Penrith, so situated as it is, among some of the most coveted and boasted-of natural landscape, leaves walkers spoilt for choice when it comes to route-picking and mapping. Spanning and connecting up to multiple rural retreats, including the famed Long Meg and Her Daughters, talked-of for its myth and prominence as one of the finest stone circles visible today, the eclectic and differing landmarks and natural environments on offer nearby make the town, as a central point for branching out, one of high rapture and popularity.
Though plentiful in terms of quirky cultural features, walks here err on the side of traditional, too. Penrith Castle, Dalemain and Lowther Castle all offer experiences which combine a learned acquaintance with local history with a simple love of landscape. The pull-point of all these easily accessible attractions is unanimous; architecture, meeting nature, creates a set-up which is as spacious and tranquil to roam through as it is pretty and satisfying to look at.
For the real idyllic, pastoral patrol, though, Acorn Bank and Hutton-in-the-Forest proffer ample space for dilly-dallying through countrified outland, each complete with their own pleasing mix of wildlife, plants and vegetation to spot. Nowhere is there more focus on fresh produce and nurture than at the former; here, in sly, witty homage to its name (a-corn), the emphasis on gardening and local subsistence results in an impressive and distinct crop of apples, as a focus-point, spring bulbs, medicinal herbs and varied fruit gardens. Thacka Beck Nature Reserve likewise offers a complete sylvan and provincial experience. Smaller in size, this circular hike traverses the re-routed beck in an easy-to-fit-in half-mile itinerary that ticks off scenic views and fun-to-name varied tree species both.
Stemming back to the centre, to use a phrase so apt, is, of course, Penrith town centre, which is the true starting point for the stimulating array of walks and urban get-aways the local grounds offer. Stray far and wide, in order to truly appreciate what sits in these admirable parts, but be sure to absorb yourself in the town’s comely structure, too, where, often given-over to festivals and live events, streets, lined with bunting and other homemade artefacts, are as worthy of walking down as any nearby engaging hilltop.
Here are our picks
Penrith Castle, Castle Terrace, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 7EA - Visit now
Penrith Castle is plenteous when it comes to walking space. Set amid an accessible and open public park, its architectural prowess sits atop field on field of lavish nature, showcasing the ample grounds and rural divide that would once have marked boundaries of territory and defensive ownership. To put your feet here is to feel how land can be appropriated and restricted; though the views are resplendent and full of scope, the surviving brick reminds us how that very scope was once reduced and seized on, for battle.
First built at the end of the fourteenth century to defend Ralph Neville against the Scots, the premise was later transformed into a luxurious residence, eventually providing staying grounds for Richard III. Nowadays, the monument sits as a representation of historic endeavour, with its walls, broken in many places, and intersected with vying windows, all offering unique, different points of view, reflect how seeing out, and surveying the landscape, was and is an inherent part of the construction here, with discretion and openness built into the design of the site simultaneously. The stark orange tone of its walls contrast with the surrounding natural hues of green (and, on good days, blue sky), making the view one of prominence; fitting, for a remnant of such stature.
Open daily, with free entry, the castle and its surrounding grounds provide a perfect hot spot for a walk that brings in the culture of the local area as well as the wider circumference of territory that once invoked high dispute and concealment. Routes can be full of ascent. With the fort naturally sitting at the peak of the hilltop, the climb is steady, but can be taken slow, with many other crests and heights to admire along the way. Perhaps most compelling about reaching the summit is the opening up of the communal archive the view provides, with the towers and stronghold providing a glimpse into what was, as well as what still is.
Acorn Bank, Temple Sowerby,, Penrith,, Cumbria, CA10 1SP - Visit now
Acorn Bank is renowned for its herbs and fruit orchards, both of which equal each other in their beauty and bounteous produce. The entire site works in homage to the name of the place. Growth, fully at the core of what happens on the grounds, abounds, with the focus seeming to be on showcasing the most of it that nature has to offer, ranging from flowers and plants to the edible greens mentioned, and, of course, when the season is right, an abundance of acorns.
The construct is as you’d imagine. 180 acres of park and woodland abound, all filled with a sporadic mix of trees and planted, well-cultivated goods. The gardens hold the largest collection of culinary and medicinal herbs in any other property similarly looked-after, while the orchard boasts a carpet of spring bulbs surrounded by herbaceous borders. Apples, too, are grown locally, and productive vegetable and fruit gardens line the smaller areas.
