Geography and geology

Pages c-cx

Magna Britannia: Volume 4, Cumberland. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1816.

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Geographical and Geological Description of the County.

Boundaries, Extent, &c. — The county of Cumberland is situated on the western coast and on the borders of Scotland; being bounded on the west by the Irish sea, on the north by Scotland, on the east by Northumberland and Durham, and on the south by Westmorland and Lancashire. Its extreme length from north-east to south-west, is about 72 miles, its extreme breadth (from the junction of Crook-Burn with the Tees to the borders of Scotland, at the end of the Scots-Dyke, in the parish of Kirk-Andrews) about 38 miles. The circumference is calculated at 224 miles, containing 1516 square miles, or 970,240 acres.

Reckoning the total quantity of acres at 970,000, the editors of the Agricultural Survey, written in 1793, calculate that there were 470,000 acres of old inclosures, 150,000 of improvable common, that 8000 were occupied by lakes and waters, and that the remainder, 342,000 acres, were unimprovable wastes in the mountainous districts. Since this period nearly 200,000 acres, comprising a much greater quantity than had been reckoned of improvable common, have been inclosed under several acts of parliament, and more than half that quantity within the last ten years.

Soils and Strata. — The principal soils of this county are a rich strong loam, extending over a small portion of it; dry loams, including the various degrees from the rich light brown loam to the light sandy soils, which occupies a larger portion of the county than any other, not only the lower districts but the sides of some of the mountains; and wet loams and black peat earth, which prevail chiefly in the mountainous districts, particularly those bordering on Northumberland and Durham. (fn. n1)

The county of Cumberland (fn. n2), considered in reference to its physical structure, may be conveniently divided into three districts: the first of them, including the great mountain range of Cross-Fell, forms the eastern division of the county; the second comprehends the mountainous tract of the lakes; the third is the valley, bounded by these ridges, and extending towards the south into Westmorland, towards the north to Solway-Frith. The first of these consists of alternate beds of lime-stone, sand-stone, slate, clay, and coal, dipping gently towards the east, in which direction the mountains also decline, being very precipitous towards the west. They abound in veins of lead, &c.

The junction of these strata with the red sand-stone beneath, may be traced from near Kirkland, in a line nearly parallel to the river Eden, a little to the east of Brampton, by Stapleton to Kirkshope, on the borders of Scotland.

The coal, which occurs in considerable quantity on the high ground just described, is in general of inferior quality; but some beds at Talkin-Fell, Tindal-Fell, and Cold, or more properly Coal-Fell, are tolerably good. The city of Carlisle, and indeed all the places on the eastern side of the county, derive their supply of fuel from these pits.

The second division, including the south-west part of the county, is bounded by a curve line beginning at the foot of Ulswater, and continued to Penruddock, Hesket-Newmarket, Uldale, Cockermouth, Ennerdale, Wastdale, Eskdale, and Black-Comb. It consists of rocks belonging to the primitive and transition classes; granite, syenite, green-stone, greenstone-slate, clay-slate, compact feld-spar, and porphyry, are abundant. On the north of Saddleback is a small quantity of gneiss and mica-slate. Primitive limestone has not been discovered. Hornblend-rock is of rare occurrence, and it is doubtful whether the rock, which, constitutes the summit of Skiddaw and Saddleback, can maintain the denomination which has sometimes been given to it of hornblend-slate.

A thin bed of transition lime-stone occurs at the south-west extremity of the county, and is covered by slate. Some lead and copper mines are wrought in this division, but not to any great extent. The graphite or plumbago of Borrowdale, is well known all over Europe.

The remaining division is occupied partly by red sand-stone, partly by a series of beds of lime-stone, sand-stone, coal, &c. analogous to those on the Cross-Fell range. The red sand-stone occupies a considerable extent of country, appearing along the foot of the range just mentioned, and extending to about a mile west of Penrith, from whence its western boundary may be traced near the following places, Blencowe, Skelton, across the Caldew river, a little below Sebergham, to Westward, Allhallows, Aspatria, and to the sea near Allonby. In the marl associated with this sand-stone, gypsum is worked at Newbiggin, Coat-Hill, and St. Bees-Head, near Whitehaven.

