Port Carlisle is a very small village with disproportionate cultural significance. It was the port of the city of Carlisle, historically the English stronghold on the border with Scotland. The wide expanse of flat coastal plains that surround the city meant that as the need for defence gave way to trade its port had to be located 16km to the west on the Solway estuary to gain access to the Irish Sea and the world beyond.
It was developed from a fishing village in 1819 on a Georgian urban pattern transplanted into an open landscape. From 1823 a canal transhipped grain for the city’s mills. When this was abandoned in 1854 it was replaced by a railway whose passengers included Scandinavian emigrants bound for the USA. Diversion of freight after only two years resulted in this becoming the only 1-horse pulled passenger railway in England. Steam came in 1914 and closure of the line in 1932. A century of enterprise stopped as abruptly as it had begun, leaving a fragment of city beached on the coast.
In 1964 the wetlands were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so 2014 was its 50th anniversary, providing a timely cause for celebration by including Port Carlisle in the ENtopia project. The village was designated a conservation area in 1981, which will provide the conservation planning context. It is within the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site (Hadrian’s Wall) and so falls within the area covered by the WHS Management Plan, and is on the WHS trail, which provides the national and international context for ENtopia.
Since the idea of ENtopia was conceived, North of England Civic Trust has been working with residents of Port Carlisle to consider their priorities and how taking part in ENtopia would help. A group led by Sue Gallagher, a retired schoolteacher, has plenty of ideas and lots of historical records to back them up. Sue said, “Many visitors pass through Port Carlisle, walking the Hadrian’s Wall footpath, but few understand what the railway and canal ruins are and why they are here. Residents have a strong affection for Port Carlisle and want others to know why it is special.”
Through participation in ENtopia, the residents will work with NECT to prepare a guide to what makes it special, from its landscape setting and industrial heritage to its cobblestone paving and finely profiled windows. From this, a plan will be prepared with some realistic aims to preserve the things that make it distinctive and share its story with the visitors who pause to contemplate this unique place, as Scandinavian emigrants did 150 years ago.