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When it comes to a sally in the Lakes, Penrith is the perfect hub for your stay. Huddled in the Eden Valley (no, really), it’s the most beautiful of Cumbrian Market towns. And if you can pair a couple of days here with a trip to the Ullswater Valley then you’re in for a mini-break that will see your cares fade away like a Polaroid in reverse.
If you’re travelling light then make sure you stretch your legs and have a look at Penrith Castle en-route to the town. It’s directly across from the station. Before he became Richard III (and one of our best stage villains), Richard, Duke of Gloucester was given the Lordship of Penrith. He spent quite a bit of time at the castle and even got the contractors in, adding a large banqueting hall, kitchens and other buildings. If there was a uPVC conservatory it’s been lost in time.
Once you’re settled into your digs then have a browse of the quirky shops that are secreted around the town’s historical ginnels and alleys. As you weave your way around these winding narrow ways bear in mind that there’s a reason for the snickets – during the 9th and 10th centuries, Penrith was the capital of Cumbria (a semi-independent state and part of Scotland). In 1295 the town was seized by Edward I of England. This news didn’t go down too well over the border and for the next 15 years, Penrith was subject to numerous border skirmishes. So they built the castle and the planners opted for the narrow streets and passageways as defences against the border raids.
One great example is Rowcliffe Lane, an anonymous-looking alley now, but back in the day, this was the industrial heart of Penrith. Despite being just 8-feet wide in places, in the 17th century it was filled with tailors, coopers, saddlers, rope-makers and whitesmiths. Wagons and coaches would regularly squeeze up and down the passage (surely it was a one-way), and some signs of its industrial past are still evident today.
There’s plenty to do when you get to Penrith centre, not least grabbing a bite to eat, these are a few of our favourite places.
J J Graham
Graham's is right on Penrith's Market Square and the current building dates back to 1880. As well as their famed hampers they also have an artisan bakery where the team bake bread, scones, pies and cook soup, quiches & honey glazed ham every day.
The Lemon Tree
This place is a cute little bistro/cafe and perfect for a fuel stop or a full on slap up meal. If you’re going, try the Lemon Drizzle cake… go on, just a slice.
Angel Lane Chippie
Named top fish and chip shop in the North West…. well, you don’t need much more info that that do you? Come to this family-owned and run chippy for brilliant fish and chips. It also has a 35 seat Restaurant upstairs.
Penrith Farmer’s Market
And finally, if you’re after some brilliant food with very low food miles head to Penrith Farmer’s Market. It’s held on the third Tuesday of each month from March to December, 9.30am to 2.30pm.
If you are feeling adventurous head to the bus station (stand 3) to get the regular X5 bus to Rheged Discovery Centre. There’s a cinema, exhibitions, talks and workshops and even soft play and an outdoor activity centre for the kids.
If you prefer your adventures to be more fluid, then Dockray Hall (Great Dockray, CA11 7DE)
was Cumbria Tourism’s Pub of the Year 2018, and with good reason. It’s a 15th-century country pub that’s had an entire town sprout up around it. The menu boasts modern British cuisine made from fresh, local and seasonal produce. And it’s got Cumbrian Legendary Ales on tap.
Morning! OK, game on… today, we’re going on a wander. Head to the Bus Station on Sandgate, just off the town centre and take the 508 from Stand 1 for a 40-minute ride to the Greenside Road Bus Shelter in Glenridding. If you aren’t sure where to get off just ask the driver to give you a shout when you’re there. They’re a friendly lot here, so don’t be afeared. Once disembarked you can spend the morning browsing the collection of shops, admiring the views and enjoying a brew in one of the local cafes or pubs.
From Glenridding centre head to Glenridding Pier, it’s clearly signposted from the main road. From the pier, you can then get on a cruise on an Ullswater Steamer (timetable and fares here) to Aira Force Pier.
On arriving at Aira Force, it’s all about holding your nerve while you get to grips with the powerful force of beauty that nature can be. Aira Force refers to the area and also a waterfall set in woodland glades from the water’s edge to fell top. This is where words start to falter… the fact is there’s beauty here that defies language… that lad Wordsworth had a pop though, in the last verse of The Somnambulist:
Wild stream of Aira, hold thy course,
Nor fear memorial lays,
Where clouds that spread in solemn shade,
Are edged with golden rays!
Never mind the poetry and the beauty though, incredibly you’ll soon get used to it, so plan a splash about in a canoe, a nature trail or just a wander in the amazing greenery. Cares? Worries? They’ll become words uncoupled from meaning.
If you're inspired to head off to Penrith and the Lakes then book your Advance Train Ticket today. You could save over 50%.