That, in 1996, ownership passed to the National trust, who continue to repair and preserve it today. The addition of a shop and visitor reception gave some much-needed structure, cementing the idea that this is a space to explore, ask questions about, and investigate. With a wildflower and bird reserve on the bank, a pond behind the house and salvaged ornamental work adding delicacy to the budding flowers and fruit gardens, it’s a pretty picture, and one you can easily stroll through while you marvel at the range and success of the products grown for such display.
Hutton-in-the-Forest, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 9TH - Visit now
Hutton-in-the-Forest is commonly referred to as one of those ‘hidden gems’; a place that, once you discover, you keep going back to, and back to. Made up of a historic house and gardens, the combination of architecture, gardens and woodland mean that the site solidly represents its own history, showing the result of years of growth, cultivation and progress.
The gardens are segregated into vying sections. Some are full-to-the-brim with flowers and lavish borders, occupied with a vivacity of colour that, come summer, really shines. Others are cropped, with small mazes cut into them to provide sculpture and visual interest, with others still, left open and bare, functioning as a suitable backdrop to the whitewashed stone of the main building. The woodland, too, is picturesque; small, dainty flowers are dotted along winding paths in their multitudes, while towering trees conceal the walkway and make it feel like a more rural retreat. Something of ’The Secret Garden’ seeps in here; the routes, as you walk them, have a glorious zig-zap to them, making it feel like a continuous delight of discovery.
Throughout the summer, the site also plays host to a number of events, including the Plant and Food Fair, Potfest and an eclectic array of music gigs. Rumour has it that plans to kick-start an annual ‘Apple Day’ where, believe it or not, guests, specialists and enthusiasts alike will gather to discuss and do all things ‘apple’, are underway. We love it, and we know you will too.
Dalemain, Dalemain,, Cumbria, Penrith, CA11 0HB - Visit now
Dalemain is, first and foremost, a stately home. Its Palladian architecture and pink Georgian facade tell of a legacy that has held its position since the time of the Saxons, with a recorded mention of the site coming from a ‘fortified pele tower’ in the reign of Henry II. The name ‘Dalemain’ translates to ‘manor in the valley’, and it is true that the site rightly plays in to this, using the architecture as a prominent feature-point and attraction.
There is, though, much more than meets the eye, or, in this case, the name. It’s a house of curiosities. There’s a priest’s hiding hole, used when the house belonged to the Layton family, who were staunch Catholics, as well as a sleeping giant in the low garden; both offering ample on-the-go fun. There’s also a topiary dragon to spot, Chinese wallpaper to discover, hand-painted, and tell-tale clues regarding Mrs Mouse, Dalemain’s smallest resident. Surprise after surprise greets you as you walk around house and garden alike, catering succinctly to adults and children both. No mention of Dalemain can go by without a mention, too, of marmalade, for which this place is the centre. The World’s Original Marmalade Awards (yes, you read that right) take place here annually, celebrating a love for home-ground produce and preserves.
Guests are well catered-to, with modern changes and additions input to fulfil the demand to tour. Specialist tours, to be booked in advance, offer visitors the chance to gain and informative and knowledge-building experience, while free-to-roam areas on site provide an opposing, all-yours take. Either way, the site provides ample room for a walk with or without the cultural intake, with plenty of options to mix-up routes, combine indoors with outdoors and, most appealingly, take your time learning, perceiving and ambling.
Lowther Castle and Gardens, Lowther Castle and Gardens, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2HH - Visit now
Lowther Castle is a treasure trove of beauty, starting with its castle, a grand affair in history and now, and ending with its gardens, home to several primed and preened walled spaces. Described as being ‘full of stories’, the site is a haven of narrative, with the building itself telling the tale of history, and the architectural changes that took place over time, and the open, accessible and inviting grounds speaking other volumes about how that very inherent heritage has been built-on and appropriated for modern-day mingling and visits.
What the grounds prescribe, primarily, is fortuitous ground, so to speak, for walking. Routes, treks, hikes or easy, slow ambles can be planned and navigated according to your needs, with the site big and fulfilling enough to offer something for all. The ruins and gardens are open daily, with vying entry fees, roving through summer and winter equally. Additional bits and bobs complete the offer. ’The Lost Castle’ is one of the UK’s largest adventure playgrounds, while the takeaway cafe and gift shop offer what will no-doubt be some much-needed goodies post-play. Exhibitions, cycle-hire and an estate with animals on-view are also fully available to partake in, providing surplus options for tailoring your visit and approach.
