John Ruskin described it as the “gateway to paradise” where the mountains literally tumble into the sea and the land bears the remnants of the final frontiers of the Roman empire.
But the tranquil, isolated charm of the tiny fishing village of Ravenglass – on the west coast of the Lake District national park – is under threat.
Locals say their very own world heritage site has been offered up like a sacrificial lamb after plans were initiated for a stretch of pylons that once erected will be be seen from every street in the village. Pink “No Pylon” signs have been put up in homes and residents are beginning to get vocal.
National Grid plans to erect 75 pylons in the Lake District, with at least eight surrounding Ravenglass. The company wants to build more than 20 miles of pylons in and around the western side of the Lake District national park to carry electricity from a proposed new nuclear power station at Moorside, near Sellafield.
National Grid has told people in Ravenglass that about 1.2 miles – less than a 10th of the new high-voltage line – might be placed underground. It has asked residents to suggest which area should be spared the blight of pylons up to 160ft tall.
Mike Harrison, who is leading the campaign in Ravenglass against the plans, is baffled by the network’s approach. He voiced the widespread view that a short-term cost saving for the National Grid will ruin the cherished countryside for future generations.
Harrison, Cumbrian born and bred from nearby Bowness, said: “There are so many reasons why this should not happen. There are the obvious ones that we don’t want these pylons to blight our views, but then there are the facts – this is an important village from an archeological perspective, it is also a site of special scientific interest with the dunes nearby which attract gulls.
“All of this could be lost because they made the rather silly decision of planning to put this new power station on the wrong side of the national park and then they assumed this would not matter. We do not want them to come in like a demolition fleet – every aspect of life in the village will be effected if this goes ahead.”
Locals say the pylons will tower over a Roman bathhouse, fort and settlement, not to mention blight views for its 200 inhabitants. There are also fears that the tourist footfall in the now “ageing” community will fall, leaving them further isolated.
The village sits at the estuary of three rivers: the Esk, the Mite and the Irt. There are about 150 houses, three pubs, a hotel and a cafe. There is also Muncaster Castle – home to the Pennington family for the past 800 years – which draws in hundreds of visitors and wedding parties.
Peter Frost-Pennington, who runs Muncaster Castle with his wife Iona, has thrown his weight behind the campaign.
Appointing himself “steward” of the lands, he said those who live in the coastal areas of the national park are viewed as the poor relations of the rest of the Lake District because of its industrial history.
Frost-Pennington argued that his more vociferous neighbours, in areas such as Windemere, Keswick and Ambleside, would never entertain such an idea.
He said: “What has really upset us is that we have been ignored – this is not the best route or the cheapest one. This route is a compromise so as not to ignite tensions with other more glamorous Lake District communities. But what about our beautiful coast?
“National Grid have all been perfectly polite in meetings, but what they are proposing is to barge through here with these massive pylons. This is going to be a world heritage site and they cannot destroy this wonderful landscape where the mountains meet the sea for future generations.
“We are not nimbys – we are just trying to protect our heritage.”
Friends of the Lake District, a membership organisation dedicated to protecting Cumbrian landscapes, has also waded into the debate and refused to help choose the area that should be pylon-free, saying that the whole route should be buried.
Kate Willshaw, policy officer at Friends of the Lake District, told the Guardian: “It’s like being asked which of your children you want to save while sacrificing the rest. We can’t say any sections are more valuable than others.”
She added that National Grid was trying to trap her organisation and others into identifying the most important areas so that it could claim to have taken their advice and protected them.
“If somebody breaks ranks and says the undergrounding should be in one particular area then the National Grid could say at the planning inquiry that ‘this group said this was the most important part of the national park so that’s why we are saving it’,” she said.
There is a significant cost to putting the network underground – 20 miles of buried lines would cost about £450m more than using pylons. However, opponents of the plans have argued that this would add only about 40p a year to the average electricity bill in England and Wales.
They point out that National Grid has already agreed to remove about 45 existing pylons from the New Forest national park, the Peak District, Snowdonia and the Dorset area of outstanding natural beauty near Winterbourne Abbas. The electricity lines in these areas will be placed underground by 2021 in a £500m “visual impact provision” project.
Bill Bryson, the American Anglophile author and former president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, has also joined the protest against the Lake District pylons saying one of the “finest landscapes on the planet” should not be exploited for business interests.
National Grid said it was considering placing part of the route underground, but has so far refused to say how much. Details will be published this summer in a public consultation, with a planning application expected to be submitted in March next year.
A spokesman for National Grid told the Times: “When building connections for generators, we strive to avoid designated landscapes. Where this is not possible, we work closely with stakeholders and communities and carry out consultations to develop a proposal that achieves the best possible balance between protecting the environment and ensuring everyone has an affordable electricity supply.
“We fully recognise the importance of the national park and for more than five years have been working together with local authorities from across Cumbria and Lancashire, including the Lake District National Park Authority, as well as environmental, business and community organisations to develop our proposals.”
National Grid has said that most of the line would follow the path of existing smaller pylons, which would be removed. These are about half the size at about 80ft tall and slimmer than the proposed new pylons.
National Grid expects to spend about £2.5bn connecting up the power station with lines to Carlisle in the north and Heysham, Lancashire, in the south. Part of the southern route will be placed in a new tunnel under Morecambe Bay, sparing the south of the Lake District.
In the meantime the future of Ravenglass, the Lake District’s poor relation, hangs in the balance.