The red sand-stone is known in some places to exceed sixty fathoms in thickness. No coal has been discovered in it, nor any metallic veins.

It is extremely probable that the tract of red sand-stone in this valley, comprehends two distinct series of beds, bearing a close resemblance to each other in mineralogical character, but deposited at very different periods, the one lying beneath the rocks which form the escarpment on the east of the county, the other lying upon the coal measures at Whitehaven. (fn. n3)

Between the mountainous district of the lakes and the valley of Carlisle, occurs a belt of compact lime-stone, slate-clay, sand-stone, and coal, which rise on every side towards the primitive country.

Magnesian lime-stone intervenes between the coal and red sand-stone at Whitehaven and the lime-stone on Broadfield, belongs in all probability to the same formation.

The mountain called Great-Barrock has a cap of basalt, and there is a hummock called Caer-mote near Bothel, composed of amygdaloid and clay porphyry, resting upon coal measures.

Surface and Scenery. — The surface of Cumberland is much diversified; the northern and north-western parts, bordering on the Irish sea, the Solway-Frith, and Scotland, are generally level, and do not afford any interesting scenery, except in the course of the several rivers; of the Caldew, near Sebergham, Dalston, and Rose Castle (fn. n4), and of the Eden, the banks of which are in several places well wooded and very beautiful, especially about Corby Castle. The walks at Nunnery, upon the banks of the little river Croglin, which falls into the Eden, exhibit much romantic and beautiful scenery, produced by a mountain stream, broken by frequent cascades, and accompanied with a great variety of rock and wood.

The eastern and south-western parts of the county are chiefly occupied by mountains, many of which are of considerable height; between these and the level part above noticed, are lower ranges of smooth hills, most of which are distinguished by the appellation of fells. The mountainous district which forms the eastern boundary, is a long continued range of mountains and high ground, called by the names of Cross-fell, Hartside-fell, Geltsdale forest, and Spadeadam waste; none of these present by any means a picturesque appearance, their summits being for the most part very little broken.

The numerous mountains in the south-west part of the county, present a great variety of grand and picturesque forms; and are accompanied by lakes of considerable extent, and highly cultivated vallies, in many parts well wooded; forming altogether some of the most remarkable and beautiful scenery in the kingdom. The principal mountains are known by the names of Black-Comb, Skiddaw, Saddleback, Bow-fell, Grasmere-fell, Helvellyn, Hardknott, Wry-nose, High-Pike, Pillar, Sea-fell, and the Screes (fn. n5) : several of these are very precipitous and rugged.

The largest of the lakes is Ulswater, which for the space of about six miles forms the boundary between the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland: the whole lake is somewhat more than eight miles in length, and being in no part quite a mile wide, has much the appearance of a river. The scenery of this lake is remarkably beautiful and picturesque; its most prominent feature is the mountain Helvellyn, which with some other subordinate ones, seen over Patterdale with summits sharp and pointed, have been said to resemble the Alpine forms more than any others in this country: the beauty of this scene is considerably encreased by an adequate portion of oak wood in Gobarrow park, and other parts bordering on the lake.

The mountain Helvellyn is also the most conspicuous among those rugged and barren objects which are seen from the lake of Thirlemeer or Leatheswater, which is long and narrow like Ulswater, but of smaller dimensions, situated at the entrance into the small but beautiful vale of St. John's.

One of the finest scenes in Cumberland is that of the vale of Keswick, containing the lakes of Derwentwater, and Bassenthwaite or Broad-water, communicating with each other by a small stream. The boundaries of Derwentwater, consisting of fine woods of oak and rich inclosures, over which are seen the mountain of Skiddaw at the northern extremity, and Borrowdale at the southern, with what Gray has termed "its turbulent chaos of mountain behind mountain," present a great variety of magnificent and beautiful scenes; a considerable addition to these, in rainy seasons, is Lowdore waterfall, the height of which is said to be not less than 200 feet.

