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Written by George Fisher

Image for article THE JOHN DALTON WAY

In celebration of the 250th anniversary of John Dalton’s birth, a new walk has been devised in West Cumbria from Cockermouth to Seascale. The walk is 45km long and can be completed over two days, or in five shorter sections using existing footpaths.

John Dalton was born in 1766 in Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, and is best known for his discoveries of atomic theory and colour blindness. The walk links Dalton’s birthplace with Cockermouth then on to Calder Hall, the first commercial atomic power station in the world when it was commissioned in 1956. The walk, and the associated Guide Booklet, celebrates the development of atomic theory over the intervening 200 years.

The walk itself not only links areas of interest to John Dalton and atomic theory, it passes alongside some of the most beautiful countryside in England on the north-western fringes of the Lake District, including views of Scotland and the Isle of Man. It follows the River Calder for a while, passes Calder Hall and finally ends on the coast. Picturesque villages encountered include Eaglesfield, Dean, Ulloch, Mockerkin, Lamplugh, Ennerdale Bridge, Calder Bridge and finally Seascale.

For the serious walker, the walk can be easily done in two days, taking a break at Ennerdale Bridge at just over halfway. It is recommended, however, that a break is also made at Mockerkin so that time can be taken to linger at the many points of interest on the way. Of course the walk can also be staged over individual days by just walking single sections from village to village.

John Dalton was always interested in walking, returning to visit friends and relatives in the Cockermouth and Eaglesfield area. This walk and booklet therefore also celebrate the scenery and villages of Cumberland where John was brought up and regularly visited in later life.

For each leg, this guide booklet provides a general overview, an outline map and detailed instructions, including map references, distances and guide times excluding rest and sight-seeing stops.

You can buy the booklet here:

The publishers also have a small website:

John Dalton’s Life

Cockermouth and its environs are not short of famous people - Wordsworth, Fletcher Christian, Fearon Fallows and William Woodville - but John Dalton is one of the less well-known.

Dalton was born into poor family circumstances in 1766 in Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth. He was the son of a village weaver and lived the first fifteen years of his life in humble surroundings. His parents were Quakers, and the Society of Friends was to have a big influence on John's early life. Education and learning were important to the Quakers, and John attended the village school in Pardshaw Hall. Eventually his education led him to the post of tutor in mathematics and natural philosophy at the Manchester Academy. Not long after arriving in Manchester in 1793, John published his first book, 'Meteorological Observations' which had been written when he lived briefly in Kendal. The book was actually a manual designed for trainee meteorologists, but he later said that the 'germs' of atomic theory lay within it.

Within a month, he presented his first paper, 'Extraordinary Facts Relating to the Vision of Colours, with Observations'. John had discovered that he was colour blind when he bought some brown stockings for his mother which turned out to be cherry red! In his will, he donated his eyes for scientific research into colour blindness.

Dalton’s work on understanding the atmosphere concluded in 'Dalton's Law of Partial Pressures' which led into the exploration of atomic weights, and he produced a table of 21 “simple and compound elements” arranged in order of relative particle weights. This table would become the basis of chemical atomism. His growing scientific reputation led to his election to the Royal Society in 1822 and, in 1831, he also became a founding member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. John Dalton died in 1844, in Manchester, aged 77.