Kendal: the historic gateway to the lakes

Windermere from Gummer’s How by Kendal

We stayed at KENDAL HOSTEL (currently closed), which was perfectly positioned in the centre of town for all of our needs, not least a pre-dinner pint at any pub that took our fancy. It’s amazing what surprises are in hidden in the fabric of a town’s history, and Kendal is no different.

The Museum of Lakeland Life & History in Kendal offers a fascinating portrait of the Lake District – the culture, traditions and the historic figures for whom it became home and a source of inspiration. Among the museum’s highlights is the life and times of children’s author, Arthur Ransome. Ransome, who’s best known for Swallows and Amazons lived in the Lake District, and the wonderful exhibit dedicated to him contains many artefacts.  These include original notes and sketches for Swallows and Amazons, and an intriguing gift – you’ll have to find out what – for which the book was written in return.

A view of Kendal from Kendal Castle
A view of Kendal from Kendal Castle

There’s something mesmerising about bygone eras and it is these passages of time that the museum portrays so beautifully. It’s fun to imagine yourself living in the scenes before you. From keeping alive the perennially burning peat fire to taking the prescribed concoctions at the pharmacy, I wondered how I would cope in a world almost blissfully absent of technology yet so brutal and uncertain.  As I crouched inside a re-creation of a mine shaft, a pick and shovel between me and a great wall of rock, I realised I could never cut it.

The journey back in time continues at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery opposite the museum, where another of the region’s greats is on display – Dalton-in-Furness born portrait artist, George Romney. The informative display reveals that Romney travelled to Italy to study and hone his painting style before producing arguably his greatest work, and the jewel in the gallery’s crown: The Gower Family: The Children of Granville, 2nd Earl Gower. I’m relatively new to the world of art, yet I managed to get completely lost in this magnificent oil on canvas; the sheer scale of the work, combined with the ethereal nature of the scene is wonderfully baffling in both its themes and sublime execution.  The range of fine artists who grace the gallery walls, including David Hockney and Paula Rego, together with the nationally renowned visiting exhibitions, make Abbot Hall an essential part of any visit to Kendal.

Abbot Hall Art Galley, Kendal
Abbot Hall Art Galley, Kendal

On leaving the art gallery I thought the best place to ponder the past was at Kendal Castle. My stroll up to this 12th century ruin provided superb views of the town and the fells beyond, and also the chance to sit within the castle walls and further contemplate how much, and how little, the world has changed.

Local Inspiration

Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, famous names that roll off the tongue when celebrating how the Lake District has inspired some of Great Britain’s finest writing. I remember my school days, studying the Lake Poets, and the history of this region, which will forever be celebrated for its literary influence. What they failed to teach me in A-level English is that the Lake District also provided the inspiration for long-running children’s cartoon, Postman Pat. I loved this show as a child, so it was great to recently discover that when Pat, and his black and white cat, puttered around the winding country lanes of Greensdale it was the valley of Longsleddale near Kendal that creator John Cunliffe had in mind. Cunliffe lived in Kendal, just down the road from the Beast Banks Post Office on which the show’s office at 10 Greenside was based. Sadly the original Post Office is no more, but Pat’s legend lives on through a plaque at the Beast Banks address and the numerous memorabilia around Kendal’s gift shops.

Lake Windermere from Gummer’s How by Kendal
Lake Windermere from Gummer’s How by Kendal

At the best of times I love the challenge of walking up mountains, moels and fells to enjoy the views, peace and quiet. But during a heat-wave and having enjoyed the Burgundy Wine Bar & Brewhouse in Kendal a little too much the night before, I was happy to skip the tough bit and go straight to the great views and tranquility. Welcome to Gummer’s How. Near to Kendal, this excellent short walk reveals a stunning panorama of Lake Windermere and the surrounding mountains. Most of the 321 metres is climbed on the drive leaving you with a very easy and fun ascent.  We sat eating our sandwiches in glorious sunshine enjoying a cool breeze, watching a huge buzzard circling on the thermals below.

From this point proceedings only got lazier. Only a few minutes drive away is Fell Foot – a tranquil National Trust park on Lake Windermere offering pleasant walks, a cafe and a play-park. Here, we ambled around the lake’s shore until it met with the River Leven, spread out a picnic blanket and fell asleep.

kendal hostel's cosy lounge
Kendal hostel’s cosy lounge

We stayed at  KENDAL HOSTEL, one of the many great hostels around Kendal.  The hostel (now closed) was perfectly positioned in Kendal town centre, ideal for all of our needs, not least a pre-dinner pint at any pub that took our fancy. Our favourite was the aforementioned Burgundy Wine Bar & Brewhouse which served excellent local ales to cool unobtrusive reggae. The Brewery Arts Centre is right next door for a film, play, a pint or a pizza and more besides.

The Kendal Hostel’s large kitchen has all you need to cook a fine meal, but that would have been too much for this day, so we ordered take-away from the excellent Little Thai Chef on Braithwaite Brow. Sat in the hostel’s bright dining room eating great food with a bottle white wine we planned the next day’s walking.

It was going to be another hot one, and a hike to the beautiful and remote Codale Tarn awaited. Best get some sleep.