A well-known Lake District centre, famous for its walking and climbing facilities and its annual sheepdog trials. Another event takes place each July when children process through the streets carrying rushes and flowers to the parish church, a tradition dating from medieval times when rushes where used to carpet churches. This part of the Lake District has many literary associations. Matthew Arnold lived at Fox House. Charlotte Bronte used to visit her friend the writer Harriet Martineau at her home in Ambleside. William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy would often walk to the post office in Ambleside when they lived at Dove Cottage, 12 miles away at Grasmere.
Bowness on Windermere
On the east bank of Lake Windermere,Bowness has become a popular centre for watersports. A ferry runs to Belle Isle, where England’s first completely round house was built in 1774.
Originally Luguvalium,a prosperous Roman settlement, Carlisle was later raided successively by Picts, Vikings and Scots, William ll began work on the castle, which was later to house the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Mary’s Tower contains the museum of the former Border Regiment. During the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie made his proclamation at Carlisle Cross. The city’s cathedral is one of the smallest in England, but is nevertheless beautiful.
Cartmel used to be a centre of faith and scholarship. The priory and its church of Sts Mary and Michael were established in the 12th century. King Henry VIII dissolved the former: after it had fallen into disuse, local builders helped themselves to the stones until only the impressive gatehouse survived. The church remained and it has the atmosphere of a cathedral. The treasure of the church is a first edition of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. A number of people who failed to beat the tide on their journeys between Lancashire and the Lake District across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay are buried in the graveyard. 1 mile north the church at Cartmel Fell contains a rare pre Reformation carved figure of Christ.
A fine 18th-century house on Main Street was the birthplace of the poet William Wordsworth in 1770, and is now a museum devoted to his life and works. The town is a very old one, and an excellent centre for touring the Lake District.
The village, which lies beside Coniston Water. is dominated by the summit of the Old Man of Coniston, 2627ft above sea-level. John Ruskin, the 19th century writer, lived on the east side of the lake in a house called Brantwood which contains many relics and pictures. Coniston Water has been used for attempts to break the World Water Speed Record -sometimes with tragic results. Donald Campbell was killed here in 1967, when his jet powered boat Bluebird went out of control at over 300mph.
The poet William Wordsworth lived for 14 years in this small village at the northern end of Grasmere lake which he described as ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’. From 1799-1808 he lived at Dove Cottage, a simple lime-washed, slate-roofed stone cottage, originally The Dove and Olive Inn. The Wordsworth Museum is Grasmere.
Near the head of Esthwaite Water, halfway between Coniston and Windermere, the stone cottages of this delightful Lake District village are clustered round little courtyards and narrow alleys. The Norman church of St Michael contains the Sandys Chapel, dedicated by Edwin Sandys.
Magnificent red sandstone 16th century Holker Hall lies in a 122-acre park containing a large herd of deer as well as formal and woodland gardens and children’s adventure playground. Additional attractions include the large motor museum, aquarium, and large-gauge model railway.
The ‘auld grey town’ of Kendal was made a barony by Richard Coeur de Lion in 1189. It has since become the administrative capital and the largest town of the Lake District. The town’s motto Pannus mibi panis – wool is my bread – comes from the wool industry established here by the Flemish in 1331. Kendal is now most famous for its snuff and mint cake. The River Kent meanders through the Fell country on the edge of the Lake District National Park, overlooked by the remains of Kendal Castle, the birthplace of Catherine Parr. The Abbot Hall Art Gallery is a fine 18th-century house with period furnishings, a museum of Lakeland life and industry is housed in the old stables. Kendal museum specialises in natural history and archaeology. The Mayor’s Parlour has a collection of pictures by George Romney, the portrait painter who was born here in 1734. One mile south is the site of Alauna, a Roman fort. 3 miles south lies Sizergh Castle, home of the Strickland family for 700 years. Its pele tower was built in 1370 as a defence against border raiders. It contains much fine panelling and early Elizabethan carving.
Kirkby Lonsdale is a little market town attractively set on a hill above the River Lune. John Ruskin, the 19th-century writer, considered his favourite view from the town to be ‘one of the loveliest scenes in England and therefore in the world’; Ruskin Walks are signposted near the churchyard. The ancient, three-arched Devil’s Bridge which spans the Lune just outside Kirkby is now closed to traffic. The great pool beneath it is popular with salmon fishermen and aqualung divers. The town has an old market cross and the church, St Mary’s, is Norman. The Bronte sisters attended the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, near here, and Kirkby is the model for Lowton in Jane Eyre.
Levens Hall stands in 100 acres of parkland through which flows the River Kent; its topiary gardens are probably the best of their kind in the country and were designed in about 1700 by a Frenchman called Beaumont, who also remodelled the gardens of Hampton Court for James II. The house itself is a fine Elizabethan mansion incorporating part of a 14th century pele tower (built to protect the border against the Scots). The richly carved panels and moulded ceilings were added by James Bellingham, who bought the house in 1580. The former brewhouse has a unique collection of steam-driven traction engines.
