Why Keswick remains as popular as ever with tourists
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 May 2016
As this lovely Lakes town prepares for its annual mountain festival, Suzanne Elsworth discovers a place with a wide appeal.
Keswick is set in a landscape which inspired the Romantic poets but it’s also known as the ‘Adventure Capital’ of the UK. It’s famed as the home of the world’s first pencil, was a location for the latest Star Wars film and it offers retail therapy heaven.
It is this diversity which gives it such an enduring popularity. Even pop star Kim Wilde, who visited at Easter, took to social media to sing its praises.
The town’s original growth was due to the mining and textile industries, though its name is thought to be derived from the Norse for ‘cheese town’. Edward I granted its charter in 1276 – a tradition which continues with an award-winning market held on Thursdays and Saturdays.
It was the work of poets like William Wordsworth and Robert Southey who inspired the town’s first tourists in the 1700s and Laura Johnson, owner of the Laura in the Lakes cafe on Main Street, says it is the constant flow of visitors which provides its great atmosphere.
‘This is a fantastic tourist location,’ she says. ‘People are relaxing and on holiday so it makes it very sociable. That’s what I really love about having a business here.’
And it’s not just humans who are welcome. Keswick has been voted the UK’s most dog friendly town four times by the Kennel Club. Chris Harper, owner of town centre pet shop Podgy Paws says: ‘So many of Keswick’s shops, cafes, pubs, taxis and accommodation providers welcome dogs. Some provide complimentary treats and towels, a couple of pubs and a hotel even have a dog menu. They realise they are part of a family.’
There’s a lot of history and tradition too – not least the Keswick Reminder, the town’s newspaper, which still retains time-honoured broadsheet format and its original Old English title typeface which has been used since the paper was founded in 1896. Editor Jane Grave, whose great grandfather launched the paper, says: ‘The Reminder has always been totally ingrained in the local community. People queue at our release time of 4pm each Thursday for their weekly Reminder “fix”.’
The discovery of graphite in the Borrowdale Valley in the 1500s allowed Keswick to lay claim to the title of ‘home of the world’s first pencil’ – and the fact the town is home to The Pencil Museum is something that never fails to raise a smile.
National Trust Area Ranger, Roy Henderson, with Derwent Island House tenant, Lou Clarke
Theatre By The Lake head of communications, Rachel Swift, by the almost completed new cafe and bistro
Laura Johnson at her Laura in the Lakes cafe in Main Street
Head of retail, Angela King (left) and some of her team Carole Johnson, Maria Boyd and Jodie Parker at the new NESS fashion shop in main Street
David Jackson at Castlerigg Hall campsite
That popular tourist attraction is currently undergoing repairs following the floods of December 2015 and is due to reopen in June. Storm Desmond hit Keswick’s homes and businesses hard but it has already bounced back.
Visitors may not immediately spot the damage - particularly in the countryside – but the destruction has led to a major fundraising campaign by the National Trust. It owns and manages a lot of landmarks, including the iconic Derwent Island and Friar’s Crag, a popular lakeside walk, both of which were eroded by Derwentwater’s pounding waves.
Jessie Binns, of the National Trust, says: ‘There were 23 landslides in Borrowdale and Newlands Valley alone. As a charity we’re faced with the choice of postponing other important conservation projects or trying to raise extra funds through donations.
‘Flood water created deep trenches in some of our most popular paths – the terrace route up the Catbells fell and the path to the Bowder Stone, a mysterious giant rock located in the valley south of the town, were two which were badly damaged. At Watendlath, the 800-year-old bridge slumped and cracked and is now being supported by scaffolding.’ To donate to the fundraising appeal visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lakes-donate
The great outdoors is a driving factor for many, which is no surprise to the town centre manager Joe Broomfield. The council is a supporter of the Lake District’s first on-road long distance triathlon, The Lakesman, which starts and finishes in Keswick on 19 June.
Joe says: ‘Keswick really is the Adventure Capital. There’s fantastic access to Derwentwater and the surrounding fells, and, on the occasional day when the weather isn’t great, we even have an ice-climbing wall. Keswick is a must-visit town.’
Keswick’s population was less than 5,000 in the 2011 census, but you can get lost in the back streets, where many of the guest houses and hotels are located. And, as many people are coming to the area to experience the outdoors, camping is popular. Castlerigg Hall Caravan and Camping Park, which commands amazing views of the town and the lake, received national acclaim this year when it was highly commended in the Visit England Awards.
Those who prefer a more sedate social life are more likely to head to the traditional Alhambra Cinema, or the acclaimed Theatre by the Lake, which draws fans from across the UK and beyond. Shows include nine of its own productions each year with a resident company of actors, plus performances by visiting theatre, music and dance companies. It also hosts festivals of literature, jazz, film and mountains, including the annual Words by the Water event.
After a season there, actress Amy Humphreys summed up the town: ‘On my return home to London after the season had ended, for many months I pined for the mountains and the freedom they had afforded me. The next time I visit Keswick, you’ll have to prise the anorak off my back.’
High hopes for festival
Lovers of the great outdoors will be putting on their hiking boots and heading to Keswick this month for the town’s famous Mountain Festival.
It is based in Crow Park and runs from May 19-22 and thousands will be attracted by outdoor activities, well-known speakers, such as broadcaster Julia Bradbury and Olympian James Cracknell, sporting events, camping and live music in the evenings.
There will be several hikes, such as Blencathra by Moonlight, gorge scrambling, rock climbing, fell racing, open water swimming and triathlons
Keswick Mountain Festival and the National Trust are raising £25,000 for urgent work on Cat Bells which suffered extensive damage to its paths in Storm Desmond.
To find out more go to www.keswickmountainfestival.co.uk