Borrowdale, a narrow valley, bounded on either side by steep rocky mountains, affords a variety of picturesque scenes. The objects which have attracted most notice, are, the village of Grange, situated on rising ground near the entrance of the valley; the hill called Castle-Cragg, of a conical form, covered with wood, and having on its summit traces of a military work; and the Bowder-stone, thirty-one yards in length and eight in height (fn. n6). lying detached upon a rock.

The lake of Buttermere lies to the north-west, at no great distance from Borrowdale, surrounded by rugged mountains, the most remarkable of which are, Honister-Cragg, High-Style, and Red-Pike; and a little further northward lie Crummock-water and Lows-water, connected with each other and with Buttermere by a small stream.

At the western extremity of this group of mountains are those distinguished by the names of Hardknot, Wry-nose, Sca.fell, and the Screes; the three first form the eastern boundary of Eskdale, which, viewed from the richly wooded hills about Muncaster Castle, at the opposite extremity, exhibits one of the finest views in Cumberland, The precipitous side of the Screes forms the southern boundary of Wastwater, and by descending quite into the lake, gives it a different character from any of the others: the scenery in the neighbourhood of Wastdale is extremely picturesque.

Rivers.—The two principal rivers of this county are the Eden and the Derwent. The Eden, which rises in Westmorland, after having been a boundary between the two counties for about two miles, skirting the parish of Kirkland, enters Cumberland about a mile south of Edenhall, passes by Edenhall, Langwathby, and Great-Salkeld, to Kirk-Oswald; thence near Nunnery and Armathwaite Castle, between Corby Castle and Wetherall to Warwick-bridge; thence near Crosby and Stanwix to Carlisle; and from thence near Grinsdale, Kirk-Andrews, Beaumont, and Rowcliffe. Not far from the latter place it falls into the sea; its course in Cumberland being about 35 miles.

The Derwent rises in Borrowdale, about five miles south-west of Derwentwater, which it feeds; after merging from the lake, it passes between Crosthwaite and Portingscales to Bassenthwaite-water, of which also it is the feeder; issuing thence it passes by Armathwaite-hall, under Euse-bridge, by Isel to Cockermouth, where it is joined by the Cocker; thence passing near Papcastle, Brigham, Ribton-hall, Camerton, and Workington, it falls into the sea near the last-mentioned place; its course from Derwentwater being about 20 miles.

The other principal rivers are here arranged in alphabetical order.

The Bleng rises near Ponsonby fell, passes near Gosforth, and falls into the Irt between Nether-Wasdale and Santon, about six miles from its rise.

The Calder rises not far from Ennerdale water, passes by Calder Abbey between Ponsonby and Sella-park, and falls into the sea at Calder-foot, its course being about eight miles.

The Caldew, called near its source Cald-beck and Caldew-beck, rises on Caldbeck fell, passes near Sebergham and Rose Castle to Dalston, and falls into the Eden at Carlisle; its course from Caldbeck to Carlisle being about thirteen miles.

The Cocker rises out of Buttermere water (which is fed by some small streams rising among the hills to the south;) it passes through Crumock water, to the north of which a pretty large stream connects with Loweswater. The Cocker passes northward, a little more to the east, and leaving Lorton on the right, passes to Cockermouth, where it joins the Derwent; its course from Crumockwater to Cockermouth being about six miles.

The Croglin rises on Thackthorn fell, passes Croglin, contributes to the beautiful scenery at Nunnery, where it forms several small cascades, and falls into the Eden near that place.

The Dudden rises near Hardknot, and passing by Ulpha and Thwaites, becomes for some distance the boundary between Lancashire and Cumberland, and falls into the sea between Kirkby and Millom. There is a ford over this river at Dudden Sands.

