During four days in September we found ourselves in Ravenglass, on the Cumbria coast. Stuck a pin in the map, really. A pause for reflection between family rendezvous. On the way from a last farewell to Farundell, the house that Penny’s parents built in the Cotswolds, to a first visit to Low Scathwaite, the house our son and daughter-in-law have just moved to in Cumbria.
Ravenglass has one street, a post office, an inn and a pub. The street runs parallel to a sort of harbour, an estuary formed by the confluence of three rivers, the Esk, the Mite and the Irt. Esk is cognate with many other river names in Britain, including the Axe and the Usk, and means a good place to fish. Mite seems to derive from a word for piss or dribble, while Irt remains obscure. The estuary is tidal and opens to the Irish Sea through a barrier of dunes. I sketched a boat hoicked by its keels at low tide.
The heyday seems to have been in Roman times. There are remains of a bath nearby, and an extensive encampment, and the harbour was busy throughout the period with ships bringing amphorae of wine, olives and fish sauce to supply garrisons along the northern frontier. Bits of crockery still turn up on the beach among the winkles and stones and odd bits of ordnance from the War.
The single street has a water side, whose houses are buttressed from the sea by variously daubed, makeshift foundations, said to have been homes to fishermen and smugglers, and a landward side, populated by farmers and lesser gentry. The whole is naturally prone to flooding and so there is a storm-surge gate at the lower end and attention given to drains. On one of our walks to the end and back two workmen were staring into an empty hole. “Should be a pipe down there,” one said to Penny, “Did you take it?”
The Pennington Inn is owned and managed by the family of that name, local magnates of ancient lineage, whose seat is Muncaster Castle, just outside the village. The family also own the pub, the Inn at Ravenglass, which is where our room was, in by a back yard of beer kegs and bins, and up an outside stair, rather like Sunday-school flannelgraph illustrations of upper rooms in the Holy Land. But the room was clean and quiet with a view of sunsets over the sea.
We quickly learned to take our meals at the pub. Penny fell into conversation with the chef, a serious and ambitious young man, who undertook for us one evening a special meal cobbled up from items in the starter menu. Grilled scallops. A marbled cream and green-pea sauce—like silk. Pancetta and pea sprouts on top and new potatoes on the side.