. Alfred Wainwright won by a considerable margin. The man whose hand-drawn guidebooks have introduced generations to the beauty of the Lakeland fells was born in Blackburn and didn’t clap eyes on the fells until he was twenty-three years-old; nevertheless, for many of those who voted, his spirit epitomises so much that is great about Cumbria.

One of the world’s best-loved youth hostels features in the Finest 50 Icons poll results. Black Sail Hut, in wild Ennerdale, vies with Skiddaw House for the title of most remote hostel accommodation in England. Secluded among some of England’s highest peaks, empty beds are a rarity at this former shepherd’s hut.

Editor John Manning said the eventual list of Finest 50 Icons read like a guidebook to the very best of the county: “It demonstrates what an eclectic wealth of treasures this magnificent county has,” he said. “Our original list of about 250 suggestions grew to almost 500, each an icon in its own right.

“From England’s highest mountains and deepest lake, to some of its greatest literary figures and finest outdoor athletes, Cumbria might have one of the sparsest populations in the land but it has produced and inspired some of its greatest figures and best-loved features.”

The final top ten reads:

1 Alfred Wainwright – fellwalker and guidebook guru

2 Herdwick – unique sheep breed

3 Blencathra – aka Saddleback, subject of a high profile social media purchase bid

4 Beatrix Potter – children’s author and Herdwick breeder

5 William Wordsworth – world-renowned Cockermouth-born Romantic poet

6 Cumberland sausage – recipe enjoys Protected Geographical Indication

7 Langdale – spectacular region of mountains, tarns and valleys

8 Scafell Pike – England’s highest ground, cared for by the National Trust

9 Joss Naylor – record setting fellrunner and farmer

10 Red squirrel – endangered species clinging to survival in Cumbria’s forests

The poll was held to mark a redesign of 68-year-old Cumbria, known as “Lakeland’s favourite magazine”. Readers were asked to cast votes for their favourite six Cumbrian icons and could add their own suggestions to a list of candidates posted on the magazine’s website at The poll was promoted within the magazine and across its own social media sites as well as those of sister title Lakeland Walker.

Melvyn Bragg, author and broadcaster, selected Derwent Water as his personal icon. He wrote: “Wordsworth called Derwent Water ‘the Jewel of the Lakes’. So it is. When I stand at the Keswick end of the Lake and look down at Castle Crags, past the island, I feel that I’m in another world. Cat Bells to the right where I walked so many times, and where my daughter broke her wrist when she slipped on Christmas Eve. The road to Watendlath just hidden across the fell line to the left. Surprise View hidden in the rocks like a rare bird’s nest. And all the boat stations, each one with its own character. I’ve swum in that lake, rowed a boat in that lake, been carried around that lake in a bigger boat; when I was in my early teens I biked up from Wigton to Keswick and to Derwent Water. To stand there and just look at it is to begin to understand what nature and those who have written so deeply about it felt.”

Sir Chris Bonington chose inspiration fellow climber Bill Peascod: “He was born and brought up in Workington into a mining family. He left school at 14 to go down the mine. He started cycling into Buttermere, saw people climbing and followed suit soloing and then meeting up with climbers and going on to make a series of outstanding new routes on the North West Lakeland fells. I had the pleasure of climbing with him when helping to make the Border Television Series, Lakeland Rock. At the age of 64 he led me up Eagle Front, the magnificent route on Eagle Crag, Buttermere which he made the first ascent in the early 1940s… He lived life to the full, was terrific company, a hugely talented climber and painter, he was indeed a Cumbrian Icon.”

Cumbria is the county’s longest-established magazine. Launched in spring 1947 by the local group of the YHA, under the editorship of Leslie Hewkin, it was acquired by current publisher Country Publications in 1951. Published in a quirky A5-format, it continues to reflect the county’s traditions, heritage and culture in inimical style.

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