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Cumbrian Heritage Group Seeks to Boost NW Faith & Spiritual Tourism

The dynamic group of Cumbrian heritage attractions, houses and museums, Cumbria’s Living Heritage, is hoping to prevent the northwest region from falling further behind others in the country when it comes to a specific type of tourism, based around faith and spiritualism.

Six years ago, when regional figures relating to faith tourism were released by Visit Britain, 33% of visitors to the South West and South East took the opportunity to visit a religious venue as part of their visit.  In the North West, the figure was only 20%.

Now, as part of a quirky ‘Heritage Cumberground’ initiative, Cumbria’s Living Heritage has launched its own ‘Spiritual Line’, to help visitors discover some of the most important and interesting religious venues, not just in Cumbria, but in the whole of the UK.

The Heritage Cumberground links all of Cumbria Living Heritage’s 32 members by thematic, wherever a common denominator is shared. This is to assist with itinerary planning and to make sure visitors interested in a particular subject matter do not miss out on a special experience that the group can provide.

The Spiritual Line connects five very different heritage-rich places – Whinlatter and Grizedale forests, Furness Abbey, Swarthmoor Hall near Ulverston and Lanercost Priory.  This recognises the roots of faith tourism – encompassing visits to sites of significant religious interest – but also the fact that the UNWTO states that many European faith tourists are actually seeking not necessarily a journey back into a religious site’s past, but spiritual meaning, relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, as an escape from our chaotic world.

At Whinlatter and Grizedale, it is easy to find the peace and tranquillity that can restore balance to life.  Whinlatter, as England’s only mountain forest, offers the compelling combination of pure fresh air and unrivalled views across the calm waters of Bassenthwaite, Derwentwater and Keswick.  This is a landscape that has inspired some of Britain’s most creative minds – Wordsworth, Shelley, Ruskin, Tennyson, JMW Turner and Beatrix Potter, to name but a few.

At Grizedale too, visitors can reap the benefits that various scientific studies have highlighted as emanating from walks in the woods.  Trees emit organic compounds that rejuvenate us and restore our mental and physical health, according to experts.  They help boost our immune system and reduce blood pressure and stress, as well as enhancing mood.

Energy flow increases when under a forest canopy, giving those visiting Cumbria’s two fabulous forests every reason to explore all year round.  At Grizedale, this can encompass discovering the unique experience that those venturing into the forest have enjoyed since 1977, namely stumbling upon, or seeking out, amazing forest sculptures that grace forest glades and viewpoints and which have been designed by some of the leading names in contemporary arts.

Whether it is the inspiring Lady of the Water or the breathtaking view through the sculpture entitled 17 Degrees South that lifts the spirits, there is something to stimulate the senses.

At certain times of year, Grizedale also offers other ways to connect with nature and restore balance, offering sky safaris for stargazers, Qigong sessions and forest bathing all being on offer for those wishing to use the forest environment to restore or improve health, whilst fostering relaxation.

Swarthmoor Hall, on the other hand, is a true, traditional-style faith tourism gem, being the birthplace of the Quaker movement and once the headquarters for Quaker leader, George Fox, who first visited the house in 1652.

Visitors to Swarthmoor Hall are Quakers and non-Quakers alike, all arriving to try to understand the environment in which George Fox spread his religious beliefs – and even viewing a small balcony from where he is said to have preached to a crowd below.  A tour of the house, using an audio guide to assist understanding of the period furnishings and the heavily carved bed of Margaret Fell (later George Fox’s wife some years after the death of her husband Judge Thomas Fell), is a port-key into a past 17th century world in which many beliefs were formed or reaffirmed.

“With its emphasis on working for equality and peace, Quakerism is assuming more relevance in our turbulent 21st century world,” says Swarthmoor Hall’s Clare Dent.  It is hoped that the Heritage Cumberground’s ‘Spiritual Line’ will help people of all faiths, or no faith, to find Swarthmoor and come to discover more about our past and present, whether that is through a day visit to our café, to see our Living Quilt in our garden being replanted to replicate the quilt on Margaret Fell’s bed, or to come here for a course or retreat.”

Those seeking peace and tranquillity will also find it at the beautiful 13th century Augustinian venue, Lanercost Priory, close to Carlisle – a surprising statement, given the religious site’s very troubled history. Links to King Edward I, who visited and stayed on several occasions, provide the royal leitmotif that many faith tourists appreciate, whilst tales of the impact of the Anglo-Scottish Wars on the priory provide great sense of place and tell the story behind features such as partial dereliction, the statue of St Mary Magdalene and the Lanercost Cross.   The restored William Morris embroidered wall-hanging is also a must- see for those interested in the Arts and Crafts movement.

Last, but not least, the Spiritual Line stops at Furness Abbey, also providing royal links – to King Stephen, in this case.  This gothic-style monastery again provides that all-important element of peace, plus delightful moments of solitude enjoyed at what was once the second richest Cistercian abbey in England.  With historic relics uncovered through excavation work – a crozier and an impressive gemstone ring – stories of a young Theodore Roosevelt playing in the ruins and even possible links to the Holy Grail, this is a site rich in all a faith tourist could want.

Cumbria Living Heritage’s Chair, Peter Frost-Pennington, says: “Faith tourism is often overlooked as a driver of economic benefit for regions, but more importantly, its role within our modern day lives is seldom discussed.  Mindfulness and work-life balance are words banded around frequently, but suggestions of how to promote these important facets in life are not always linked back to heritage and faith, nor to our natural living heritage, in the form of our forests and landscapes.  Through our Heritage Cumberground’s Spiritual Line, we wish to provide visitors and local residents with a holistic immersion into faith and spiritual tourism, providing memorable experiences within our county’s two World Heritage Sites.”

For further information, please visit www.cumbriaslivingheritage.co.uk where the Heritage Cumberground is available for download.

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