The Eamont, issuing out of Ulsewater, runs to the south of Penrith, and joins the Lowther about a mile to the west, after a course of about five miles, during which it divides the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland.

The Ellen or Elne rises upon Caldfell, and passing by Uldale, Ireby, Bolton, Torpenhow, Whitehall, Harby-brow, Blennerhasset, Aspatria, Hayton Castle, Outerby, Allerby, Dearham, Ellenborough, and Netherhall, falls into the sea at Maryport.

The Enn issues out of Ennerdale-water, which is fed by a small stream, called in the maps Liza, rising about four miles to the south. From Ennerdale-water it passes by Ennerdale chapel, Clentor, Egremont, and St. Bride, and falls into the sea at Enn-foot, after a course of about eleven miles from the lake.

The Esk which gives name to Eskdale ward, rises in the Cheviot-hills. At Canonby it becomes for a short distance the boundary between England and Scotland; entering Cumberland it passes by Kirk-Andrews, Netherby, by the edge of Solway moss, and after being joined by the Leven, falls into the sea near Rockliffe marsh; its course through Cumberland being about six miles.

The Esk in the ward of Allerdale above Derwent, is formed by some small streams which rise near Bow-fell; it runs through a valley which takes the name of Eskdale, and passing by Muncaster and Waberthwaite, falls into the sea at Ravenglas; its course being about thirteen miles.

The Gelt rises in Croglin fell, and passing near Castle-Carrock, falls into the Irthing near Bridgwood foot; its course being about ten miles.

The Greeta issues out of Thirlmeer, near Threlkeld, and passing near Keswick, joins the Derwent soon after it emerges from the lake, about seven miles from Thirlmeer.

The Irt, issuing from Wast-water (which is supplied by several small streams from above Wastdale-head) passes by Nether-Wasdale, Santon, Irton, between Drigg and Carlton, and falls into the sea near Ravenglas, its course being about eight miles.

The Irthing rises on the borders of Northumberland, and for about sixteen miles forms the boundary of the counties; about a mile after passing Gilsland Spa, it enters Cumberland, and running by the two Dentons, Naworth Castle, Lanercost, Brampton Old Church, Irthington, and Newby, falls into the Eden; its course after it enters Cumberland being about thirteen miles.

The Kershope, a small river, is for a course of about six miles from Dove Craggs to its junction with the Liddell, the boundary between Cumberland and Scotland.

The Kingwater, rising near Side Common, falls into the Irthing at Kellwood (fn. n7); its course being about ten miles.

The Leven or Line is formed of the junction of two rivers, called the Black Line and the White Line. The Black Line, which rises near Dove Craggs, runs by Trough; the White Line, rising near Christenbury Craggs, runs by Nixon and Line-holme; after the junction the Line passes near Shank-Castle, Brackenhill, Kirk-linton, and West-linton, and falls into the Esk, not far from its embouchure. The two streams join at about ten miles distance from their respective rise: the course of the Line after the junction is about twelve miles.

The Liddell is for about eight miles the boundary between Cumberland and Scotland, from its junction with the Kershope to its junction with the Esk.

The Lowther divides Cumberland and Westmorland from near Brougham Castle till it falls into the Eden, about a mile south of Edenhall.

The Mite, issuing out of Burnmoor tarn, runs through Miterdale, and falls into the sea at Ravenglas; its course being about seven miles.

The Nent rises in the south-east extremity of the parish of Alston, and falls into the town near the town of Alston; its course being about six miles.

The Petterell, which rises in the parish of Greystock, not far from Plumpton, runs by Ellerton, Petterell Crooks, Wreay, Newbiggin, and Upperby, and falls into the Eden near Rickerby; its course being about twenty miles.

The Sark is the boundary between Cumberland and Scotland for about five miles, near Solway moss.

The Tees, which rises on Cross-fell, is for nearly four miles the boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland, at the southern extremity of the parish of Alston.

