"Community-based Activity in the Uplands"

LAST week I spent two days at a conference, and for much of the time wondered why I was there.

The "International Centre for the Uplands - Cumbria", was hosting its first conference since it was formed in April 2004 on the subject of "Community-based Activity in the Uplands" and I reckoned that Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling had to fit in there somewhere. There is no rule which says that our indigenous wrestling has to take place in the hills, but many of the events take place in remote communities in the Northern Uplands: Wasdale Head and Buttermere embedded in the Western Fells, Alwinton and Harbottle in the Cheviots, Bellingham high up the North Tyne valley, Stanhope in Weardale, and Killington lost in the by-ways of South Cumbria.

And Grasmere Sports, the Olympics of C & W Wrestling, is a central hub for the Lake District, encircled by mountains.

Similarly there is no rule which says that wrestlers have to be farmers, but many are. Carlisle Wrestling Club is city-based but is the meeting place for wrestlers from a wide rural swathe of North Cumbria, Northumberland and the Borders of Scotland. To the East Jonjo Pattinson farms high on the Roman Wall, thirty miles from Carlisle with his Blackface sheep and Galloway cows; nearly as far West is double champion John Harrington of Bewaldeth attending to the Swaledales on the family farm. There are city lads who wrestle, but the most wrestlers have a rural background. Kit Nicholson, Director of the Upland Centre, in an introduction to the conference, wrote that "Cumbria is the emblematic English upland county, with unique local experience.

We also have a thriving culture, grounded in our landscape and traditions" and that to me seemed to include our wrestling. A whole morning of bullet points and powerpoint presentations did nothing to help. I knew all the words but rarely understood the meaning. "Sustainable" was the commonest adjective, and that seemed to mean that any financial input into the region had to be economically viable in double-quick time.

Wrestling is never going to show a profit, so would never qualify for help. However, as speaker succeeded speaker, the idea that financial criteria were all important diminished as the issues of life-styles and cultural heritage in upland communities surfaced. Professor Peter Davis with his comments about "intangible heritage" and "local identity and sense of place" chimed with my thoughts, and made me realise that Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling is "a territory not necessarily defined by conventional boundaries".


Saturday December 4, The Academy Shield Match and Open Classes for boys, at Bootle Station (Weigh-in at 7.30pm).

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (May 4th 2011)

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