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