Returning to Cumbria, one of his favourite regions of England, Michael Edwards offers up some of the best of Kendal’s must-see sights.
As Britain heads into a summer of staycations Kendal, in Cumbria, is likely to be busy. The southern gateway to the UNESCO recognised Lakeland of 16 lakes and 214 fells, will probably see many an “offcomer”, visitors in the local vernacular, this year.
Within a short drive south of the Yorkshire Dales, Kendal is on the doorstep of two of Britain’s most spectacular outdoor natural landscapes. Although motorway signs on the M6 northbound are headlining Scotland as Kendal approaches, the Cumbrian historic market town is less remote than many think: just over three hours by train from London.
Perhaps if visitors feel there’s a gentle bucolic, Postman Pat feel to the sheepy, sleepy villages around Kendal, they are not wrong. John Cunliffe, the creator of Postman Pat and Jess his black-and-white cat, Mrs Goggins et al was a Kendal man. Remember this is one of those few English counties where sheep outnumber humans: for the record, by a ratio of 6:1.
Another of Kendal’s famous sons, Alfred Wainwright, author, and illustrator of guides to the Dales and Lakes, anticipated our need for mindfulness long before apps were created. He foresaw that those who sought the becks, forests and ridges would be “blessed in both mind and body.” Though in a landscape of soaring fells and biting winds, even on a Summer’s day, it is wise to travel with a calorific energy-giving slab of Kendal Mint Cake.
Inevitably, the ancestors of those millions of sheep were instrumental in bringing wealth to Kendal. Amongst Kendal’s ginnels, that translates as alleys to “offcomers”, visitors sense the historic evidence of place names. Tenterfell was named after the frame on which wool was once stretched and dried. The fast-flowing River Kent powered the mills that helped the wool industry to thrive.
Demographically, Kendal is Cumbria’s third town but locals would claim that it is the county’s cultural capital. Starting, alphabetically, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery houses landscapes and portraits, that show the influence of Cumbria as artists’ muse. After all, Wordsworth wasn’t too far away when he famously wrote about that host of golden daffodils. Based in an original Georgian Meeting House, the Quaker Tapestry Museum recalls the quiet but devout influence of Quakers through the centuries in over 40 embroidered tapestries.
Kendal Castle had a significant role in Tudor history. Once home to the Parr family, Catherine Parr, recalling the divorced, beheaded, died: divorced, beheaded, survived rhyme, was the sixth wife of Henry Vlll – the absolutist monarch who was dangerously grouchy in his final obeyed years. Another historic property, Sizergh Castle, a medieval mansion, lies just two miles south of Kendal. Hopefully, the Brewery Arts Centre will be moving towards a more normal programme as lockdown eases.
Wandering down Lowther Street, the sweet aroma of tobacco is a reminder of both Kendal’s past and the British empire. Fast-flowing waters powered the mills that produced snuff, a fine tobacco powder sniffed for a strong hit of nicotine. Today, Samuel Gawith & Co is the only remaining producer of Kendal Brown Snuff which was once a thriving industry.
As the southern gateway to the Lakes, it is merely a 20-minutes’ drive to Lake Windermere for boat trips, kayaking, sailing and wild-swimming. Yet, for those who prefer their country-living in small doses, Kendal with its bars, restaurants and shops, is an ideal base.
Marking Kendal’s history with a sheep’s head wrought in iron as part of its entrance, Kendal Cottages, provide luxurious self-catering accommodation on the banks of the River Kent. From its balcony there are views of Stramongate Bridge, once carrying the main road north to Scotland. Records as early as 1379 refer to ‘De Ponte de Strowmondgate’.
At the base of the building housing Kendal Cottages, with its architectural echoes of long-gone wool mills, there is an otters’ holt and swimming otters can sometimes be spotted.
Although Kendal is a superb base for biking and walking in the Dales or Lakes it provides cultural, bars and restaurants – and an insurance policy against inclement weather – for many an “offcomer”.
Tell me more about visiting Kendal and England’s Lake District.
Go to Visit Lake District for more information on Kendal and The Lakes.
Visit Kendal Cottages for availability and details on how to book.
Short breaks out of season (Mon-Fri or Fri-Mon) start from £390
Full weeks (Fri-Fri) range from £590 out of season to £1200 in peak season.