Keswick has tackled its flood problems - now they want an influx of visitors
PUBLISHED: 00:16 09 January 2012 | UPDATED: 18:58 23 March 2016
People in this marvellous Lakeland town are hoping that the only flood they face this year is an influx of holidaymakers. Amanda Griffiths reports Photography by John Cocks
Keswick is home to just 5,000 people yet each year it draws in a staggering one million visitors. And it’s easy to see why.
From the lake to the rugged hills of Skiddaw and pretty peaks of Cat Bells, from museums filled with curiosities to curious sounding museums, from shops and restaurants to a lakeside theatre, Keswick has enough to keep the most demanding souls out of mischief.
But if you’re keen on beating the crowds then now could be the time to do it. ‘January and February are wonderful months here,’ says Martin Lankester, chairman of Keswick Tourism Association. ‘Really, it’s the time to come.
‘Of course, it’s quieter but you also have a totally different experience.
‘Yes, climbing Skiddaw on a nice day in the summer is an experience, but try climbing it on a crisp, clear day this time of year, it’s totally different and the view is just as magical.’
Martin, owner of a family-run guest house, says the town had a busy 2011 and people remain optimistic about 2012 despite the economic storm clouds.
‘We’re famous for walking and the mountains, but there’s so much more to Keswick - water sports, camping and museums. We’re also famous for being the outdoor retail capital of Britain – it’s second only to walking,’ he says.
Among the highlights of the coming year are the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the arrival of the Olympic torch.
Martin’s colleague, tourism officer Linda Furness, says they will be
stepping up their promotional activities. ‘We’ve got an amazing lake and a wonderful market square. When people think of the Lake District this is the image they conjure up,’ she adds.
Locals can’t miss the influx of scaffolding, ‘Road Closed’ and ‘Diversion’ signs in the town recently.
This is all due to combined flood defence and United Utilities sewerage works. They may be inconvenient now, but they will protect the town from a reoccurrence of the horrific floods at the end of 2009.
Graham Thompson is the Chairman of Keswick Flood Action Group and a self-confessed ‘river nerd’ who has been working with the council and Environment Agency.
‘There’s three main areas in the town where the flood defences are being built – High Hill, part of which will feature a glass wall, Elliot Park and Penrith Road.
‘Since the 2009 floods, insurance has obviously been problematic for some residents, but the new defences reduce the risk from a one-in-ten year chance to a one-in-75,’ he says.
By the time flooded in 2009 there was an action plan in place and volunteers and residents worked together alongside the emergency services to tackle it and minimise the damage.
‘I’d warned people they might be getting an early call,’ says Graham. ‘In the morning we were out helping people move furniture and take up carpets and within three hours the town had flooded. I remember thinking “What have got myself into?”’
Cockermouth was hit much harder and for three or four days the people of Keswick mainly had to fend for themselves. People were angry for a while but we have good reason to be proud of what we achieved during that time,’ he says. Community spirit was at its best, people helped out wherever they could, local hotels offering people beds and food from flood hit residents to hungry members of the emergency services hard at work.
As the waters receeded and it became clear money was going to have to be raised to help pay for the flood defence work, Graham’s wife, Carol, helped put together an exhibition and book of photographs and stories called Weathering the Storm.
With the flood defence work on-going Keswick still has plenty of things
to look forward to in 2012 as Lynda Walker, Keswick Town Clerk tells me.
‘It’s not all about disasters,’ she laughs. For instance, they council is about to sign a deal for the external management of the popular Hope Park and that will unlock investment in the facility.
‘There is a massive affection for Keswick from visitors,’ says Lynda. ‘So ukmany people holiday here and some love it so much they move here. I know, I’m one of them.
‘started coming here in the 1980s and moved here when this job came up. have to say it’s a privilege to work here and being able to give something back.
‘You would struggle to find somewhere else with such fantastic scenery. There’s the lake and the mountains but it’s more than that. In some ways it’s like stepping back in time but, then Keswick can be very forward thinking. On top of that is the architecture. People just seem to develop a real fondness for Keswick.’
It was the first purpose built museum in the Lake District and remains a true Victorian jewel box packed full of curiosities. But there’s set to be big changes at Keswick Museum and Art Gallery this year.
A proposed refurbishment will see a new entrance, café and toilets for visitors as well as the very welcome addition of heating which in turn will allow the museum to open to the public all year long.
Owned by a charitable trust, the museum is manned by volunteers and houses a veritable delight of weird and wonderful collections that shouldn’t be missed on a visit to Keswick.
‘We’ve raised £76,000 so far towards the refurbishment,’ says Tricia Kerr, chairman of the volunteer trust at the museum.
‘The work will allow us to incorporate even more of our collection that is currently in storage.
‘museum is important to Keswick. We have in our collection things believed to be original to the Crosthwaite Museum that was on the square. We have the first set of musical stones, called the Crosthwaite Set – which Peter Crosthwaite had outside his museum and would play when he heard a stagecoach coming to attract people into the museum.
‘And we keep uncovering hidden treasures. Only this year a leading geologist found an important fossil on one of our pieces of rock.
‘The thing that all visitors want to know about however, young or old, is the dead cat,’ she laughs. ‘It’s the thing that children like the most and parents who have been here before always ask if it’s still here,’ she laughs.
And yes, the mummified remains – found in a local church – are still there!
For more information about Keswick Museum and Art Gallery call 017687 78374