“Ignorance is Carlisle”: A Doctor Who Fan’s Guide to Cumbria

“Ignorance is… um, what’s the opposite of bliss?”
“Yes! Yes, ignorance is Carlisle.”

In the Doctor Who story Hide, Clara suggests to the Doctor that the opposite of bliss is Carlisle. This might not mean anything to people from overseas (or the South of the UK), but Carlisle is the city where I live. It is the only city in the county of Cumbria, a large in the north of England.  Dubbed ‘The Great Border City,’ it is the only English city not to appear in the Doomsday book, as it was part of Scotland when that book was compiled.

But is it really as bad as Clara suggests? It might be a bit quiet for a Blackpool lass like her, but is it really the opposite of bliss? A study in 2012 suggests its actually the happiest place to live in the UK. Another 2012 study suggests that Carlisle is the promiscuous city in Europe. So maybe there’s too much bliss around. Or maybe Carlisle men are the biggest liars?

Carlisle Citadel panorama 5

The mention of Carlisle in Hide was one of a spate of Cumbria references in series seven of Doctor Who, so I thought I’d wrote a short blog, after my Hide post had a record number of hits (about four times the average) from people (especially our American cousins) Googling variations of “Carlisle is ignorance” and “what is Carlisle?”

        Check out the Trap One Podcast - trapone.podbean.com

The first reference comes in series-opener The Bells of Saint Johnwhere we find the Doctor on a sojourn to thirteenth century Cumbria. He’s brooding in an abbey in an unspecified coastal location. The only clue as to actual site comes later in the episode when he savours a freshly-opened packet of Jammy Dodgers (other biscuits are available).


There’s one place that Cumbrians immediately associate with jam, and that is the town of Whitehaven. The proud residents of which are actually known as Jam Eaters. The origins of this sobriquet seem to come from local miners taking jam sandwiches down t’pit. Whitehaven people themselves are labouring under the misapprehension that the population of neighbouring town Workington are the Jam Eaters, but they are mistaken.

BBC impartiality prevents John Bishop from confirming that the Workingtonians are correct. A noble fellow Workington resident gives the definitive answer in this quote from a Guardian article from 2011:

“I’m a Workington lad, and I know in my bones that “they” are the Jam Eaters. Travel nine miles down the coast and ask a local, however, and they will be equally adamant that it’s “us”. They would be wrong, of course, but what do you expect from a Jam Eater?”

In The Rings of Akhaten Clara suggests they should visit the Lake District. This is the UK’s largest national park, and is found entirely within the county of Cumbria. The Doctor replies that the scones in the 1920s are good. The Tenth Doctor and Martha visit the Lakes in 1909 in the BBC novel Sting of the Zygons by Stephen Cole.


The cover seems to suggest that the TARDIS has grown to enormous proportions, completely out of scale with the chaps in the foreground, but this does not happen in the narrative. The story see the Lake District teeming with big game hunters, Zygons and a Skarasen or two. Our heroes visit completely fictional places like Wolvenlath Mere and Templewell, so no good if you want to visit the locations.

We could actually have done with a visit from the Doctor when aliens invaded the Lake District in 2011:


(Full story here)

An earlier BBC book, Gary Russell’s Second Doctor, Ben and Polly story Invasion of the Cat-People also has some scenes in Cumbria, focusing around Sellafield. Sellafield is usually the only thing other than the Lake District that your average non-Cumbrian has heard of about the county (it also gets a passing mention in Ghostlight). It is a huge employer in West Cumbria, offering wages far in excess of the local average. It’s a great place for a young Cumbrian to get a lifelong lucrative career and generous pension. If anyone in your family already works there that is. For my part I received a letter from them in 2005 requesting that I stop sending them my CV.


Kendal Mint Cake is also mentioned in Hide. Wikipedia defined this as “a glucose-based confectionery flavoured with peppermint. It originates from Kendal in Cumbria … is popular among climbers and mountaineers.”

The exact recipe of Kendal Mint Cake, much like Clara herself in series seven, is a closely-guarded secret.

The cake is beloved by mountaineers, so Professor Edward Travers would have almost certainly taken some to Tibet with him in the original Great Intelligence story, The Abominable Snowmen; a clue which brings us nicely back to the Great Intelligence, Clara and season 7B’s arc.

This blog post led to an invitation to BBC Radio Cumbria on 24th April 2013 to discuss the ‘Cumbria Agenda’ in Doctor Who. This can be heard below. I am Mark, not the ‘uber-fan’ who speaks on the phone first. Remarkable that you can ask to be referred to as an uber-fan then go on air to complain the series:

Although the episode Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS features no direct references to Cumbria, it is revealed that Clara is from Lancashire. There is an oddly specific paragraph on the BBC’s official Doctor Who website, on their Fourth Dimension page about this episode:

“Lancashire is a northern English county and its most famous towns include the seaside resort of Blackpool, referenced in The Rings of Akhaten and the ‘real life’ birth place of Jenna-Louise Coleman. It borders several other counties, including Cumbria; indeed prior to the boundary reforms of 1974, certain regions of what is now Cumbria were part of Lancashire.”

On Monday 13th May a guy from BBC Radio Cumbria phoned and said that witnesses have seen David Tennant with a film crew in Cumbria, wearing his long Tenth Doctor coat. I said that filming wrapped 6th May, and he said the sightings were prior to this.

It seems a bit unlikely. Surely for budgetary reasons Wales would double for Cumbria? The bloke from the radio was going to get back to me if he could confirm anything with Cardiff, but so far, no word.


One thought on ““Ignorance is Carlisle”: A Doctor Who Fan’s Guide to Cumbria

  1. Pingback: Episode 242: Floral Print Pants – Decorative Vegetable

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s