Whose heritage? 

This is a personal response to the recent UNESCO World heritage site status given to my home, the rainy old Lake District. I’m not too impressed by it, and this is why.

On hot summer days, the kids of Droomer Drive went to the Lake. The tar would be melting off the pavements, the UPVC window frames would be clicking in the heat, and cheap ice lollies and water pistol fights would be doing nothing to cool us down. Me and my little brother would put towels in plastic bags, jelly sandals on our feet, knock for our friends, and go. Soon we were careering across Rayrigg Meadow, skidding across the pebbles and shale on the shore, clambering the baking hot concrete steps onto the jetty at Millerground, and hurling ourselves into Windermere, gasping when it’s glacial coldness punched the air from our lungs.

We weren’t the only ones there. Summer days at Millerground saw the water a froth of squealing, squirming, giggling kids, unsupervised and having all the more fun for it. Evenings and nights saw soft smoke rising from disposable barbecues and stolen cigarettes, as local teens took over. They burned drift wood and old fence posts. They played music loudly.  The kids and teens – we – had fun. It wasn’t polite fun, it wasn’t postcard fun, but it was our fun, on our lake.

Our parents stopped us going in the water when the blue green algae showed up. Agricultural chemicals washed downstream left us with stinging red welts and rashes all over our bare legs. Later, when we were teenagers, the council made it clear we weren’t welcome on the shoreline either. They disappeared the heavy, sun bleached logs we used as benches. They took a pneumatic drill to the barbecue pit. As we got older, it didn’t feel like our lake.

The lake belonged to the farmers who dumped the sheep dip that caused our rashes. It belonged to the shore side hotels where some of us worked, cleaning up after the people who “kept the area on its feet”. Paddling and pissing about in the water and having your first kiss over an under-cooked Tesco sausage wasn’t Lake District. You were meant to go to the sports activity centre now in Rayrigg Meadow, pay buckets for a wetsuit and kayak, buy paninis afterwards, and be wholesome about the whole thing.

When I think of heritage and the Lake District, I think of what happened to Millerground, and I think of the kids of Droomer Drive – and of Claife Avenue, Upper Oak Street, Woodland Close and Limethwaite Road. I think of what we felt we had as children and what we’ve been left with as adults. Few of us can buy a house or even rent one. Our villages are full of empty second homes and shops selling plastic daffodils and pottery Herdwicks. Jobs are low paid, many are seasonal, there’s little to do in the Lakes if you don’t want to work in a shop or outdoor centre – or exploit those who do. Most of the kids who played in Millerground had to leave the Lake District a long time ago, me included.

The bid for UNESCO world heritage site status was a chance to repair the Lake District. In living memory, sites like Millerground were up and down the lake, and were full of locals, enjoying the water and mountains every bit as much as the rich and the tourists. Not once in the heritage bid document does it mention improving things for the working class locals or the European migrants, who make, stock and shift Kendal mintcake and Cumberland sausages. It doesn’t talk about improving our access to the hills, lakes, making it easy for local kids to have noisy barbecues or their parents to have cheap row boats to spent their Sundays in.

All that would be distasteful. Scum of blue green algae is acceptable in the waters. Scum from the council estates isn’t. The “locals” page of the bid document is a case in point. Totally white apart from one Chinese tourist, and dominated by middle-aged business owners, it speaks volumes about the people this project is being run by and for.

Below are three images. The first is my street and the road near it. Huge swathes of Windermere – save the picturesque town centre – looks similar. The second picture is a screenshot of the world heritage bid, which shows the types of property showcased in the same area. (NB – Storrs Hall was built off the backs of slaves, they still consider it more relevant for inclusion than the types of houses where most people in the area live).


Now, I get those houses are lovely. I want to see them protected (not Storrs hall, tear it down).

But it is a politically, class-minded decision to not also set out to protect the local social housing – which enables the key workers needed to keep the lakes running to live there, not to speak of concentrating on preventing young people from the area having to leave in droves, not to speak of diversifying industry and employment, not to speak of stopping whole villages becoming second home ghost towns, literal playgrounds for the rich.

The answers to the “FAQs” about more exclusive hotels, less budget options, and rising house prices, are mealy-mouthed. “We’re already exceeding targets” on affordable housing, they say, although they’ve no plans to reduce prices they admit are already well above average. Their strategy is to “enable diversity” of different options for different budgets, although they also want people to “spend more”. Forgive me if I’m not brimming over with enthusiasm.

