The Lake District, with its fell mountains, glacial lakes and literary associations, has long had a siren call for walkers. The varied towns scattered about the region each have their own appeal; some simply as a gateway to the area’s most spectacular routes, others as a destination in themselves. Kendal is one such place: a historic market town well connected by its own station, Kendal has become a cultural hub over the years, with heritage sites, galleries and restaurants that are worth seeking out in their own right. You could even clock up a decent number of steps exploring the Antiques Emporium here, navigating through stands filled with vintage homewares, mid-century and modern furniture, antiquated books and more.
In town, we recommend connecting the innovative Cross Lane Projects, with its superb roster of contemporary exhibitions, with the prestigious Abbot Hall Art Gallery and excellent Brewery Arts Centre by walking along the scenic footpath that follows the River Kent – not least for the chance to spot a couple of playful otters. Alternatively, make a culinary tour of Kendal’s streets, starting at the welcoming Fell Bar and going on to tapas at Comida, or the seasonal menu at The Joshua Tree. The annual Kendal Torchlight Carnival is another, truly magical way to get to know the town: follow the colourful parade of handmade torches, watch the music and dancing on the festival floats and stop at the pop-up bars and street food vendors along the way.
Satellite to Kendal are some remarkable heritage spots to explore: Kendal Castle, a steep climb and skirted by woodland paths, dominates the town’s skyline, while National Trust property Sizergh Castle sits in a 1,600 acre estate south of Kendal, threaded with walking routes or with two dedicated trails to follow. There’s Levens Hall, a magnificent Elizabethan house with stunning collections inside, which is surrounded by the world’s oldest topiary garden and, beyond that, a deer park. For a wilder, and windier route, head for the slopes of Scout Scar; it’s a bit of a climb, but you’ll be rewarded with extraordinary views from the top. Read on to discover more of our top walks in and around Kendal –the perfect starting point for exploring this incredible part of the world.
Here are our picks
Kendal Castle, 1 test street, Kendal, 11122233 - Visit now
Kendal Castle, built around 1200, sits on top of a drumlin; this elongated hill, formed by glacial ice, means that there’s quite a steep climb to reach the ruins, but fantastic views over Kendal itself from the top. Crowning the slope, only parts of the castle walls and one tower remain, with vaults below – two of which are complete. However, the thickness of the surviving sections are an indication of the monumental structure that once dominated the skyline; this was the seat of power for the Kendal barons for over 200 years, including the family of Catherine Parr, sixth and surviving wife to Henry VIII. It’s now an inspiring spot to explore, the perfect place for a picnic with incredible views over the surrounding landscape and with more riverside paths to explore at the base of the hill. If you want to find out more about the castle’s history, head to the dedicated displays in Kendal Museum, only a 16 minute walk away.
Fell Bar Brewery, 3 Lowther Street, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 4DH - Visit now
Kendal has its fair share of excellent watering holes and restaurants, making it perfect for a food-focused walking tour. We recommend starting at Fell Bar, one of three bars in the North run by Fell Brewery, a proudly independent small craft brewery based in Cumbria. Occupying three floors, this convivial space is tucked down Lowther Street and is regular host to live music and comedy acts. Hung with fairy lights and serving eight keg and six cask lines at any one time, Fell Bar is a great place to enjoy a pint, before heading on to either Comida (a two minute walk) or The Joshua Tree (a four minute walk) for food. You could even start with one of the Spanish-inspired tapas dishes at Comida, plus a glass of wine from the restaurant’s generously long list, and then make for the local and seasonal menu at the family-run Joshua Tree. Close to both is The Shakespeare Inn, a refurbished traditional pub with a bar, restaurant and rooms: another potential pick for a meal, or just a nightcap and, if you’re visiting Kendal, a stay in one of the inn’s comfortable rooms.
The Antiques Emporium, Unit 8, Dockray Hall Mill, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 4RU - Visit now
Antiques emporiums are deceptive places; drop in for a quick browse and it’s very easy to find yourself exploring for hours. This is definitely true of The Antiques Emporium in Kendal, a treasure trove of antique, vintage, retro and collectable items, all housed in an unassuming building on a semi-industrial site next to the River Kent. A little outside the town centre, it’s about a 16 minute walk to get here – and then worth taking as much time as you can to wander between the network of stalls. It’s easy to miss a real gem amongst the emporium’s collection of pieces for sale, which include mid-century modern furniture, old books, artworks, tools, homewares, jewellery and bits of industrial reclamation. Opened in 2014, the emporium is a family-run business with regularly refreshed stock, and friendly, professional customer service.
