What we did around Keswick
The end of our Cumbrian Way walk was the town of Keswick. Keswick, pronounced Keszik, is a tourist town in the middle of the lake district in England. It is a destination for tourists as well as a good base for hiking. As much as I enjoyed our four days of hiking (1 2 3 4), I liked the restfulness of being in a town. We had to wake up for breakfast, but that was about it. No need to walk if we didn’t want to, and yet still tons of stuff to do.
We had originally planned a few days in Keswick because there were a number of day-hikes from town and some neat things in town to see. In the end, we didn’t any full day hikes. I spent much of my time enjoying the quiet upstairs room of a cafe on the main square, rebuilding my introvert energy.
As a town, Keswick feels bustling and yet quaint. The center of town is a pedestrian main street and a number of cross streets. There are several decent sized grocers as well as plenty of restaurants. It doesn’t take long to walk around, but it still feels sizable, especially compared to the small towns we saw on our walk that were little more than a pair of farmhouses and a name.
This post is about what we did, but there is likely plenty more to do. Given the brochures I saw, there is even more to do if you have a car (or take buses).
I had no idea that the humble pencil originated in this area. Sheep farmers in the 1500s wrapped bits of graphite they found on the ground in sheep gut to mark their herd. According to some of the presentations, Michelangelo used graphite from the region in his art school. Centuries later the purity of graphite in the region led to a factory being built in Keswick to make the modern wood around graphite pencils. And so there is a Pencil Museum next to the old factory.
It is a bit cheesy, but wasn’t as boring as I had originally feared. The admission ticket was a pencil. “What? Did you expect us to give you a piece of paper?” the ticket girl joked. There are a few displays on how pencils were made and the history of them. The Derwent Pencil Company is one I had never heard of, but is apparently very well known in the pencil circles. They make colored pencils as well as the normal gray. The museum is worth an hour or so to look at the little pencil related displays. Museum Website here.
Moot and Market Square
The center of town is a long wide pedestrian street with a building sat in the middle. The building with a clocktower is called the Moot and is home to the Keswick Tourist office. One of the days we were in town, the street filled with a market selling all manner of things from fruits and meat to leather goods to doggy toys.
This street and a number of the cross roads are filled with pubs and cafes. It is obvious that the town is used to tourist influence and caters to it, but without feeling desperate for tourists. To me it felt like a nice place to be.
Keswick town is snuggled on the northern bank of the Derwentwater lake. The Keswick Launch is a boat service that takes about 50min to go around the lake. We just took the boat on a round trip to see things, but plenty of people were using the launch as transport. Several of the notable day hikes in the area start near one or another of the piers on the lake. Many people then used the boat to get to the start of their hike and assumably either walk back to Keswick or pick up a later boat. The Keswick Tourist board details some of those hikes in this pdf.
I spent much of my time in Keswick enjoying a cafe reading a book. Dad recovered faster than I and went exploring one day. He found a path to Castle Head, which we could actually see from the window of the breakfast room at our bed and breakfast. He enjoyed it so much that he convinced me to walk up there after dinner one night.
Castle Head is an easy walk from the Moot and gives an excellent view over the lake and surrounding hills. I was having fun with the filters on my camera. Click for full version of the panorama.
Castlerigg Stone Circle
One of the things we knew was near Keswick before planning to spend time here was Castlerigg stone circle. I’ve not seen Stonehenge and wouldn’t make it there on this trip, but I wanted to see a stone circle and this one was so close. Placards at the entrance to the field talk about the site being popular tourist destination since the Victorian times. It is a popular site, but worth it if you are in Keswick.
The site is a 45min walk from town, which was steepish in a few places, but it follows a road so it isn’t too bad of a walk. Not as grand as Stonehenge, but neat anyway. The circle is in a green sheep pasture and looks like a jumble of rocks, though the circle is clear enough to know it was built by man and not nature. Sheep compete with tourists from little day-trip buses to stand in your shots of the circle. The view of the nearby hills interested me almost as much as the circle itself.
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Keswick has a lot to offer. There are a number of marked trails leading out of town and we saw one zig zag path up the end of the Catbells nearby too. Although we didn’t get to them, there are indeed a number of great looking day hikes from town. In the end, I just used it as a recovery city. I am super glad that we didn’t try to do the last few days of the Cumbria Way. Keswick was worth experiencing deeper. I think if I came back to the lake district, I could easily see myself based in Keswick doing explorations out into the countryside and then being back for a nice selection of places to eat and a warm bed.