Muncaster Castle stands on land that has been owned by the Pennington family since the 13th century. It was reconstructed in the 19th century but one of the original towers survives. It contains among many other things, a bowl presented by Henry VI, who found sanctuary there after his defeat at the Battle of Towton in 1464. This, known as the ‘luck’ of Muncaster, is said to ensure the unbroken succession of the Pennington family who have lived here since the 13th century. The grounds contain a bird garden, a Himalayan bear garden, and a flamingo pool. At Muncaster Mill, one mile away you can buy stoneground flour.
Literary associations – with Wordsworth, Scott and Coleridge are strong in Penrith, a historic town, well situated as a touring centre both for the Lake District and for the Eden Valley. The parish church dates from the 12th century, though it was extensively remodelled in the 18th. In the churchyard is the so-called Giant’s Grave, reputedly the tomb of Owen Caesarius, King of Cumbria in the 10th century. Nearby is the shaft of a contemporary cross, locally named the ‘Giant’s Thumb’. The site of Penrith Beacon to the north east of the town is marked by a memorial built in 1719.
Once a port, this unspoilt fishing village stands on the estuary of the Rivers Esk, Mite and Irt. It is best known for the 7-mile long Ravenglass and Eskdale railway which runs to Dalegarth through the beautiful Eskdale Valley. Established in 1875 to carry iron ore, this 15-inch narrow gauge railway, affectionately known as ‘L’aal Ratty’, now carries passengers using both steam and diesel locomotives. There is a Railway Museum here. Also near Ravenglass, at Walls Castle, are some preserved Roman ruins.
Situated in the Lake District National Park, Rydal is at the east end of Rydal Water, one of the most delightful of the smaller lakes, sheltered by 2000ft Rydal Fell on the north side. In 1813 William Wordsworth moved to Rydal Mount, a house incorporating an early 16th-century farmer’s cottage, where he died in 1850. Beautifully situated .in a our and a half -acre fell garden, it overlooks Windermere and Rydal Water.
Seathwaite is very remote. Tucked away in the Dunnerdale valley, it is overshadowed by Harter Fell (2143ft) with precipitous Wrynose Pass away to the north east at the head of the valley. In the village churchyard ‘Wonderful Walker’, born in 1709 and for 67 years vicar of the parish, is buried. He figures in Wordsworth’s poem The Excursion.
Seatoller is in the beautiful but rainy valley of Borrowdale. At Sprinkling Tarn, the average yearly rainfall is over 185 inches. Seathwaite Farm, 2 miles away, is one of the wettest inhabited places in England. In the 17th and 18th centuries, they used to mine plumbago (a kind of graphite) at Seatoller.
This is a fell-town. The boys’ public school was founded in 1525 by a Canon of Windsor and Provost of Eton. A new school built in 1716 now serves as library and museum to the present establishment, which was erected in the late 19th century. Sedbergh itself is a busy market centre with a mainly 13th-century parish church. The Quaker Meeting House, one mile to the south west, dates back to 1675. There is a National Park Centre in the town.
At 1300ft above sea-level, Shap Fell is the highest point on the A6, and the village stands at nearly 1000ft. One mile to the west are the ruins of a 14th century abbey and a sulphur well. The village was built using stone from Shap Abbey. In the grounds of Shap Wells Hotel, three miles south, is an interesting statue of Queen Victoria as a young girl. Five miles south east, Orton was the birthplace of George Whitehead in 1636, a leader and cofounder of the Quakers. High Borrow Bridge, halfway between Shap and Kendal, was the site of a battle in 1745 between the Duke of Cumberland and the followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie
This Lake District Village, delightfully situated in the wild and beautiful Troutbeck Valley, extends along the hillside from Town Head to Town End. To the north is the high Kirkstone Pass; to the west is Lake Windermere, into which the beck flows. Most of Troutbeck’s older houses were built by its ‘statesmen’ yeomen farmers making a subsistence living from the hillsides. The east window of the church, rebuilt in the 18th century is the joint work of Burne-Jones, William Morris and Ford Madox Brown. Park Farm shows visitors how a 2000 acre sheep station is run. Townend Farm, previously owned by the same family for 300 years, is a characteristic yeoman’s house built in about 1626. It is whitewashed, with the tall, tapering chimneys that are a feature of Lake District architecture, stone-mullioned windows, carved woodwork, and much of its original oak furniture.
The 100ft replica of the Eddystone Lighthouse, on Hoad Hill, is a memorial to Sir John Barrow, founder of the Royal Geographical Society, and Secretary to the Admiralty, who was born in Ulverston in 1764. Swarthmoor Hall one mile south was the home of George Fox’s wife, Margaret Fell. The founder of the Quaker movement lived here, and built the Meeting House in 1688.
The centre of the Lake District National Park, stands to the east of Lake Windermere, which is the largest expanse of fresh water in England. At Brockholes, north west of the town, is the Lake District National Park Visitor Centre. The town is one of England’s busiest tourist centres.