Category Archives: Cumbria


Branthwaite Brow, Kendal, England by pixelsandpaper, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Branthwaite Brow, Kendal, England by pixelsandpaper, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Despite being the biggest town for some distance, Kendal has never been a county town, or the capital of the Lake District or anything. Rather, it was the centre of one of two baronies which made up the historic county of Westmorland, later subsumed into Cumbria, and today is a minor administrative HQ for the South Lakeland district council. However, it’s always been a hub, a market town drawing trade from across the most dramatic scenery of England, and remains so today – bigger than the nestled quaintness of Keswick, or the tourist-heavy Windermere or Ambleside, Kendal’s become a properly lovely little town, more than just mint cake.

You descend into Kendal via ranks of grey limestone cottages, flanked on every side by, if not formally the Lake District national park, then certainly the foothills of the Cumbrian mountains, the Shap fells, even looking towards Sedbergh and the Yorkshire Dales. It’s easily found from the M6, with snow-capped peaks in the background winking at you. There’s a fairly completed, if scenic, one-way system which (if you’re not careful) will whizz you over the River Kent and out again. We’ve parked in the shopping centre the couple of times we’ve visited. Sometimes it’s best just to find the first big blue P and go there.

Kendal town centre is based around Highgate and the excellently-named Stricklandgate, a hilly, semi-pedestrianised main drag which is complemented by several quaint side streets and a market square (as well as the Westmorland shopping centre). The charity shops cluster around the junction between the two ‘gates: at this point there’s a twin Oxfam (similarly to Glossop) with a good range particularly in the bookshop. This one’s definitely worth a stop for the Lakes guidebook/map hunter, although be warned – Oxfam always knows the value of a book, so don’t be expecting to pick up bargain Wainwright guides.

Almost next door you’ll find Scope, then over the road a Salvation Army and St John Hospice. These latter two are large shops filled with a veritable plethora of stuff; the British Heart Foundation slightly up the hill is less good, and is annoyingly laid-out, as per usual. Off the marketplace there’s a pretty good Barnado’s shop – this one had a pile of vintage fabrics when we were there as well as a fez. It goes without saying that the latter proved more tempting…

Finally, AgeUK is on Finkle Street, a tiddly little lane just off the main shopping route, but which makes a nice loop around – it’s accessible from both ends round the back of the marketplace. This is just an ordinary little shop, but did throw up a pretty decent record player for just £6.50, which is cheerful. We’ve been listening to Peter Gabriel and Dire Straits ever since.

I feel like I should be able to wax more lyrical about Kendal – perhaps Monday morning isn’t the best time of week for composing prose. Don’t let me put you off by the matter-of-fact post – Kendal’s a really lovely little town, definitely worth a visit.

Find: Kendal Google Maps
Get there: Kendal’s on the very scenic rail branch line from Lancaster to Windermere, which looks worth a go.
Consume with: Costa is a safe bet as normal.
Visit: as with so many of our visits recently, get walking. While Kendal itself lies in the Kent valley, you’re not far from anay of the Lake District here – Windermere is 8 miles on, Longsleddale (inspiration for Greendale) is the nearest hillage, and you’re not far from the Howgill Fells either.
Overall rating: four Dire Straits albums




Filed under 4/5, Cumbria


Jus' walkin' the dog by Rick Harrison, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Jus' walkin' the dog by Rick Harrison, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

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



Filed under 3/5, Cumbria