When you get to Cumbria, one of the joys is the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, the classy phoenix which rose from the ashes, or at to be more mundanely accurate, the departure of the famous old Blue Box mobile stage. My family and I had a memorable evening in the latter during its final Cumbrian days, swaying in the wind as we gripped our seats in the curious assembly of a convoy of lorries which adapted - like one of the 'transformer' children's toys which were a fad at the time - into a full scale theatre, complete with auditorium and ice-cream girls. Alan Hankinson tells the story of this Northern wonder in The Blue Box, published by Bookcase in 2009. My illustrious colleague on The Guardian in the North, David Ward, has brought the story up to date in sparkling style with Encore!, also published last year by Bookcase, which tells how the fine new building came to be. The original Blue Box is now at Snibston, near Coalville in Leicestershire, no longer mobile but up and running under its proper title of the Century Theatre - see www.centurytheatre.co.uk
Much instruction and joy is to be had from both, as from a plethora of local histories of West Cumbria, the Lake District's plain sister, where I hoovered up booklets such as this The Parish of Lamplugh, edited by Betty Marshall and Anne Lister and published in1993 by Lamplugh parish council. I was enjoying a week with friends in the serene beauty of Ennerdale at the time. Reading the booklet at night, after crawling up to bed following a day on Pillar or Gable, reminded me usefully of the great industries which flourished - Seker, Marshon et al - and still flourish - Sellafield notably - so close to the quiet paradise of the fells. And of those which flourished and still flourish in the heart of the National Park, such as the slate-mining at the top of the Honister Pass. The sky doesn't really look like that at Lamplugh, btw, Sellafield nothwithstanding.