Ravenglass the Lake District

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Published: 29th April 2010
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Ravenglass, a tiny village consisting mainly of a single street which is a lovely jumble of traditional Cumberland architecture from a variety of periods. The rivers Irt, Mite and Esk all meet here, forming a 'trident' as Coleridge says, in a narrow channel cut off from the sea by dunes. There is also a legend that the shore here was once a pearlfishery.

Drayton's polyalbion gives a suitably embroidered picture: As Eske her farth'st, so first, a coy bred Cumbrian Lasse, Who commeth to her Road, renowned Ravenglasse, By Devock driven along, (which from a largebrim'd lake, To hye her to the Sea, with greater haste doth make)
Meets Myte, a nimble Brooke, their Rendezvous that keepe In Ravenglasse, when soone into the blewish Deepe Comes Irt, of all the rest, though small, the richest Girle, Her costly bosome strew'd with precious Orient Pearle, Bred in her shining Shels, which to the deaw doth yawne, Which deaw they sucking in, conceave that lusty Spawne, Of which when they grow great, and to their fulnesse swell, They cast, which those at hand there gathering, dearly sell.

Some will have it to have been called antiently Aven glas or the blue river, and tell many stories about King Eveling, who had a palace here Higher up the little river Irt runs into the sea, in which the shellfish having by a kind of irregular motion taken in the dew, which they are extremely fond of, are impregnated, and produce berries, or, to use the poet's phrase, baccae concheae, shellberries, which the inhabitants, when the tide is out, search for, and our jewellers buy of the poor for a trifle, and sell again at a very great price.

There is no reliable record of pearls being found here, and if it ever happened it must have been in Roman times or earlier. Defoe in 1724 enquired much for the pearl fishery here which has made a kind of bubble lately: But the country people, nor even the fishermen, could give us no account of any such thing. Gordon Bottomley's ballad 'A velinglas' is based on the legend that the village was founded by 'King A velinlWho built his palace here':

Avelin builds a palace but his daughter, longing for a lover from overseas, combs her golden hair at the window and calls up the seawind: The town is submerged by the sea, leaving only the strange little singlestreet settlement which still stands. The village appears prominently in Walpole's Rogue Herries: Harcourt Herries' house is here, a 'little square white fronted house thrust back from the street in a small, walled garden' not an actual building, but one that would fit well. David and his father row out from the harbour to the offshore sandbar, where they have their final confrontation and David breaks the cane his father has raised against him.


Adrian vultur writes for hotels in the lake district


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