Your guide to things to do in the Lake District: first stop, Kendal
The South Lakes are where it’s at for most visitors, and usually has the tailbacks to prove it. But we are going to start our tour in Kendal, a pretty market town that happens to be a hub of artistic activity. Here, Abbot Hall Art Gallery illustrates just how much the local landscape has influenced generations of artists, with its fine display of 18th and 19th century landscapes, works by the likes of Turner and Constable, and a strong 20th-century collection including Bridget Riley, Kurt Schwitters and Sean Sculley.
Culture is part of the fabric of life Kendal: Abbot Hall has been operating as a gallery for 50 years, while nearby Brewery Arts Centre, which hosts everything from cinema and dance to comedy and art, is a mere 40 years young.
Kendal’s festival scene, meanwhile, fuses landscape and art in a way that you see time and again in Cumbria. Mintfest (Sept) is a weekend long street- theatre-take-over, crammed into every possible nook and cranny of the town (and a few impossible ones too), while Kendal Mountain Festival (Nov) majors in mountain-themed literature, cinema, art and talks of the heroic man vs. nature variety.
Resist the lure of the South Lakes for now and head East across the M6 to the sleepy town of Sedbergh, which, nestled within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is as stunning as its Lakeland neighbours (but far quieter). The Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 almost did for Sedbergh. Looking for inspiration it settled on Hay-on-Wye’s literary reinvention and, in 2003, Sedbergh became England’s ‘Book Town’, with bookshops and an annual festival. It is also home to Farfield Mill, a series of studios and a gallery that show some of the best historic and contemporary textiles in the North West (it’s a good place to stop off for a bite to eat, too).
Talking of which, back on the M6 heading North, is Tebay Services. Family-run, serving local and sustainable food, with shops, a butcher’s counter and an outdoor BBQ thrown in – and views over surrounding countryside – Tebay must rank as the best service station in the world.