The Travellers and Food Lovers Guide to Rugby League – Cumbria.

By Daniel Andruczyk

The last several years I have had the fortunate opportunity to live and work overseas, namely in Germany. My passion for Rugby League found me travelling all over Europe to watch the greatest game and in one case even managed to participate in a tournament. So I have decided to write blogs on my experiences, the travel, food and cities I experienced and share some photos. This month I look at a heartland yet a frontier of Rugby League, Cumbria and Barrow in Furness and Whitehaven.

The City

I remember distinctly when I first mentioned on a few rugby league forums that I was going to go up to Barrow and Whitehaven to watch a game, the laughter and then ridicule not only I got, but that Cumbria got. The way it was made out I was going to get shot, stabbed beaten in my first 5 seconds of setting foot in the place.

Well let me tell you how wrong they could have been. Manchester is my favourite city on England, but Cumbria has to be my favourite piece of country. For those not familiar Cumbria is in the north west of England bordering with Scotland. It has the Lakes Region which is one of the more stunning areas in England and has that wonderful country charm.

The largest and arguably the most important city in the region is Barrow in Furness. Its not the prettiest of towns but does have a great charm mixing old Georgian style Buildings with the modern industry that dominates.

S5004278Barrows Charming Town Hall

The history of the area around Barrow goes back to the middle ages when the Cistercian Monks controlled it through St Mary’s Abbey in Furness. Hence where the “in Furness” comes from. Soon after iron ore was discovered and the Abbey and the area flourished. In the early 1800’s haematite was discovered and this led to the expansion of the Barrow area and the building of the railway and ports to export the mineral.

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The Ruins if the Furness Abbey of St. Mary’s near Dalton

Soon after, however the haematite became obsolete due to better refining techniques and the industry switched to ship building. To this day the main industry is the building of the UK’s nuclear submarines, the Vanguard class. The sub base dominates the skyline in Barrow.

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The BaE ship yards where the UK’s Nuclear Submarines are built

North of Barrow is another old mining and port town, Whitehaven. This town is a late bloomer with respect to Barrow and only really got started with the discovery coal and the haematite in the 18th and 19th centuries. It flourished for a during this time and also went into ship building.

Whitehaven also has the distinction of being the place where the last invasion of England happened. This being by John Paul Jones during the American War of Independence.

These days the main industry and employer is the nuclear one. The Sellafield Nuclear installation is the largest employer and benefactor to the area. Sellafield (formerly Windscale) used to be a power station that also originally produced plutonium for weapons but now is a nuclear reprocessing plant.

Whitehaven is also said to have the best Georgian architecture preserved there and its planned grid system is rumoured to be the fore-runner to the street layout of New York.

The Travel

Getting up to Barrow, aside from the car, was the train. I did a pretty epic journey actually flying into London’s Stanstead Airport from Berlin on Easyjet, I got the train first up to Cambridge and then got a train cross country up through Wigan and into Barrow. All up it was about a 6 hour train trip, but with the trains quite comfortable and some beautiful scenery it was a pleasant enough trip.

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Some of the countryside going up to Barrow on the train.

The long distance trip on the trains all seem to have a fairly standard price if you go economy and that’s between 50-60 pounds. Which considering the type of train and how fast it got you there was pretty good.

There are no major airports in the Cumbria region with Manchester and Liverpool being the only other closest ones. On the trip back, I drove down to Liverpool Airport with a friend and that took about an hour to do. Once you get on the motorways its pretty smooth driving.

Where to Stay

The hotel I stayed at was the Victoria Part Hotel. This is a pub with rooms upstairs in the middle of town, well about 1 km out of the centre of town. This pub/hotel was awesome, the rooms were very nice for what I was paying (about 40 quid) and in a nice grand building. Breakfast was included in the price and included either a all you can eat English breakfast or a continental breakfast. Of course I took the English Breakfast.

The hotel was also only a 10-15 minute walk up from the train station. Heading up Abbey Road and then left onto Victoria St. Easy to find and the staff were very charming.

The Food

I have to say that most of my meals were taken in the pub bistro, even my friends with whom I was going to the game with would come there to eat and drink. Usually a good sign if the locals go there. It’s also nice being in a part of England where Rugby League is shown on the telly regularly through the day and no one stares at you with a blank face when you want to talk “Rugby” with them.

But I digress, the Food. Cumbrian Bangers and Mash. Wow! Now I have had heaps of bangers and mash in my time but this local delicacy was something else, outstanding. It’s the Cumbrian sausage I think that makes it. Its a very spicy/peppery sausage and quite thick. It has many herbs through it as well that add to the flavour. On a creamy mashed potato base, with a rich fried onion gravy, mushy peas on the side and a pint of ale, I tell you there was nothing better. Kicking back and watching the Challenge Cup matches on the TV it was a perfect way to spend your time.

The Game

Of course the whole point of the trip was to go and watch a game of rugby league. This was not just any game but a Challenge Cup round. One of Frances big guns had made the perilous journey through the hills and small roads of the West Country to Whitehaven. Lezignan, the Sangliers came up to take on the pride of Cumbria who were sitting in the top of the National League that season.

S5004235 Lezignan (pink jerseys) on the attack at the Recreation Ground

The match started out quite fierce with both teams throwing everything into each other. This blew up into a couple of good biffs during the match too which the crowd seemed to enjoy greatly.

It was a very cold and windy day, I would say it got down to about 5 degrees that day, you really had to be rugged up. Lezignan did well in the first 30 minutes holding with Whitehaven, but Whitehaven in the end overpowered the French 46-6.

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Whitehaven wreaking havoc on the Lezignan defensive line

Funny story, so the Cumbrian accent is pretty hard to get initailly and its only after really talking with locals extensively do you pick up on subtleties. One way I learnt was at the expense of the whole bar, at half time I went to have a couple beers with my mate Mark. A few people there upon learning I was from out of town got chatting and asked where I was staying, I told them Barrow, i.e. pronounced the way its written, the whole bar started laughing, but in good humour one of the fellas slapped me on the back and said “Mate , its Barra!”

You can go and view a video I took that day, here.

Later that year Lezignan would see success by going on to win the French LER Elite 1 Championships in Beziers, a place I will talk about another time.

Summary

In short Cumbria is one of England least publicised gems. A rugby league heartland with some rich history and beautiful scenery it promises to reward anyone who makes the effort to get up to Cumbria and the Lakes District. I certainly am glad that I did and will make sure I go back there one day very soon.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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4 Responses to “The Travellers and Food Lovers Guide to Rugby League – Cumbria.”

  1. Tomo says:

    Dan,
    Im a Cumbrian marra and you didnt see half of what the county has to offer regarding League.
    One of the strongest amatuer set ups in England and if you had visited famous clubs like Kells,Wath Brow,Egremont,Millom or Broughton Red Rose you would have got a real feeling of what the game means to the locals.
    But your right about the Cumberland sausage and its one the thinks I miss now Im overseas.

    • druzik says:

      OH I know I missed out on heaps, but I only had a weekend there, basically it was in on a friday game saturday leave sunday. As it is I am impressed with what I did manage to get out and see. Cumbria certainly has me wanting to go back and visit and the people around there are great. I hope that some sort of funding can be found for Barrow to upgarde their stadium and maybe make a future bid for the Super League.

  2. sportsmad says:

    i do love Georgian architecture. seems barra is somewhat the stereo typical image of an english countryside. seem like a really beautiful place. a far cry from the hustle and bustle of londinium

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