Handsome, red-brick Penrith may appear to have more in common with the stout market towns of the Yorkshire Dales. With plenty of cosy pubs, charming tea shops and a farmers’ market on a Tuesday, Penrith owes much of its heritage to its location. Situated on a traditional north-south route, Penrith occupies an important point on England’s ‘Route 66’.
With the picturesque Lake District to the west and the sweeping ridge of the Pennines to the east, Penrith is the main gateway for exploring the lush countryside and traditional towns of the striking Eden Valley. Grounded and honest, Penrith and its beautiful surrounding river valley present a less touristy alternative to the honeypots of Coniston and Windermere.
Situated on the A66, Penrith has been an important stopping-off point since the Neolithic period. Since then, it has been called home by Roman troops, William Wordsworth, and even Richard III. Fans of Withnail and I may enjoy the pilgrimage to Sleddale Hall, a farmhouse on the north side of Wet Sleddale, which was featured as ‘Crow Crag’, Uncle Monty’s country cottage in the bibulous cult film.
But this area has a darker history, too. Penrith and its surroundings have historically belonged to both Scotland and England (the last battle on English soil was fought at Clifton Moor in 1745, just a few miles south of Penrith), and, like the beacon which broods on top of the hill overlooking the town, the castles and pele towers dotting the landscapes are stark reminders of the bloody history of the Anglo-Scottish border.
Now, this loaded, rugged and dramatic landscape holds tightly to its heritage and stories through its cultural spaces and iconic festivals. Just two miles west of Penrith, The Rheged Centre houses a cinema, gallery spaces and artisan shops full of local produce. The centre takes its name from the Celtic kingdom of Rheged, of which the Eden Valley was once the centre. And nearby is the sprawling country estate of Lowther, where the great, family-friendly festival Kendal Calling takes place in the summer. Additionally, Winter Droving, created by Eden Arts, is an incredible Cumbrian celebration; steeped in tradition, the event marks the centuries-old festival of Samhain – the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the “darker half” of the year. A fabulous outdoor arts extravaganza.