Levens Hall, Levens Hall, Kendal, Cumbria, LA8 0PD - Visit now
Five miles south of Kendal is Levens Hall, a stunning Elizabethan house surrounded by gardens that are largely unchanged since the 17th century. Welcoming walkers and cyclists alike, the estate is surrounded by scenic footpaths, and includes the Levens Deer Park, home to black fallow deer. The house itself is also well worth exploring: built around a 13th century tower, it was the seat of a number of different aristocratic families over the years, was once gambled away over a game of cards and boasts a magnificent interior, as well as collections of paintings, furniture, clocks and artefacts linking the Hall to the Duke of Wellington. The gardens are extraordinary, featuring the world’s oldest topiary garden, filled with ancient box and yew trees, a sublime old orchard, 30,000 bedding plants and incredible herbaceous borders. Book a ticket and expect a varied and rewarding walk around the hall and grounds.
Scout Scar, Underbarrow Road, Kendal, Cumbria, LA8 8HB - Visit now
Scout Scar is, technically, a hill to the west of Kendal – but this diminutive-sounding term rather belies the majesty of this geographical landmark, with its fearsome cliff edge and sublime views. In fact, the 771ft climb to the top is more than rewarded by a vista that, on a clear day, stretches to Morecambe Bay in the distance. There are several walking routes to choose from here, including a short circular, an exploration of Barrowfield Woods at the base of the hill, and a loop that includes Sizergh Castle. In fact, the informally-named ‘Mushroom’ at the top of Scout Scar has a guide to the surrounding peaks and landmarks etched inside its domed roof; this modern looking structure provides some shelter from the weather, and was first built in 1911 to mark the coronation of King George V.
Cross Lane Projects, Cross Lane, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 5LB - Visit now
Kendal has three really fantastic arts venues, easily connected by a walk that includes a stretch alongside the River Kent if you choose. Start at Cross Lane Projects, where exhibitions are held from spring through to autumn in a former Kendal Mint Cake factory. The programme features local, British and international artists and includes accompanying events, and in 2019 Cross Lane Projects was shortlisted for the Cumbria Life Culture Awards. Only a few minutes away is Abbot Hall Art Gallery, (currently closed for redevelopment) next to the Abbott Hall Park Playground: this prestigious small gallery in a Grade I listed Georgian house counts a number of 18th and 19th century masterpieces in its permanent displays, as well as a substantial collection of modern and contemporary artworks. There are both historic and contemporary exhibitions year-round, family activities and a café on site. From here, there’s a lovely diversion along the river footpath, from which you can sometimes spot otters, or alternatively head straight for the Brewery Arts Centre, with its cinema, food, drink, and comedy and spoken word events.
Sizergh Castle, Sizergh, Kendal, Cumbria, LA8 8DZ - Visit now
Sizergh Castle, a medieval castle that’s passed down through generations of the Strickland family for more than 800 years, is around four miles south of Kendal. This National Trust property has both walking routes both radiating from it and within the 1,600 acre estate, with its wetlands and woodlands. There are gardens, too, including orchards, herbaceous borders and a stumpery; in the late Victorian era, gardeners repurposed old tree roots, artistically arranged, in order to grow ferns, lichen and moss. Sizergh Castle’s example includes woodland flowers, a national collection of ferns, and daffodils in spring. Explore the grounds at your own leisure, or follow one of the two detailed routes: the Park End Moss wetland trail is a three hour walk around a haven for wildlife, featuring a bird hide along the way, while the Sizergh’s wildlife walk is a shorter tour via Sizergh Fell. Check the website for more information and to book tickets.
Westmorland County Show, Lane Farm, Crooklands, Milnthorpe, Cumbria, LA7 7NH - Visit now
Held annually, the Westmorland County Show is an enormous celebration of Cumbrian produce, livestock and traditions. Occupying a site just outside Crooklands, its around a 15 minute drive from Kendal, and a huge showground to explore on foot. In previous years, there have been over 400 trade stands – selling everything from saddlery and bespoke dog beds to homewares, equipment and clothing – as well as perhaps the largest all local food hall in the North West. Here you’ll find outstanding artisanal food and drink from Cumbrian producers, alongside demonstrations. Farm animal competitions abound, with a vast variety of breeds competing to win rosettes, as well as bird of prey demonstrations, gun dog displays, showjumping and carriage driving. Spend a few hours exploring and you’ll likely find you’ve done quite a bit of walking.
Kendal Torchlight Carnival, online, 24–26 September 2021, free entry - Find Out More
Another of Kendal’s annual events, the yearly Torchlight Carnival sees a parade of handmade torches wind its way across town, with contributions from local schools, businesses and organisations. It’s a highly festive event, with the cleverly constructed torches themselves echoing the traditions and agricultural industries the region is famous for, alongside occasional touches of political commentary and satire. Walk along with the parade to see the wide variety of handmade creations, as well as the dance an musical performances on the carnival floats, the highlight of which is the festival chariot. There are also pop-up bars and street food suppliers to drop in on, as well as live craft sessions, puppet shows and more.