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Living in Cumbria: The Local Area Guide

Cumbria, in the North West of England, is a county famed for its spectacular vistas and extensive Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It includes the Lake District, one of the most popular spots for tourists in the UK, as well as some of the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines.

Historically, it has been a heavily disputed territory since the time of the Romans and before. Hadrian's Wall crosses the county, and several large and bitter battles were fought between the English and the Scots in Cumbria. Remnants of this survive today, including Carlisle Castle, which was placed under siege as many as half a dozen times in the 18th century, thanks partly due to the Jacobite riots.

Since then, it's been a different story. While the Industrial Revolution brought a swelling of the towns’ populations, it never fell to widespread urbanisation. Instead, it served as an inspiration for romantic poets, artists, writers, and travellers of all descriptions. Its tall peaks, deep valleys, winding rivers, and forests are near-unmatched in the UK.

Since 1974 Cumbria has been recognised as a county and is now the third-largest in England. It is, however, incredibly sparsely populated and has just two major urban centres - Carlisle, the county town, and Barrow-in-Furness.


Cumbria is fairly representative of rural England. It has a very low population density at just 73 people per square kilometre, and is overwhelmingly White British in makeup. More than 95% of residents described themselves as such in the most recent census, and there are only 20,000 foreign-born residents in the area.

Cumbria also has an older than the average population. While the national mean age is 39.3, Cumbria's is 42.9 and the median age is 44. Nearly 30% of people are over the age of 60.

Over 70% of households in the county are owned outright or via a mortgage, a figure significantly higher than that for the rest of England. Only around 11% are private rented, likely a result of the older than the average population. Unemployment is also low with only 2.5% of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.


Cumbria's 42 state secondary schools are overwhelmingly comprehensive, with only one state grammar school in the county, and 10 independent schools beyond that.

Most of these secondary schools do not have sixth forms, and students tend to move on to one of the many further education colleges. Foremost of these are Furness College, Barrow-in-Furness Sixth Form College, Carlisle College, Kendal College, and the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. The county has only one university, founded in 2007, called the University of Cumbria.

One of very few schools which has its own sixth form is Chetwynde School, a non-selective coeducational independent school which is among the best of its kind in the country. It educates children from nursery all the way to the age of 18.


Cumbria has good rail links dating back to the Industrial Revolution and several of these offer fantastic views of the local landscape. The county also has two airports, Carlisle Lake District and Barrow/Walney Island, both of which have plans to expand.

Travelling by car is most convenient, however. The main trunk road is the M6, which runs through Carlisle, Penrith, and Kendal, and there are a large number of good A roads crisscrossing the county. Many of these also offer breath-taking views and are worth driving for that alone.

Amenities and Shopping

Cumbria as a whole is served very well by small, independent stores selling local wares, as well as farmer's markets and farm shops.

For more extensive shopping, Carlisle is the best bet. It contains the Lanes Shopping Centre which has a fantastic array of high street brands and fashionable outlets, including Monsoon, New Look, Next and H&M.

Outside the shopping centre, the town has some excellent boutique stores sitting side-by-side with good pubs, bars, bistros, and cafes.

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