Travel Excursion –
England’s Lake District – Part I
Countryside transports visitors back in time
England’s Lake District Part One
By Patrice Raplee
Visitors alight on the Oxenholme train platform and deeply breathe in the fresh air. An inner stillness reminds you that you haven’t felt this way since your childhood. The rolling green hills and gentle birdsong mingle with the late afternoon sun, stealing away the travel tension; while the storybook stone houses and surrounding countryside transport you back in time. You have arrived in England’s stunning Lake District.
The picturesque Lake District, located in northwestern England, was designated a national park in 1951 and lies entirely in Cumbria. With over 885 square miles of fells (a Norse word for mountain), valleys, open moorland, coastline, lakes and tarns, the Lake District is comprised of a sparsely populated, natural region that encompasses numerous quaint towns and villages.
Although the Lake District has been a popular tourist destination since the railroads were built and carried passengers through in the mid-19th century, the area has remained essentially the same. With strict building codes, the national park designation and controlled growth, the region would be quite recognizable today by residents of its bygone era. The famous romantic English poet William Wordsworth and favorite children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter would have no trouble traversing the moors and roadways to find their former abodes. It is due to the careful management and preservation by the Lake District’s National Trust that England’s most brilliant and scenic national park is as beautiful today as it was over 150 years ago.
The town of Kendal lies towards the southwestern edge of the Lake District and is situated only nine miles from Windermere and 30 miles from Keswick. Until the late 19th century, the town’s woolen industry was its main commerce. Present Kendal is a lovely, thriving market town with verdant hills and 16th century stone architecture that captures the imagination. Numerous shopping arcades, excellent museums, historical buildings, superb B&Bs, fine cuisine, woodlands, castles, and intriguing history are only a few of Kendal’s alluring attributes.
Kendal Castle, originally built in the late 12th century, perches atop Castle Hill. Now in ruins, the castle is still a fascinating place to explore during the day and a good subject for late afternoon photographs. The castle was once home to the Parr family in the 1500s. Their famous legacy was Katherine Parr, who was the sixth wife of King Henry VIII and consequently, the only wife lucky enough to outlive him.
A special and interesting place to visit while in Kendal is the Quaker Tapestry Exhibit and Tapestry Tearoom, located on Stramongate. The permanent exhibit features 77 exquisite panels progressing in lineal time and depicting an aspect of Quaker history and modern life, with works by 4,000 people in 15 different countries. Each woolen panel is painstakingly embroidered by various groups of men, women and children with the panels constituting about 800 hours or 18 months of work to complete. The completed panels are quite realistic, with minute detail illustrating a person falling into a rippling pond or “Cruel” embroidery, that evokes a serious narrative of often harsh, historical life. Moreover, the panels are accompanied by a choice of audio guides, or a self-guided tour with additional interactive centers, film narratives, Quaker artifacts and social history.
The Quaker Tapestry Exhibit is considered one of the best “secret places in Britain.” Additionally, the tapestry museum offers popular two-day workshops, embroidery materials and tools, as well as a wonderful gift shop and a top-notch tearoom adjacent to the tapestry building. For additional information, visit.
If you visit Kendal’s Market Square, where independent shops, cafés, food markets and mini-concert fests take place, you’re bond to linger and take in the colorful ambience. After your sojourn, stroll a block down to Branthwaite Brow and indulge in the famous 1657 Chocolate House. This is no ordinary confectionary purveyor, but an authentic period shop of chocolate fantasy with display cases over-brimming in house-made delicacies to tempt a king. The Chocolate House features three inviting levels with cozy seating on the main floor and upper loft (presents a captivating video on the history and production of chocolate), with the bottom level descending a secret spiral staircase to a sea of chocolates, homemade gift boxes, unusual chocolaty items and mementoes. In addition, the main floor also offers a savory menu with teas to temper its dainties, cakes and gateaux ambrosia. An essential must-try is the Chocolate House’s renowned chocolate drinks with over 20 different heavenly fusions, including Merry Monarch and Cromwell’s Downfall; and, Kendal’s own world-famous Kendal Mint Cake. For additional information, visit.
Art enthusiasts will find Abbot Hall a rare, rural gallery housed in a historically important and striking villa. Two floors of light-filled, gallery space highlight British painting and sculpture. Eighteenth century, modern and contemporary works are displayed in a serene environment without a pretentious air. Several artists’ works of particular mention include George Romney, 18th century Kendal portraitist and Bridget Riley, abstract art and one of Britain’s most influential painters. For additional information, visit.
Situated adjacent to Abbot Hall and the Kent River is the Kendal Parish Church. This 13th century gothic church is eye-catching with period spires and ornate, stained-glass windows. The iconic gargoyles perched under the spires are particularly interesting in their medieval appearance and make for an entrancing photo.
Visitors will find the Museum of Lakeland Life located directly across from Abbot Hall. One of Kendal’s most enticing museums, Lakeland Life, caters to children, as well as adults. Lifelike mannequins are attired in period clothing displaying life in historic Kendal. Fabulous antique furniture, arranged in a home setting, tells the story of another era and glass cases exhibit stylish clothing from various periods. For additional information, visit.