Historically, the family living here have done so for 850 years; a tradition which makes itself visible in the way the site is looked after, and the care with which gardens are tended to, visitors made welcome and experiences heightened. With so much variety on offer, a walk here will always feels untamed, no matter how excavated or prepped-for. The delight is in getting distracted, and in noticing new elements of the natural world as you uncover it.
Penrith Town Centre, Penrith Tourist Information Centre, Middlegate, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 7PT - Visit now
Penrith Town Centre is a hub of lively and budding activity, easily accessed from the nearby Pennines and Lake District. For walkers of the hills, a visit to this reputable borough will provide ample offerings of coffee-shops, foodie boutiques and restaurants to heartily recover with, as well as multiple spots ideal for resting while taking in the friendly local scene. It’s easy, go-happy nature make it ideal for sampling on a whistle-stop tour post-hike. As one of England’s richest agricultural areas, the town is proud of its food and drink heritage; so proud, infant, that they celebrate it annually with the Eden Food and Farming Festival. Ordinarily, though, the food does not disappoint. Flavour rules here, and it seems every menu makes the most of local produce, boasting the growth and natural elements inherent to Cumbrian cuisine. It’s perfect for continuing to connect with the natural landscape that surrounds the bustling streets, and which is brought-in via a collective conscious awareness of just how precious, rare and idiosyncratic such heritage is. Visually, its a pretty town, with bunting usually dangling breezily across the streets and cutesy, homemade signs inviting eye-catchers in to warm spaces for a cup of tea. And, on the note of tea, it’s a place where you can feel at home; a site to put your feet-up, if you feel like it, or a site to browse comfortably around, dipping in and out of the current festivals, live entertainment or outdoor attractions likely to be taking place at any one time.
Long Meg and Her Daughters, Hunsonby, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 1NW - Visit now
Long Meg and Her Daughters is one of the finest and most prominent stone circles in the North of England, with narrative, legend and storytelling at its core. Made up of many stones, each bearing their own weight of representation, meaning and implied myth, the monument is significant, with many levels of decoding and suggested definition being applied to the structure over time. While symbolisation and interpretation continues to differ, the stones remain, firm and solid in their intent and unmoved in their hold on the landscape, and the way they ascribe new denotation and force to it. The intrigue and enigma applied to the monument lends it a thrill that seekers of surprise and riddle in the natural world likewise pursue. It is this complexity, whereby the subtle inscrutability of the statue mirrors that of walking through it, that makes the site so ideal for lovers of a walk with a twist, where a drive to consistently question your surroundings is the drive for walking, or wandering, through them.
Shap Abbey, Shap, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 3NB - Visit now
Shap Abbey is a secluded area of the river Lowther, renowned for its solitude and quiet. Once a part of 32 religious houses in Britain belonging to the Premonstratensian order of canons, the history it upholds is unique, amping up its tranquil vibe with force and a certain majestic triumph. Today, the 15th century tower can be explored, along with other remains which represent what the site was first used for, but the grounds themselves are just as rich and telling, stretching out and off into hill upon hill of space. Open during daylight hours, this place truly lets itself be lead by nature and its dignified way of thinking. The site seems purposely designed to fit in with the landscape that is already there, rather than to impose or dictate any ways of treading or ploughing through it. To the walker, this is perfect. The freedom to uncover wildlife with its spirit intact is itself, in turn, freeing. It is a way of seeing the common view anew, with all of the illustrious growth inherent within it.
Thacka Beck Nature Reserve, Near Penrith, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 9BQ - Visit now
Thacka Beck Nature Reserve is within easy walking distance of Penrith town centre, offering a quick retreat for local residents. It was initially built to deal with flooding problems in the nearby area, and provide protection via a flood basin which would help raise the water table and create areas of wet grassland on either side of the re-routed beck. So far, so good, and the site now is used for both practical and leisurely purposes alike.
For the latter, it’s no wonder. The wildlife here is abundant, given the rich and suitable environment, and walkers can delight in spotting the animation and life that springs up here constantly. Hay meadows, wet grassland, scrub and ponds are just some of the large features which keep the wildlife so intact and operative, bringing a plush range of activity to maturing natural havens. Other highlights to look out for, depending on the time of year you visit, include blackthorn, marsh marigolds, migrant birds, house martins and swallows and, in the autumn, redwing and goldfinch.
As for the walking route itself, there’s a circuit around the reserve which sticks to level ground and tallies up a good half mile. Views are wide and revealing, but it’s best to keep an eye on what’s happening up close, too. With so much known wildlife existing here, and adapting to the revised habitat, it’s a joy to see so many vying creatures flourishing in a reserve that, though small, offers plenty, and then some.