The Tyne rises near the southern extremity of the parish of Alston, runs by Garrigill and near Alston town, about a mile and a half north of which it leaves the county and enters Northumberland; its course from its rise having been about nine miles.

The Wampool rises near Gill in Dalston, and having been joined near Dockwray by the Wiza, which rises near Rosley and runs by Westward, Old Carlisle, and Wigton. The Wampool, after it receives the Wiza, passes by Gamblesby and Wampool, and falls into the sea about half a mile west of Kirkbride; its course being about twelve miles.

The Waver, which rises on Catland fell, runs by Waverton, Dundraw, and Abbey-Holme, and falls into the sea about half a mile from the latter; its course being about twelve miles.

Lakes and Tarns. — The principal lakes of Cumberland are Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite, Buttermere, Crumock, Loweswater, Ennerdale, Wast-water, Thirlmeer, and Devock-lake: Ulswater is partly in Cumberland and partly in Westmorland. The beautiful scenery of some of these lakes is elsewhere briefly spoken of. The chief of the smaller lakes or tarns as they are called, are Burn moor tarn at the head of the Mite, two nameless tarns near Sella-field and Bray (in St. Bride's and St. John's parishes); the Stank near Abbey-Holme; Martin tarn in Aikton; Over-water not far from Uldale; the lough near Anthorn, in Bowness; a small lough near Rowcliffe; Tarn-Wadling in Hesket; Talkin tarn, in the parish of Hayton; and Tindale tarn, near the borders of Northumberland.

Besides the more common river fish, such as pike, trout, eels, &c. salmon are abundant in the Eden, Esk, and Derwent; sea-trout, branlin, or samlet, &c. There are lampreys and graylings, shad, and occasionally sturgeon in the Eden and Esk. The lakes abound in trout, and the gwiniad or schelly; pike and other common river fish; there are charr in Ulswater, Crummockwater, Buttermere, and Ennerdale water: Tarn-Wadlin abounds with carp.

Roads.—The great road from London to Glasgow enters this county near the town of Penrith, at the bridge over the Eamont. From Penrith by Plumpton-wall, Plumpton-street, High and Low-Hesket, and Carleton to Carlisle, 18 miles. Thence through Stanwix, Blackfbrd, West-linton, and Arthuret to Longtown, nine miles. About four miles beyond Longtown it reaches the borders of Scotland, where you cross the Sark to Springfield and Gretna-green. The road from Carlisle to Edinburgh branches off at Longtown, and reaches the borders in three miles, passing through Kirk-Andrews.

The road from Carlisle to Newcastle passes through Stanwix, Drawdykes, and Crosby to Brampton, about nine miles; and leaving Naworth Castle to the left, about six miles beyond that town enters Northumberland.

The carriage (fn. n8) road from Carlisle to Bowness (thirteen miles) passes through Kirk-Andrews, Burgh, and Drumburgh.

The road from Carlisle to Cockermouth, Workington, and Whitehaven, is by way of Wigton, which is nearly eleven miles from Carlisle; passing through Woodhouses and Micklethwaite, leaving Orton to the right and Crofton hall to the left; thence by Cockbridge to Cockermouth. From Cockermouth it continues, leaving Brigham church on the right, by Little and Great Clifton, and Stainburn, (eight miles) to Workington. At Little-Clifton a road turns off by Winscales, through Distington and Moresby to Whitehaven; the distance from Cockermouth to Whitehaven being about fourteen miles.

The carriage road from Carlisle to Allonby and Maryport passes through Wigton. From Wigton to Allonby is twelve miles, passing through Waverton and West-Newton, and leaving Hayton Castle to the left. From Wigton to Maryport is sixteen miles, the road branching off from that last described at Waverton, and passing through Aspatria, Crosby, and Birkby.

The direct road from Carlisle to Keswick is only thirty miles, passing through Thursby, through Ireby and Bassenthwaite, but there being no intermediate stage, the usual road is through Penrith (thirty-eight miles), from that town to Keswick being nearly twenty miles, through Stainton, Penruddock, and Threlkeld.

