Covering an area of 6,768 km² and with famous historical literary sons ranging from Alfred Wainwright and William Wordsworth to Arthur Ransome and John Ruskin (aside from Beatrix Potter, daughters less so) – not to mention its very own pencil museum – you’d be right in thinking that Cumbria has much to offer the scribbler and the bookworm, but what about the live literature lover? Here, we head from Kendal in the south to Carlisle just shy of Scotland in the north to find out, popping into Penrith, Keswick and Grasmere along the way… think annual festivals, regular open mic nights and more.
Here are our picks
Brewery Arts Centre, 122A Highgate, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 4HE - Visit now
Kendal’s arts hub dishes up cult films and craft pizzas, plus a healthy side portion of literature. Ann Grant’s spoken word night Verbalise has open mic slots plus an invited guest every month, while Brewery Poets have work-in-progress meet-ups and a showcase twice a year. BP Kim Moore runs Kendal Poetry Festival, with talks, workshops and readings by the likes of Liz Berry and David Constantine, while Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF) welcomes lit-leaning participants such as David Gaffney and Simon Sylvester.
Old Fire Station, Peter Street, Carlisle, CA3 8QP - Visit now
Carlisle’s arts and entertainment venue the Old Fire Station (not to be confused with the Old Fire Station in Penrith – it’s a popular name for venues in Cumbria!) welcomes touring poets and spoken word artists; check their what’s on listings for details of the latest. While you’re in town, be sure to head to Borderlines Bookshop down the road for new and secondhand goodies, and, in October, the annual Borderlines Carlisle Book Festival – Jenn Ashworth and Andrew Michael Hurley are among the writers who appeared last year.
Penrith Old Fire Station, Bridge Lane, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 8HY - Visit now
Not to be confused with the other Old Fire Station (Carlisle), this one is in Penrith. It’s run by Eden Arts, an organisation that puts on various annual events including the famous Picnic Cinema screening of Withnail & I at Uncle Monty’s actual cottage! Back at base in the Old Fire Station’s Mess Hall and there’s regular spoken shenanigans at the monthly Word Mess, with short readings, poetry and more from Cumbrian writers and occasional guests, hosted by New Writing Cumbria.
Theatre by the Lake, Lakeside, Cumbria, Keswick, CA12 5DJ - Visit now
The annual Words By The Water festival of words and ideas pops up at the theatre on the shores of Derwentwater every March for over a week. Figureheaded by Melvyn Bragg, the festival welcomes plenty of household names from radio, TV and the world of politics, and this year’s saw biographer Claire Tomalin and poet Lavinia Greenlaw appear. Keswick (and Carlisle)-based Bookends run the festival bookshop, but if you’re in town out of festival season, they also have a bricks-and-mortar premises on the Main Street.
The Wordsworth Museum, The Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere, Cumbria, LA22 9SH - Visit now
The Wordsworth Trust is not only a shrine to the poetry of the past but also a centre for creating poetry, with residencies filled by the likes of Zaffar Kunial, Harry Man and Adam O’Riordan. Informal creative writing group the Dove Cottage Poets meet here once a month, and a programme of events includes readings, talks and workshops for all ages. While you’re in Grasmere, seek out Sam Read, a small independent bookshop that has sat looking over the village green since 1887.