Workington

Starting at Siddick on the “Way of the Ironmasters”, the land was all reclaimed from the sea. The lake on your left was original sea marsh. Beyond the lake above the sea cliff runs the railway path to Seaton and Cockermouth, part of the C2C route, covering the site of the Burgh Walls coastal fort now buried by the railway embankment. In the early stages of planning this cycle route Sustrans proposed the construction of a replica catapult to fire Hillman Imps over the lake to crash in a heap of ruined cars on the lower railway! The hills on the right, the seaward side, are in fact slag heaps and if you come across Jem Southam’s recent photographic exhibition you will see how extraordinary this artificial coastline is. Just south of the junction between the two railway paths the route curls backward and forwards in a landscape sculpture designed by Mark Merror to create a point of interest in this derelict cutting. As you cross the River Derwent you will see a branch running along the river. This was opened to Cockermouth (1847), and if you follow this you will come to the lighthouse which forms the start of this branch of the C2C, with its panoramic view of the Lakes.

A potted history

Once the centre of the steelmaking industry, Henry Bessemer developed his revolutionary blast furnace here in 1857; at one stage its rolling mills produced rails for railways in almost every country in the world. By 1909 all the local works – Maryport, Oldside, Derwent, Moss Bay and Harrington – had merged into the Workington Iron and Steel Co. and after a final hectic period through the Great War the industry was worked out. From 1930 a single integrated “Combine” survived at Workington, but the last Bessemer “blow” was in 1975, the blast furnace shut down in 1982, and the rolling mills in 2007, when the work was transferred to Scunthorpe. If you have time to wander down to the coast you will walk below a wholly man-made cliffscape, where the sea beats against slag and the detritus from making rails sent all over the world from Bolivia to India, and from Scotland to Capetown. Echoes from the steel heart of Britain’s industrial zenith.