Travel to Penrith, and you’ll be part of a tradition dating back eight centuries. The town was granted its market charter by Henry III in 1223, and people have been gathering here ever since, to buy and sell goods, but also to swap news and stories.
Today, many of those stories are still told through the town’s historic buildings. If you look closely, you can read Penrith’s violent border history in the thick walls of the castle and in the beacon which watches from the nearby hill. The memory of William Wordsworth and the Romantic poets lives on in the street names and the buildings where Wordsworth lived and went to school. You can see the historic market town in the narrow yards (or ‘ginnels’) that wend between the shops, and were used to help stable the horses of farmers who carted their produce to town. The act of droving (moving animals between pasture or to market for sale) is celebrated annually through the Winter Droving festival, which sees a masked and torch-lit procession drove enormous lantern animals through the streets.
It’s this blend of historic and contemporary that gives Penrith its edge, ancient tradition sitting side-by-side with trendy wine bars, hipster cafes and fine dining. Walk from the museum to the cinema, and you’ll travel four centuries over about twenty paces. Or, if you’re in for a bit of retail therapy, you’ll find a selection of independent and high street shops.
It’s also a town with a sense of humour and fun. Look out for the #SignsOfPenrith: an installation of apparently ordinary street signs, proclaiming things such as “only an idiot would take a selfie next to this sign” and “walk slowly, softly humming to yourself”!
And, once you’ve done all that (including the humming), Penrith’s location makes it the ideal base for exploring the northern Lake District.