Carlisle is a city framed by its famous castle and still showing the battle scars of centuries of English-Scottish border skirmishes. Tullie House should be the first port of call here for any art, culture or history lover, bringing together an impressive contemporary art space, the Roman Frontier Gallery, and Old Tullie House. This latter gallery pays homage to the Pre-Raphaelites championed by John Ruskin, an intellectual who also inspired the William Morris-led Arts and Crafts Movement. Ruskin’s belief that artists should be ‘true to nature’ still resonates in Cumbria today and is picked up by contemporary art agitators in the area, Grizedale Arts.
Turn back now to the North Lakes, and to Keswick. A ‘honeypot’ town, it can be busy during high season, yet despite the crowds manages to squeeze in a Jazz Festival (May), Mountain Festival (May) and Beer Festival (Jun). There are other off-beat cultural delights too, including the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, a self-styled “Victorian cabinet of curiosities” whose exhibits include the musical stones of Skiddaw. Large enough to house a few commercial galleries, such as Northern Lights and Viridian, Keswick also hosts the Theatre by the Lake, a beautiful, lakeside theatre that produces and performs its own works and whose roots lie in a radical, touring theatre company that parked up here one day in 1961 and just never left.