Now I was walking downstream in Cumbria. It was a holiday: I hoped to let my thoughts settle, but I also hoped to learn more by walking the ground because the Eden is the vital artery of the constituency of which I am MP. Eden, too, was once a place of conflict. For 400 years it was a north-west frontier province of proxy wars against Scotland. And these were not the first fights. Beginning at the source, among the dark rivulets of the Mallerstang Valley, I soon passed the castle of the slayer of Thomas Becket. Ten miles later, I passed Crosby Garret, where a Roman frontier cavalryman had discarded a glittering mask and helmet. (It was dug up in May this year). By the time I reached the narrow deserted gorges at the very centre of the river, I was in green, fertile land. But the valley was always shadowed by the limestone hills and their histories.
Eden attracts far fewer visitors than its beauty deserves, perhaps because it is not what a visitor to Cumbria expects. When a tourist climbs Wild Boar Fell from Garsdale in Yorkshire, or walks from Martindale in the Lakes or Alston, in the Pennines, they cross moss and becks, beneath mists and eagles. And if they glimpse, 1,500ft below, a great, cultivated river basin, stretching towards a fertile plain and the sea, they must be tempted to ignore it. After all, it doesn’t make sense. How could it be there – this great flat slab of sandstone, 90 miles long and 20 miles wide? How could it wedge itself between the limestone mountains of the dales, the fells and the borders?