Commentators like George Monbiot have written at length against the bid, but they’re only getting it half right by focusing totally on conservation issues. Yeah the fells are sheepwrecked. Yeah the idea of the Lake District as a haven for wildlife is laughable. Yeah I want to see foxes, eagles, forests, newts, red squirrels, rare flowers.

But I also, alongside all that, want to see houses my friends can live in. I want my brother to not subsist on a substandard wage for delivering food to restaurants he can’t afford to eat in. I want the National Trust and local landowners to stop wrecking the places locals hang out and sticking locked gates across public rights of way. This bid makes all of that more unlikely than ever.

Why? Because heritage means things that are important to a particular group or society. The world heritage bid has defined what those things are, and they are the things dear to the establishment and nothing else. It’s not wildlife conservation and it’s not equality either. It’s park and rides to quiet lakes, postcards of Tory poets, and “viewpoint” benches. If you ever visit and come and rest a while on one of those, look at what it’s sat on. See if you can see where the barbecue pit used to be.

PS) Millerground still is one of the only free public access points to the lake remaining and although it’s not as good as it used to be you can still go. Please use it. Even though the council now say “picnic” , not barbecue. Buy and cook the cheapest fucking sausages you can find. (Cook them properly.)

32 thoughts on “Whose heritage? 

  1. Hit the nail on the head. I grew up around Ullswater, my family have mined and farmed here since the 1830’s. No one asked me about my heritage, about my ancestors that made the landscape what it is, and built the tiny miners cottages that now sell for £300,000. The only good thing that I see coming out of this is the chance to make the authorities apply their actions and build more affordable housing and apply stricter second home rules.


      1. The ideal would be a rich philanthropist to buy some of the second homes and put local occupancy clauses on them….forever the optimist!! We have formed a CLT here in Patterdale and are looking at both Brown and green field sites, the community has to decide on it’s priorities for land use.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Oooh! – really? I’m doing a bit of work on supporting CLTs in my paid job, would love to see how it’s working in the Lake District. Could I give you an email to find out more?

        On Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 1:43 PM, A Bit of Class wrote:


        Liked by 2 people

  2. Very well written. I am a Claife Avenue kid born in the 50’s. Underground was our playground for the summer. Don’t recognise Windermere now, everything seems to be for the tourists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup. Good to see a Claife Avenue kid on here!
      I moved away in 2006/7 and go back regularly. Windermere town centre is unrecognisable now – some of the shops wouldn’t be out of place in the posh areas of London.


  3. I’m from Grasmere, lived here all my life apart from when at at uni.
    I remember there being very few holiday properties in the village, now nearly 60% are holiday lets. I’m one of the few that are “lucky” enough to stay in their home village. I currently live in a housing association flat with my partner, after waiting 4 years on the housing list. This is an “affordable” rent only property which is so affordable that even tho my partner works full time and I worked three part time jobs before becoming pregnant, we had to ask the housing association to assist us in getting a food parcel from the food bank. At 40 weeks pregnant and not entitled to maternity leave. I sit here and think, how can it get worse. They made us a heritage site that’s how!
    We are servants to the rich and greedy we are not to be seen or heard. Apparently there is no such poverty in this affluent beauty spot.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great article Rebecca, I grew up on Orrest Drive (no mention 😱) in the 60-70s and we used to spend the whole of the summer holidays down Millerground, on our own most of it….you certainly wouldn’t let your kids do that now….we knew everyone and everyone knew us 🙈….that said things do and have to move on, the village needed bringing forward and some of the hotels were a bit shabby but yes it’s changed more in other ways, the influx of migrant workers as much as they do their bit hasn’t really helped as what limited jobs there are, are no longer there for school leavers. It’s great to drive through the Droomer (I left about 30 yrs ago) and Claife estate and see little has changed there but Bowness…Wow You don’t hardly see a local on the streets anymore, but we still have Orrest Head School knot and a few other beauty spots that remain unchanged. Unsure how world heritage status will affect it but there’s no going back, in time, that’s for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When we lived on orrest drive I reckon we knew every single person who lived in them flats and the ones at top of orrest too, not so sure even the folk who live in them now would know each other ?


