Whitehaven enjoys a fascinating past and has many historic associations. It was from here that John Paul Jones sailed to America only to return, in 1778, on a mission to burn the merchant fleet. Jones later became the founder of the US Navy. The American connection continues with the fact that Whitehaven was, briefly, the home of George Washington's father; but for his mother's death he would have stayed. It was also the birthplace of one of the world's greatest shipbuilding dynasties - the Brocklebanks, of Cunard fame.Recently, Whitehaven has experienced a quite dramatic transformation, not just in the development of new and exciting attractions, and a blossoming calendar of events, but also in the re-creation of its harbour frontage, quays and marina. The detail is staggering, with huge mosaics and tiny shoals of fish; benches in the shape of whales' tails, carved with salty sayings; and around every corner is yet another piece of sculpture.
Tall ships also make more frequent visits to the port, bringing an additional historic perspective to the scene. Perhaps the first place to visit should be THE BEACON, which, in addition to its exhibition depicting the town's history, is also now the starting point for Whitehaven's newest adventure, the QUEST - a blend of guided tour, discovery and fun. The Quest comprises ten themed trails around the harbour and the town's Georgian streets, with a series of questions linked to each walk. So wipe the sea spray off your glasses and start searching.
THE RUM STORY may appear to be a mere 'tot' of an attraction from its old shop frontage, but go up the flagged passageway and it begins to take on wholly unexpected dimensions. The first thing to greet you is a huge, quirky kinetic clock that clatters and whirrs into life every hour to portray the making of rum...and this is just the cafe! The main event commences its journey in a Caribbean jungle and charts the history of the rum trade from slavery to the prohibition years, interwoven with the facts and detail of the Jeffersons, Whitehaven's oldest trading family.
For a different sort of spiritual refreshment seek out the calming LABYRINTH in Trinity Gardens. Laid out in a 40 foot mosaic of stone, this labyrinth is based on a medieval pattern and, unlike a maze, there is only one way in and one way out - rather like Whitehaven's traffic system.
The HAIG COLLIERY MINING MUSEUM is situated high on the cliffs, with a commanding view across the Irish Sea. Suprisingly, coal mining in the area was first recorded as early as 1250, but it was the Lowther family, after the Civil War, who realised the extent of the seams. The museum primarily records mining over the last 250 years - from the local living conditions to the challenges facing engineers. There is a restored Bever Dorling winding engine, the tall silhouetted headgear, and plenty of other features for all ages. It is a fine example of Cumbria's industrial heritage.
A Quest, salty tails and rum goings-on; old sugar quays and a sparkling marina;Before leaving Whitehaven it is well worth calling into the HARBOUR GALLERY, at the Beacon. The gallery has an ongoing programme of art, craft and historical exhibitions. Washington's grandma and a privateer.For a complete change of scenery, and a more leisurely return, take the road through St Bees and Beckermet.
The towering sandstone cliffs, above St Bees, form the highest headland between Wales and Scotland, and are home to thousands of seabirds. There is a beautiful Norman doorway at the Priory and, nearby, the public school, dating from 1583. The beach is lovely as is the walk up St Bees Head - this is the starting point for Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk, so why not tick off a few miles!
Carry on south until you reach the attractive village of Beckermet. The church is well worth a visit - not only does it have a fine 13th century West Door but it also has the greatest number of ancient monuments in the area, including fragments of six Celtic crosses and early carvings. If you take the left turn, just before the church, glance up at the mound on your left, near the main road - this is the site of Caernarvon Castle, but that's another tale.