The carriage (fn. n9) road from Cockermouth to Abbey-Holme and Skinburness about seventeen miles, leads through Plumbland, Aspatria, West Newton, and Mealrigg. The road from Cockermouth to Wigton (sixteen miles) is through Bothel by Shakenbridge, leaving Torpenhow about a mile to the right, and Allhallows a little to the left, and passes near Old Carlisle. The road from Cockermouth to Hesket-Newmarket (fourteen miles) is by Eusebridge and Uldale, leaving Caldbeck a little on the left.

The nearest road from Keswick to Cockermouth, described in the roadbooks as eight miles though in reality twelve, is through Portingscale and Braithwaite; a more pleasant road is by Bassenthwaite, Hawes, and Eusebridge, leaving Isel to the right; about fourteen miles.

The road from Penrith to Cockermouth is through Keswick. The road from Penrith to Wigton (about twenty-one miles) passes through Hutton, Sebergham, and Rosley; the road continues from Wigton to Abbey-Holme, by Warebridge, six miles. The road from Penrith to Alston-moor (fn. n10) (nearly twenty miles) passes by Edenhall, through Longwathby and Melmerby, over Hartside-fell. The road from thence to Haltwhistle enters Northumberland about two miles and a half beyond Alston. The road from Penrith to Kirk-Oswald, about eight miles, passes near Salkeld, and through Lazonby.

The road from Whitehaven to Workington (eight miles) is through Moresby and Distington. From Whitehaven to St. Bees is a carriage road, four miles and a quarter. From Whitehaven to Dudden sands, on the road to Ulverston (and through Lancashire to London) is about twenty-nine miles. It passes through Hensingham to Egremont (fn. n11) five miles; thence leaving Cleator on the left, St. John's and Ponsonby on the right, to Calder-bridge, nine miles; thence through Gosforth, leaving Drigg on the right and Irton and Muncaster on the left, to Ravenglass, sixteen miles; from Ravenglass, leaving Waberthwaite, Corney, and Seaton on the left, to Bootle; and from thence through Whitbeck, near Whicham and Millom Church and Castle, to Dudden sands. There is a road from Dudden bridge over Stonehead-fell to Muncaster and Ravenglass, about eleven miles. There is a road also from Whitehaven and Egremont by Wastdale to Hawkshead, &c. in Lancashire, and so to London; and another from Whitehaven by way of Ennerdale to Hawkshead, &c.


  • n1. Agricultural Survey of Cumberland, 1805.
  • n2. For the greater part of our information respecting the strata and mineralogy of Cumberland, we are indebted to E.L. Irton, Esq., and — Fryer, Esq.
  • n3. A particular account of the disposition and thickness of the several strata in some of the coal pits near Whitehaven; the distance of the beds from each other; and their depth below the surface; is given in the form of tables by Dr. Dixon, in his account of these coal mines, added to his literary life of Dr. Brownrigg, 1801, octavo, p. 113—124.
  • n4. The Irthing, in the neighbourhood of Lanercost, the Eske, on the borders of Scotland.
  • n5. The following are the heights of the principal mountains and hills of Cumberland, taken from "The altitudes of the stations and other hills, computed from the observations made in the course of the trigonometrical survey," 1811, quarto.
    Sca-fell (high point) 3166
    — (low point) 3092
    Helvellyn 3055
    Skiddaw 3022
    Bow-fell 2911
    Cross-fell 2901
    Pillar 2893
    Saddle-back 2787
    Grasmere-fell 2756
    High-pike 2101
    Black-Comb 1919
    Dent-hill 1115
  • n6. Clarke's Survey, p. 82.
  • n7. So Denton — it is Kite-wood, in the map.
  • n8. It is not turnpike.
  • n9. It is not turnpike.
  • n10. Ibid.
  • n11. It is a turnpike road only to this place.