As with our last weekend away, we didn’t pick a good time to put our undoubtedly good intentions and underused walking boots to use when we took a couple of days to visit the Lake District. This time, instead of rolling fog and drizzle, we had to contend with the aftermaths of laryngitis, colds and coughs, as well as the first substantial snowfall of the year snarling up the M6 through Staffordshire. It did, however, make the Cumbrian mountains that much more spectacular, all the more so to a first time visitor like me. As we drove towards Keswick from our hotel, through Kendal, Windermere and Ambleside, past a snow-capped Helvellyn, with Coniston Old Man behind us, it was really something quite spectacular. I can’t really think of an approach to a town that can compare in this country: perhaps the descent into Killarney from the national park would be a challenger, but it would be splitting hairs.
Once in the town, you’ll certainly find yourself in the company of large numbers of appropriately clad walkers. Clutching battered Wainwright guides and dressed in gaiters and waterproofs, the fully experienced rambling hikers of the Lake District congregate in Keswick for a tea and scone or pint of ale, before heading out again. We felt somewhat underdressed, but made the most of the Mountain Warehouse sale to cover some of the ground. Same as when we hit the Peak District, this visit was a reccy – we already have a return visit booked for March, and will break out the rambling hiker gear then. Probably we won’t set our sights as high as Helvellyn, but we’ll do our best.
The next challenge, after the professional ramblers have been successfully evaded, is trying not to spend all ones money in secondhand map shops. This is becoming more and more of a challenge, and will continue to be a problem as long as I keep buying up old Bartholomew maps and the like. Soon to come at CST is Tewkesbury, which seems to be trying to lure me in with exactly this, but it was actually Keswick that yielded up the home turf – under the patronage of the “late King George V” and in beautiful shades of brown and green, the Vale of Severn is opened up from Birmingham across to Clun – including Stourbridge, the Black Country (with fields!), Worcester, Bridgnorth, and so on (I’d best halt here before getting carried away…). This was in a sprawling upstairs bookshop on Station Street, and it’s not the only one: beware. Beware too the vast numbers of outdoorsy shops – there is literally every single one here.
Most pertinently, beware of your wallet when you arrive at Oxfam. This is one serious charity shop, though certainly a most pleasant one. Rather than separate book and other shops, this is a large, combined store. There’s a significant book section (including a large religious section if that’s your thing – this is, after all, Keswick of Convention fame) and a very well-stocked music section. Vinyls are arranged by genre, which is a good sign in a record shop but a bad one in a charity shop: it’s an indicator that staff know the values of their goods, so bargains are rare. This suspicion was borne out by a £30 copy of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, and £16 for After The Goldrush. Never mind. You might find a bargain amongst the huge array of vintage cameras, however: we walked out with a Kodak Brownie 127 for a cheerful £6.99. There’s also rails of clothes, vintage exercise bikes(!), record players and such.
A top notch, though expensive, charity shop, not many others could match up – and Barnardos, the only other circus in town, definitely doesn’t. Few items of interest here, sadly. Despite the paucity of charity shops, Keswick is worth a visit for so many other reasons, I can’t give it a low score – in fact, I enjoyed the town much more than a three would indicate, but this is a charity shop blog, after all…
Find: Keswick @ Google Maps
Get there: Train or 555 bus from Lancaster, or drive from Kendal, Penrith etc… but the slower the better to appreciate the surroundings, so maybe join the mob and walk here.
Consume with: we had a rather excellent baked potato at Laura in the Lakes, but there’s plenty of sustenance to go round.
Visit: get out of town – you’re in spitting distance of Derwent Water, Skiddaw, Grisedale Pike and many more.
Overall rating: three box brownies