Other sites visitors should explore are the new K Village outlet shopping centre and the Brewery Arts Centre. K Village is the premiere mixed-use shopping centre in the Lake District and offers a plethora of great brand shops. The Brewery arts centre offers restaurants, summer concerts, theaters, exhibitions and more in a lovely period, stone building complex.
For a five-star B&B at very reasonable prices that serves a sumptuous breakfast, visit the Beech House, located on Greenside. The gorgeous Beech House is elegant, yet comfortable, possessing all the qualities that are essential for a perfect B&B. Its spacious rooms are impeccable and afford every luxury and amenity. Proprietors Hilary and Philip Claxton convey a welcoming and friendly disposition without intrusiveness. And, the neighborhood location is quiet, overlooking the Lake District’s hillsides with only a five-minute walk to town. The Beech House is our top recommendation while staying in Kendal. For additional information, visit.
For a list of activities and additional information on Kendal, visit.
Holker Hall & GardensHolker Hall is located in Cark-in-Cartmel on the Lake District’s southern peninsula and is home to Lord and Lady Cavendish. It is one of Britain’s most cherished stately homes and Holker’s gardens are equally esteemed, representing an oasis of beauty and tranquility. It is no surprise that royalty and notables from around the globe are often guests in this magnificent home.
In the 16th century, the Cartmel Priory owned Holker Hall and grounds. Later privatized, the estate and grounds were sold to the Preston family. The estate then passed by inheritance through the family line to the current Lord Cavendish.
Due to remodeling through the years and a fire in 1871, the current Holker Hall reflects the Victorian age. Holker’s graceful interior abounds with light and stunning artisanship utilizing fine carved woods, polished limestone and elegant marbles. Furthermore, an amazing feature for visitors is the large, open portion of Holker Hall that is accessible without ropes and barriers to obscure the views. This freedom affords visitors an intimacy and connection to the home that encourages a leisurely stroll and appreciation of the fine décor, artwork and structural sophistication.
Plan enough time to visit Holker Hall, as it is easy to lose yourself in the incredibly grand rooms, minutiae and magnificent library.
Upon completion of your tour, take a turn around the colorful and aromatic, floral-scented gardens. The romantic gardens consist of formal, woodland gardens and meadows that date back to 1720 and are bordered by extensive parkland. Head Gardener Yvonne Cannon and her staff stay busily employed throughout the year attending to the ever-changing garden landscapes, creating new designs of color and theme. Within this network of rare and exotic plants and trees, visitors will find a national collection of Styracaceae and the great Holker Lime.
Continue through the gardens and walk along ancient tree-covered lanes that herald views of Fallow deer grazing in the fields and stone steps that lead the visitor to new and hidden dimensions within the grounds. And, glorious water features and fountains intertwine with brightly-hued rhododendrons and pungent Magnolias, leading to the mystical Labyrinth Sundial.
After a dazzlingly splendid afternoon exploring the estate, take time to visit Holker’s tempting Courtyard Café, Food Hall and gift shop. The café offers indoor and outdoor seating in a marvelous courtyard with a gourmet menu that features savory items, delicate teas and a symphony of cakes, pastries and the absolute king of all British desserts, Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Both Holker Hall and the gardens are open to visitors during late March to November. For additional information on Holker Hall, visit.
The small and medieval village of Cartmel resides on the southern peninsula, just a few miles away from Holker Hall. This tiny village is but a few blocks long in its core, but fosters an immediate affection with its 800 year-old stone priory, cobblestone streets, gatehouse and modest-sized shops, pubs and inns. Just outside the village, walking paths meander past small gurgling brooks and stone-hewn bridges with views of green pastureland and hillsides.
Assuage your foodie pursuits in the Cartmel Village Shop, where unusual and hard-to-find items line the shelves. Preserves, cheeses, fresh breads, local produce and superior ales garner this shop the distinction of the best, specialist and fine food shop in northern England. In fact, the shop was featured on BBC's Great British Menu TV show and continues to draw gourmands from a far. More to the point, the shop is the birthplace of the famous Cartmel Sticky toffee Pudding.
A little stroll to the 12th century Cartmel Priory is well worth your time. The church and its small graveyard appear as if they popped out of a romantic British novel. Step inside the main door to see a Norman archway and an ornately-carved wooden gate that encircles the choir. Above, stained glass windows cast a warming glow on the altar and wooden misericords with their decorate carvings. Turn back toward the nave (the entrance) to see the coat of arms of William Marshall, who was the founder of Cartmel Priory.
Cartmel is an endearing ancient village and a wonderful place to stay and peruse. It’s the kind of place you write about in your diary and long to return… For additional information, visit.
Transportation to the Lake District
Transportation to and around Cumbria is accessible by coach, ferry, plane, car and the easiest and most expedient, by train. BritRail is an excellent way to unwind from an international flight and whether visitors fly into Heathrow or Manchester, the railway stations are conveniently located within the terminal complexes. Watch the lush countryside roll by and relax on a comfortable, train with hot teas, coffees and a variety of delectable meals or nibbles from the trolley. The train is a wonderful experience that builds your anticipation of the Lake District as urban centers turn into landscapes of unimaginable splendor. BritRail offers freedom for traveling in England and, their FlexiPass options allow visitors to travel at their own time and pace to favorite destinations for very affordable prices. It is truly the smartest and most pleasant way to travel in the UK. For additional information, visit.
Next month, part two on the Lake District.