Four Terrific Town Walks in Cumbria

By Beth Pipe

I think it’s fair to say that when most people head to Cumbria, they’re more focused on the great outdoors than strolling through the towns – and who can blame them? I’m no great shopper myself (that’s an understatement, I really do hate shopping!) but some of our towns have got much more to offer than the latest fashions. There’s amazing architecture, interesting nuggets of history and the odd impressive statue or two to explore. So, where are the best towns to head for?


Possibly my favourite of all the towns I’m going to mention; I have a huge soft spot for Whitehaven, and not just because of the spectacular views from the sea front. First off there’s the harbour itself, best viewed from the hillside next to the “Candlestick” chimney (another item of historical influence, the chimney vents gasses from the old coal mines deep beneath the surface and is said to have been modelled on a candlestick owned by Sir John Lowther, who also once owned much of the town). The harbour was begun in 1634, and the different periods of expansion can be seen by the different heights and designs of the concentric harbour walls.

Untitled-1 (29).jpgFrom this high vantage point you get a feel for the layout of the town. Whitehaven is one of only 51 gem towns in the UK; towns where the street pattern, as well as individual buildings, are protected by law. It’s said that the street pattern here formed the basis for the street pattern in New York and therefore the rest of the USA – nearby Cockermouth is the only other gem town in Cumbria and is also definitely worth a visit.

Ties in perfectly with: The Coast to Coast walk


Barrow is a much maligned town with a fascinating history. Between 1851 and 1881, the population exploded from 450 to over 47,000 people as it sought to keep pace with massive industrial expansion and the arrival of the railways. A wander around the outskirts of the town will reveal the huge apartment blocks of bright red sandstone and rows of Victorian terraces.

Untitled-1 (30).jpgThe town has an open, spacious air about it and there are a good number of statues and commemorative plaques – including one to footballer Emlyn Hughes right outside the station. Personally I’m rather fond of the Town Hall; built in 1887, it towers over the town centre car park and looks particularly lovely at sunset, when the evening sun causes the red bricks to glow red in the golden light. You can find a great selection of local walks around the town here.

Ties in perfectly with: The Cumbria Way walk


By rights I should have claimed Kendal as my favourite town walk, seeing as it’s my local town – there are a great variety of walks on offer both through the town centre and exploring the banks of the River Kent (from which the town gets its name: Kent Dale = Kendal). There are a couple of dedications to Wainwright, unsurprisingly in Wainwright’s Yard, where you can measure your feet against a brass casting of his footprints, and for Wainwright fans a trip to Kendal Museum is in order; he was Honorary Curator of the museum for many years and original stickers in his handwriting still exist on many exhibits.

Untitled-1 (31).jpgThere are a myriad of tiny lanes leading away from the high street, and these are an absolute must to explore. Many date back to the days when the town’s fortunes were reliant on the woollen trade and traders used the alleys to access the river for washing sheep and fleeces. There are also two castles to discover, one on either side of the town; the more recent one on the east of town was once home to Catherine Parr’s family, although it’s unlikely she was born here as was once claimed.

Ties in perfectly with: The Westmorland Way walk


OK, I know that this is technically a city walk rather than a town walk, but that would have spoiled my nice title. With Carlisle airport due to resume scheduled flights from 4th June, the city will hopefully prove to be a big draw for those in search of a short city break – although you’ll need considerably longer than that to properly explore the city and get to grips with its history. As with any border settlement, life has never been quiet for Carlisle, and the castle and the cathedral both offer exciting glimpses into a time of conflict, siege and uncertainty.

Untitled-1 (32).jpgThe ancient city walls are still visible in many places, and the underpass from the castle to the town is a work of art in its own right. The other advantage of Carlisle is that if you do tire of the city, there are some glorious walks along the banks of the River Eden and a whole host of excellent independent tea shops, where you can enjoy a coffee and a cake afterwards.

Ties in perfectly with: Hadrian’s Wall Path and Cumbria Way

Originally published 20/07/18

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