"The Miller's Way" is a fascinating re-creation by Eric Robson--and his cantankerous "dog on a string" Raq--of a 51-mile journey from Kendal to Carlisle undertaken in 1831 by a young man on a mission. The young man was Jonathan Dodgson Carr, who aimed to open a bakery that would provide cheap bread for the poor. That enterprise was to become the Carr biscuit company, whose operations eventually extended all around the globe, including India, China, and America. In Carlisle one of Carr's innovations was to combine milling and manufacturing into the same business. Carr's historic walk (although, as Robson admits, we don't know whether Carr actually walked the entire route, or whether he rode for at least part of it) has now become The Miller's Way, the "newest long-distance walk in Britain." A low-level valley trek, it's the kind of walk, says Robson, "that you could do in your carpet slippers." And it features one of the best preserved steam engines, as well as the biggest carriage clock in Britain.
Robson provides lots of archival photos of the Carr operation (and of other places along the way), as well as clips of the present-day Carr mill in Silloth. But Carr's pilgrimage is merely the structural framework for all of the interesting historical snippets associated with various places and attractions along the way--the way that hews close to the M6 motorway and the older A6, along the eastern border of the Lake District. (As usual in his videos, Robson benefits from the expert assistance of researcher David Powell-Thompson and cameraman Janusz Ostrowski.) Robson notes that before the construction of M6, lorry drivers traveling Carr's route were forced to suspend their journey at Shap until the snow could be plowed away. There they were serviced by a winter encampment at the Jungle Café of "ladies of the night," as enterprising in their way as Carr was in his. We also visit the Shap Wells Hotel, which during World War II served as a German P.O.W. camp, and from which two prisoners, making their escape, were almost successful in flying back to Germany before they were apprehended the subsequently confined to solitary.
At Reagill, a short walk to the east of Shap, Robson explores the strange "Garden of Images" of Thomas Bland, a local farmer, who according to Graham Dugdale (in "Walks in Mysterious Lakeland") "achieved recognition by chiseling and carving a veritable cornucopia of sculptures around the middle of the 19th century. From knights to nobles, dogs to devils, effigies wrought in stone make the garden a unique feature without equal anywhere else in Cumbria." Working in a variety of styles--classic, Gothic, medieval--Bland was capable of carving a statue a day without ever returning to finish it. In Wreay, near Penrith, Robson shows us the work of another sculptor, Sarah Losh, "a lost Romantic genius," whose intricate stone carvings of animals and plants in St. Mary's Church tell the story of the Creation.
Robson also visits Lowther Castle near Penrith, home of Hugh Lowther, fox hunter and world traveler, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale (1857-1944), the Charles Foster Kane of English country gentlemen, who presided over opulent parties in his "palace in Westmoreland," and who could spend 3,000 pounds a year on cigars. Turns out that for decades he'd been living beyond his means, and after his death, all of the possessions in his vast estate--possibly including a sled named "Rosebud"--were put on the auctioneer's block.
Robson ends his trip where Carr did in 1831--at the market square in Carlisle, then a lot more grungy (according to archival photos) than it is today. And he reveals a personal connection to the Carrs: after retiring from the business, one of the family members became a minister, opening a youth club--of which teenager Robson became a member.
And this just in: "The Cumberland News" recently reported that Carr's Table Water Biscuits has lost its royal charter--first awarded in 1841--due to "changing tastes" in the Royal household. Camilla's hand here--or perhaps Kate's?
Larry B | Ventura, California | October 2018