  6. I was born and bred in windermere. Lived on Claife Avenue. I left in 1981 when i joined the Royal Air Force. I came back last September but can not afford to buy or rent on my pension. I now live with my sister and have seen so many changes over the years. Millerground, fond memories of fishing and ice cream from the little shop. What happened to my beautiful roots. Commercialism happened, so very sad, greedy fat cats cashing in on our home.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was also born in bowfell crescent no19 my nan lived in Orrest drive in the first block and my grandad lived in the second block!! 😀.
    When I return home to the Lakes I often walk along look longingly at the flats hoping for a wave from both of them!! Then I catch my self and shed a tear 😢. Great memories sad times when they left us!! Like you said Derek Stafford we all knew each other one big family community growing up together in a beautiful place!! We we’re so fortunate!! 😀


  8. I grew up on Windermere , one of a family of six kids . I am returning to Windermere in a few weeks for the first time in about 15 years . This time , unlike other trips back home , I will have no family members to visit and stay with because they all moved away … mostly because they could not afford to stay . A sad development for those who worked hard most of their lives .

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was born on Orrest Drive, we then lived in Oldfield Rd, Dad for well over 40 years. Great piece and its true the Lake District of our ancestors is gone and will never come back. This World Heritage rubbish is only good for the big hotels, boating companies and the like because it means more money. It’s not good for the LD that we knew which is full to capacity now with tourists, it will only get worse now the flood gates are truly open


  10. Last weekend I took my ( lovely but well behaved ) dog down to Millerground – a place I have been going all my life-to swim, walk, picnic, take the kids…along with my parents and grandparents before me. Anyway the dog was having a great time when an elderly couple sitting on a bench looking at the view had a right go at me off for having the dog off the lead and ” upsetting the wildlife” WTF?
    Ok so the dog wanted their daintylittle sandwiches lol. She kept saying Shoo shoo in a Cheshire accent and flapping her arms about !!!
    So World Heritage Status means we just come and sit and admire the view does it??? Like a big picture that no body interacts with??? I think the massive Gin cruisers moored at the piers had long before scared off any wildlife-You have to get a bit more off the beaten track for that these days.
    The point is We don’t live in a theme park or a nature reserve ( for the record I do respect wildlife) but sadly these people don’t realise real families still live here. And why do people feel the need to impose their views on others – just because they are on holiday we are not all!!! My great grandfather James Birkett (foreman builder of Pattinsons of Windermere) and his sons ( including my uncle Louis Birkett and my grandfather Walter Birkett of Broad Street circa 1900)actually cleared out all the rocks at Millerground to make the swimming area for the community to enjoy. So we must continue to go down , use it for free, don’t be pushed out by the sailing centre, resist parking charges and BBQ bans and encourage dogs off leads please. For the record I laughed at the old couple and hugged the dog 🐶

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Really interesting read. I was born and bred in Morecambe and fondly remember little trips up the A6 north as a kid to Bowness and Windermere. Even from Morecambe in the 70s it was a quite a long car ride with the grandparents; it was a very special day out and seemed a long way away. I also trained as a nurse in Barrow and Kendal and continue to nurse in South Cumbria. I live just north of Morecambe could could not afford a family home in the lakes. I’m pleased to be able to afford a home in my home town. Yes the lakes have changed all the little local shops are going and the lovely little towns are going. I could afford to live in South lakes as I lived in cheap nurses homes in Barrow and Kendal. These have now gone. Tenterfield in Kendal given by the K shoes family to nurses became NHS offices and is now being converted to expensive flats. I will never be able to afford to live there again! Difficult to recruit nurses and carers in south Cumbria in General to care for elderly Cumbrians in care and nursing homes. Locals are pushed out of lakeland towns and villages as properties are sold for holiday homes, small flats and cottages which should be starter homes are too expensive for couples and families.

    On the flip side, Morecambe which has the most amazing daily view over Morecambe Bay to the new world heritage site, and used to be a busy bustling holiday town is a sad shadow of its former self and would love to attract more tourists and visitors to bring some prosperity and jobs into the town.

    Not sure what the answer is really, with success comes some casualties.


  12. What a great article and sentimental memories of miller ground where I too remember barbecues and sleeping on beach after a few tinies

    World heritage means nothing to the real locals who are fewer and fewer.

    The pubs are restaurants and no-one can afford the drink prices so there is no socialising

    I still have family in grasmere but if I go for a drink there mow I don’t know anyone.

    One day the lakes will be a museum and all houses will be second homes with buses bringing locals in for the day from Workington and other towns to do the low cost work


  13. I lived at troutbeck bridge on the old factory housing site , before moving to oldfield road ..summers were spent in freedom of millerground ..all day with sandwiches home made ginger beer and wasps !! Orrest head and schoolknotts. Rowing on the lake …it was so lovely and not as busy as now .
    My family still live in Windermere so it’s lovely to go back and visit them and watch the changes .I left in the 70s .but it’s still “home”

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Grew up on Droomer Drive with all my brothers and sisters, No. 65, left to move to Kendal at seventeen, still miss it! I’m fifty eight now.
    Happy, Happy days.


