Plans to revive the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal in Kendal
PUBLISHED: 12:45 13 June 2011 | UPDATED: 16:27 13 January 2018
Plans to revive the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal could give Kendal a huge boost, as Paul Mackenzie reports Photography by John Cocks
For almost 130 years the Lancaster Canal was an important artery for Kendal, bringing coal into the heart of the town. The canal’s Northern Reaches were completed in 1819 and the connection with Lancaster, Preston and Lancashire’s mining towns helped fuel Kendal’s growth but as the railways took hold and road transport improved, the canal’s importance dwindled and by the mid-20th century it was largely redundant.
In 1947 parts of the northern-most stretches of the canal were filled in. But when its bi-centenary is marked in eight years time, the canal in Kendal could once again be a vibrant and busy waterway.
The area around the canal terminus, once crowded with bustling warehouses and stores, has been earmarked for development, with plans for new housing, shops, and businesses as well a hotel and areas for events and festivals. And at the centre of the redevelopment is the restored canal.
The restoration of the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal was first mooted in the 1960s, and the calls grew louder in the 1990s when the Northern Reaches Restoration Group was formed. Now called the Canal Restoration Partnership, the group includes local councils and canal and waterway groups and is chaired by Hal Bagot of Levens Hall.
He said: ‘I would like to revitalise Kendal and I think this canal scheme would help enormously.
‘At the moment there is a dry â ditch running into Kendal and I think water would be better, especially with boats on it. Water attracts people and they will generally pay more for housing near water. The area action plan includes hundreds of flats and houses and associated ancillary facilities. I think the sooner we can get it up and running the better.’
The scheme to create Kendal’s Canal Quarter has been delayed, largely by the recession, but members of the Restoration Partnership are now considering pressing ahead with plans to re-fill the canal from Natland to Canal Head.
‘I would like to see the canal connected from Kendal to Tewitfield, but that is looking way into the future,’ Hal said. ‘In these recessionary times, I think that will be very difficult.
‘Re-watering that stretch of the canal would show we are progressing the scheme with some vigour but we know we have got to be realistic and that none of this is going to be easy. In these difficult times no-one has any money so it is hard to know when any of this will happen but we would like to do it as soon as we can.’
When the creation of the Canal Quarter does go ahead, near the foot of Castle Hill, it will be latest in a long line of projects to have taken place around the town.
The developments have created an eclectic mix of new and old in the shops and in the architecture, indeed Kendal-born historian David Starkey reckons the town could have rivalled York were it not for town planners’ eagerness to tear down the old and build anew.
The resultant mix of architectural styles in Kendal’s tightly packed streets, lanes and yards means even frequent visitors can spot new treasures each time they arrive.
In the town centre, where buildings have been squeezed into improbably small spaces between their neighbours, the roof lines are as varied as the mix of shops. And where there are gaps in the shop fronts they invariably open out into attractive cobbled yards, many of which have Civic Society plaques explaining their previous uses.
There are also new information boards around the town centre which explain a little more of the history of the town.
Textiles played a big part in that history - the town was a centre of the wool industry and the motto on the town crest still reads ‘Wool is my bread’. And for many years shoes were part of the bread and butter of life in the town, too.
The famous K Shoes company started life in the mid-1800s when Robert Miller Somervell set up as a shoemaker in the town. His story
and the subsequent growth of the company into Kendal’s major employer is told in the heritage centre in the shopping centre which opened last year on the site of the shoe factory which closed in 2003.
A nephew of Robert, TH Somervell, known as Howard, decided against joining the family firm and worked as a surgeon in India. A keen climber on the Lake District fells, he was selected to join George Mallory’s 1922 Everest expedition. Their failure to reach the summit was not for the want of good boots - Howard specially commissioned a pair from Kendal, big enough for him to wear four pairs of socks, and despite the bitter temperatures his feet survived un-frostbitten.
He returned to Everest two years later for another ultimately unsuccessful attempt on the summit, but each ascent had set a new altitude record which was not broken until Edmund Hillary reached the peak in 1953, fuelled, of course, by Kendal mintcake.
Where is it: Kendal stands on the south eastern fringe of the Lake District National Park, about six miles from junction 36 on the M6. If you have a sat nav, LA9 4PU should take you to the town centre. The railway station is close to the centre of the town on the branch line from Oxenholme to Windermere. Most rail passengers to the town must change at Oxenholme.
Where to park: There are long- and short- stay pay and display car parks around the town centre, although the long-stay get full early. Some on street parking can be found away from the centre, but look out for residents only areas.
What to do: Take your walking shoes (or buy some there, there are plenty of outdoors shops). Enjoy the shops, explore the museums and galleries, then take in a show at the Brewery Arts Centre.
Where to eat: Whatever your taste, or the size of your appetite or wallet, you will find something to suit in Kendal. There is a good mix of cafes, delis and the ubiquitous Lakeland tearoom as well as pubs serving food and restaurants offering fine dining.