Think of Cumbria and what springs to mind? A rural retreat complete with hearty hikes and snug pubs? If these are the images scudding across your mind’s eye, you’d not be wrong. Yet there are more things to do in Cumbria than its outdoor image might suggest. Tourism actually began here back in the 1700s, when clergyman Thomas West published a Guide to the Lakes. It banished forever the idea that Cumbria was wild and inhospitable. Instead, West created an “aesthetic tour”, a series of viewing stations where tourists could find the best of the Lakeland views. It’s thanks to West that when we think of the Lake District, we think of a chocolate-box landscape. Yet the ideal of the ‘picturesque’ is both a blessing and a curse: good for tourism, yet occasionally overshadowing the contemporary art that is made, performed and shown here year-round.
Cumbria is full of artists, from those taking part in the C-Art fest to those exhibiting at Blackwell and Abbot Hall. For them, the landscape is more than just a pretty backdrop. The constantly shifting landscape, its ability to turn in a moment from benign beauty to lowering skies, continues to inspire. And it is this that has piqued our interest. So to steal an idea from the Reverend, here’s our Cumbrian tour – a variation of Thomas West’s original, aesthetic guide to the Lakes.