‘There are people,’ Roland Barthes wrote, ‘who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport.’ It is possible that those who put together the recent successful nomination to make the Lake District a Unesco World Heritage Site are just such people. The bid made much of the paintings and poems inspired by the landscape, but gave little attention to Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, which was said by Sir Walter Armstrong in 1890 to be ‘productive of the most unparalleled excitement in the Northern counties’.
A Thomas Bewick woodcut, thought to have been produced in 1776, shows two wrestlers engaged in the distinctive C&W back-hold.
On 10 April 1845, the young John Ruskin wrote home to his father describing a meal that he had recently enjoyed at Champagnole: two trout ‘just out of the river, of the richest flavour’, a woodcock ‘on delicate toast’, and a ‘small perfectly compounded’ soufflé, all washed down with a bottle of Sillery mousseux champagne. As the sun set, ‘glowing over the pinewoods and far up into the sky’, making the champagne ‘suddenly become rose’, he wrote that he ‘felt sad at thinking how few were capable of having such enjoyment, and very doubtful whether it were at all proper in me to have it all to myself’.