I have to be careful what I say about Millom, after all I was there to visit a good friend who grew up in the town. I think the kindest thing I can say about this West Cumbrian outpost, is that it is blessed by extraordinary natural surroundings. To the north are the hulking mountains of Black Combe and White Combe; to the east lies the picturesque Duddon Valley and the otherworldly Duddon Sands; and to the south lies the beautiful Hodbarrow Nature Reserve. Everything west is Irish Sea.
The town wears the suffering of a long and not very graceful post industrial decline like a shroud, something underlined by my visit to the tourist information office. On my map the tourist office was in the library, but had recently relocated to the train station. The station is the sort of place that would make you question whether you’d made a mistake by getting off the train.
The tourist office consisted of racks of leaflets, none of which were about Millom. A friendly woman came over and asked if she could help. “I’m just wondering what there is to do in Millom,” I said. It quickly became clear that this is not a question people ask very often. She half-heartedly looked at the racks of leaflets, in her heart knowing that there wasn’t any point. To break the tension, I picked up a few leaflets about other places and politely made my exit.
I walked back through the town and bought a delicious homemade steak pie (they do a good pie in these parts). I stopped to read a dilapidated board advertising day trips to my home town of Kendal. When Kendal seems like a good idea for a day trip, things must be bad. I was beginning to think a former Mayor of Copeland had hit the nail on the head when he described Millom as “a place of despair”.
I don’t want to be unfair though, so let’s just say that it’s not a place that lends itself to conventional tourism. Millom has an interesting history, built on deposits of high grade iron ore, and the Hodbarrow Nature Reserve is a truly wonderful place. I know this because I’d just spent a few hours walking around it and the Duddon Sands. It’s this area that explains why Millom exists at all.
In 1855 large deposits of iron ore were discovered around Hodbarrow. In a very short period of time, what had been a few small hamlets and farms was an industrial boom town of 10,000 people. At its peak, this was one of the largest iron ore workings in Europe. All the more remarkable then that almost no trace of that history exists today, except for some structures around the nature reserve.
I walked around the reserve, now an important haven for bird life, and marvelled at its beauty. Millom was framed by Black Combe and to the east were the majestic hills of the Lake District National Park. The view from Duddon Sands was even more dramatic, and, as I walked out as far as I could without ending up in the water, the view just kept expanding. It was magnificent, and the whole area was illuminated by wild flowers.
The strange thing about Millom, is that they make almost nothing of the fact that one of Britain’s finest 20th century poets spent his entire life here. Norman Nicholson was a literary giant to rival W.H. Auden and Ted Hughes, although he’s not nearly as well known. Nicholson took his inspiration from the people of this area, he narrated the industrial decline of West Cumbria, and he wrote of the landscape in a way that is the polar opposite of that other Lakeland poet, Wordsworth.
On the way out of town I stopped at the 12th century church of Holy Trinity, which sits next to the ruins of Millom Castle. This was a reminder of a different, earlier history. There may not be many reasons to visit Millom, but spectacular views over the Duddon Estuary, Norman Nicholson’s ghost, a 12th century church, and a glorious nature reserve, all stake a pretty strong claim for half a day of anyone’s time.
12 thoughts on “A place of despair? Misunderstood Millom”
Hi there! My name is Jess, I’m working on a few display/information boards for a refurbishment of the Millom Discovery Centre and found your blog. Hoping to use a few of these lovely photos on the boards with your permission? If you’d like any more information just let me know – thanks for any help! -Jess
Hi Jess, yes, very happy for you to use any of the photos – I was lucky that it was such a lovely day. Let me know which pictures you’d like to use.
The Mayor is the current Mayor, and was talking about the people feeling neglected by politics, rather than the lovely area that they live in.
If your description of West Cumbrian politics is anything to go by, I’m not surprised that was his reference point. Hodbarrow is a very beautiful area though.
You seem quite cognizant about English Lit and poetry. What did you “read” as you Brits say?
I’ve always been a fan of poetry. My first ever job was at the Wordsworth Trust. So I worked at the home of a famous poet and spent 2 years learning about poetry … but I didn’t read literature. History was my thing – you can probably tell that from the blog!
Yes one can tell. So you read History? Any particular focus? (I am quite a History addict myself) And Wordsworth? My, my. I am not so big on poetry. I know of him but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything. Will correct that ASAP. Tot ziens
You’re history addict but also a writer, Brian. I never had the knack for fiction, which is why I think I went towards history – my dissertation was the role of religion on attitudes towards the indigenous inhabitants of New England and New France. A subject guaranteed to make sure you never get invited to dinner parties!
Wordsworth was a radical in his youth, a big supporter of the French Revolution – he was in France when the Revolution started. He described it this way: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” He became disillusioned during the Terror and in old age was an arch conservative. He also had an illegitimate child in France, so somewhere there are French Wordsworths…
Here’s a link and a bit of commentary: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/michaeltomasky/2008/dec/08/barackobama-williamwordsworth-plastics
Hope all’s well, Paul
An intersting poem (and dissertation). So there would be some Valeurdumot in France? 😉
Reblogged this on Die Erste Eslarner Zeitung – Aus und über Eslarn, sowie die bayerisch-tschechische Region!.
looks very serene ❤
It was, and very beautiful.