If household names, visual quality, size and ad counts are anything to go by, I reckon Cumbria Life is defying the recession.
The July edition of this redesigned monthly magazine contained 180 pages – much thicker than many similar titles.
Hunter Davies and ‘Hairy Biker’ Dave Myers were two of the better-known columnists – the former ranting about non-existent broadband at his Loweswater home, the latter contributing more of a busy diary column, but with a local, readable twist.
I counted another dozen or so columns covering everything from Lake District walks, by the expert Vivienne Cross, to what it was like working for NME in the 1980s, by Radio 6 DJ Stuart Maconie.
A couple of the other regulars from worthy locals were too conversational for my liking, but hey – this is intended to be a coffee table-style publication.
What I did particularly like were the ‘My Cumbria Life’ interview, which this month focused on a dry stone waller, and ‘Cumbrian Curiosities’, which explored the history of five Lakeland tragedies marked by crosses.
There were eight or nine in-depth features, each running over four or five pages, and my favourites were:
- ‘Seer of the sands’, watching the work of 80-year-old Cedric Robinson, the official guide across the often-lethal Morecambe Bay sands for the last 50 years;
- ‘Robson’s Choice’, a series of essays by writer and broadcaster Eric Robson, this month exploring Wasdale valley’s steep slopes, fells and lake, with the help of a local farmer; and
- ‘The call of the wild’, detailing the efforts of the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team.
These well-written features were all adorned with stunning photography, and I must put names to the skilled work of picture editor Phil Rigby and photographer Jenny Woolger.
Phil’s images were given glorious space to breathe in an eight-page photo essay on the characters of Appleby Horse Fair, the best of which saw a single picture used over a whole spread.
Property, food and drink, gardens, arts and more were covered in the rear-end ‘LifeGuide’, and there really were few subjects missed: from local beer and pub grub to the poshest restaurants, and from holiday homes to top hotels.
Overall, and despite a newsy-ish 12-page ‘Notebook’ section, some critics might observe little hard news and debate, but as the sister title of the Cumbria News & Star, The Cumberland News and the North-West Evening Mail, it’s fair to say this is amply covered elsewhere.
Instead, Cumbria Life is created for anyone who loves the Lake District, and with my own Coniston childhood holiday and university walking memories, I found it a full, pleasant read.
Others seem to agree: it was launched as a quarterly in 1988, went bi-monthly in 1990 and then monthly in 2008 – at a time when most other printed media was pulling back investment.
What I would say is that the glossy’s content is mainly aimed at the rich and rural, the successful and publicity-conscious, and, of course, tourists; I didn’t see too much reflecting the grittier lives of the average Carlisle, Barrow or Penrith citizen.
And occasionally, there was perhaps too fine a line between editorial and advertorial, with at least two features that I judged to have been written commercially – ‘Discover Staveley’ and ‘Lowther Show’ – having nothing except an absence of bylines to indicate this to readers.
Those niggles aside, I enjoyed most of the writing in Cumbria Life, loved the photography and was impressed with the new design and typography – so well done to editor Richard Eccles and staff.
I even spotted what one retired editor now does to keep busy: Keith Sutton, the former editorial director of Cumbrian Newspapers, co-pens the magazine’s restaurant review column. Well, someone’s got to do it!
Cumbria Life sells at £3.80 a copy – or an initial offer of £25 a year – and reports a sale of 11,500 copies across Cumbria and Lancashire, 3,000 of them subscribers, with another 2,000 UK-wide subscribers.
This healthy circulation, the magazine’s volume, its stylish relaunch and the fact that it carries 70-plus colour display adverts hints at a profitable operation by CN Group.
And my digitally-subversive side smiled when I could find none of the content on the web – except postage stamp-sized pictures to encourage photo sales.
A smart move, that: if you want to read Cumbria Life, buy the magazine; I wonder if it will catch on?