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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Cumbria needs its own Nessie

NESSITERAS Rhombopteryx first hit the headlines on this day in 1933. Alex Campbell wrote about it in that day’s issue of the Inverness Courier.

He wasn’t a full-time journalist; his main job was being water bailiff of Loch Ness.

By now you’ll have worked out that we’re dealing with the Loch Ness Monster.

The story was picked up by the national press – and a legend was born.

And when a photograph of Nessie appeared in the Daily Mail of April 21, 1934 – the Nessie legend truly went global.

And the rest, as they say, is history. From that day on Loch Ness, and its surrounding area, was destined to be a tourist hot spot and Nessie acquired almost iconic status.

The 1934 photograph was, according to many of today’s experts, a fake.

Others disagree. Fake or not, whether the creature exists or not – it doesn’t seem to matter, because Nessie is big business both for the local and the national economy. Thanks in no small part to the Scots’ supremely professional publicity machine.

So why hasn’t Cumbria got a similar attraction? We’ve got the legend of the Solway Worm whose sightings, unlike those of the Loch Ness Monster, have been documented.

In 1934, there were reports of another strange creature being seen somewhere outside Maryport. So a few hardy souls set out to try and find it. They ended up looking for it in Netherton. A pretty pointless exercise because the reservoir there had long dried up. Puzzling.

I’m amazed that some enterprising soul hasn’t, over the years, photographed, however hazily, a local sea or Lake Serpent.

Unless, of course, you know different.

If a sighting had been reported to or by the press yesterday, would it have been a case of “May Gosling?” A sort of belated April Fool? I’d like your help here, because this is a custom I’m not really familiar with.

Does it still happen? Or is it one of those quaint and rather fanciful traditions that exist only in the minds of gullible folklorists.

Had such a creature been discovered in the Lake District in 1933, would the world ever have got to hear about it? Possibly not.

One thing you pick up from perusing the old papers is that this area was not good at publicity. For various reasons some tourist towns were doing reasonably well and didn’t want to spend money on advertising. Other places just didn’t get round to it.

Like Cockermouth.

In 1933, Cockermouth council was concerned that tourists were giving their town the miss and heading off for the better known spots, such as Keswick.

They wanted a “holiday resort campaign.”

Mr Walker told fellow council members that the town had so much to offer – but few people knew anything about them.

Mr Denwood agreed, claiming that there wasn’t another town in the county that had produced more eminent men than Cockermouth.

He wanted the council to follow Carlisle’s lead and erect informative plaques in the town dealing with these celebrities.

Mr Denwood also wanted “publicity boards” put up to tell day trippers what there was to see in the town. He cited the example of a group of foreign visitors who only became aware of the castle, which they would have liked to visit, when their bus was speeding off to Keswick.

He was also looking forward to the business that the youth hostel would bring them. Early days, but at least the town council had taken a conscious decision that their future lay in tourism.

I want to end with another query – about Cockermouth. I’ve picked up from a press cutting that in 1948 Cockermouth had acquired a nickname – “Molotov City.” Why?

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