  15. The house I grew up in was built by Pattinsons as accommodation for their tradesmen, which coincidentally is exactly what my Dad was when he bought the house in the early 70s (obviously women couldn’t get mortgages then so my mum’s wage didn’t count). I doubt a recently qualified joiner could buy that house now, Zoopla tells me it’d be a quarter mil for a three bedroom terrace.


  16. A few years ago I went to a meeting where they were trying to brand the Lake District as the wildlife centre of Britain. They had obviously got a grant from somewhere to employ a lady for 2 years or so to bring this to fruition. As a wildlife photographer I asked how they expected to compete with parts of Scotland where wildlife is abundant, parking is generally free and there are nowhere near the number of tourists. The lady said that she believed that visitors want the experience of a wildlife watching tour, even if they don’t actually see any wildlife, the tour operators can still make it an enjoyable experience!! I kid you not!! There were other organisations present, including boating companies and hoteliers who were entirely supportive of this initiative, obviously looking forward to the chink of the tills. I left somewhat bemused.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. We lived on Claife Avenue then Gyhll Close. Sisters still on Claife Avenue. Miller has been spoilt by new comers. We took our kyakes down there and where told it belonged to the kayak club and we couldn’t launch. To which we replied want a bet. Who are these new comers trying to change our Heritage.


  18. Well said Rebecca. I too am local. My gran lived on main road. We lived in rented accommodation . Then luckily bought a house on Mill Rise. It was a good scheme. Houses built on council land by private builders with a mix of rented and first time buyers with those on council waiting list being first in line. Genuine affordable houses.
    We learnt to swim in the lake, loved going down after school.
    Do Bowness and Ambleside need more tourists??


  19. My grandparents had the Post Office and General Stores in Troutbeck Bridge.
    Everybody knew everybody else and looked after each other when snow fell or the power went off.
    Now most of the houses are holiday lets or second homes.
    SOMEBODY local SOLD THEIR HOME to the letting company or the 2nd home owners, so we locals are not blameless.
    When the MANY consultation events with the LDNPA were held, how many of us went and voiced our concerns?
    While I was on Windermere Town Council, contact from members of the public was rare… unless they had applied to build an extension.
    When LDNPA proposed to cut down the monkey puzzle tree at Brockhole, I tried to get the council to put them under the screw.
    The LDNPA turned up to one meeting.
    The WTC needs your support and encouragement, not belated regrets after something has gone awry.
    The WABAG action to stop Cumbria County Council from imposing parking meters on us shows what we can do when we work together and TAKE SOME ACTION.
    Now stop writing sympathetic comments here unless you repeat those comments in letters to the LDNPA, CCC and SLDC to make them aware that you actually care about what is going on BEFORE it goes on.
    Become aware!!
    SLDC already charge more to park in Windermere and Ambleside than they do in Kendal.
    World Heritage Site status is the sort of excuse they need to put up charges further.
    And take some heart inthat we are just a corner of the new WHS, and that there are likely many more like minded individuals thinking just like us, all over the lakes… so write to the Gazette and give them an incentive to speak up.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I grew up there right on the Corner of Droomer Drive opposite the flats. I have fond memories of Summers down at Miller ground, playing on The Rocks, The Rec and Bonfires on Claiffe Ave. Although I left to live in the States years ago I always make a point of taking my family down to Miller ground when we visit. I tell them,tales of ice cold waiter and sunbathing covered in Olive Oil. It’s sad to hear that locals are bring pushed out, and that our simple pleasures are being taken away by those who weren’t born and raised there.


  21. Just come off the phone from someone from Cumbria Chamber of Commerce who was trying to interest me in a business grant that is now available for business development (some £8.5 million) Said it didn’t really apply to me and as I’m now over 60 am trying to wind down, not step up. Got talking about the Hertitage site jobby and he admitted that the only ones who will benefit are the larger business, that there are too many tourists as it is in parts and that there will almost certainly be problems. The funniest thing is that when we were talking about prices down here, he said that he is a keen cyclist but generally travel north from Carlisle instead of south into the Lake District as it’s too expensive for everything. Don’t know if that is the official Chamber of Commerce line, but rather ironic


  22. All those bid officials in their ivory towers will have a nice big pay rise though, because now they are responsible for a World Heritage Site.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s