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If you are an avid outdoorsman, of the Washington State kind, you should consider spending your next vacation in the northwestern sector of England! Rugged coastlines plus lakes and mountains all within the 30 mile area will be right at your command in Cumbria. The natural terrain of the Land o’ Lakes looks like it was pushed together like a felled and trampled giant sand castle! This is the result of geological upheavels which have occurred over hundreds of years. Four of the highest peaks surpass 3,300 ft. which are Scafell, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw. The surrounding lakes (fells) make them appear even higher and the mountains are easy to climb by the world class standards. (Try climbing in the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado!) Still, it’s scenic and a wonder to behold beauty like this anywhere! Not only that but this county is rife with castles, Celtic monuments, Roman remains, and monastic ruins!
Northernmost, Carlisle Castle is a richly filled museum and was once prison to Mary Queen of Scots. Its history has plenty of warfare and family feuds and the medieval architecture is accessible by a maze of passages, chambers and seemingly endless staircases to gain the incredibly high towers. Once you reach the top of the towers you are treated to views that will knock the wind out of you! It’s furnished authentically and is also the headquarters of the King’s Own Border Regiment Museum. Don’t miss Carlisle Cathedral which is right in the center of the city. Tullie House on Castle Street is an excellent place to get filled in on the history of this region and it’s a beautiful townhouse which was rebuilt by Thomas Tullie in 1689.
Naworth Castle is east of Carlisle, dates back from 1335 and is one of Britain’s most outstanding film locations since the 1980s and Walt Disney was a guest in this castle. (You’ll want to peruse my new photo album for Cumberland.) It boasts of pre-Raphaelite libraries, a huge banqueting hall and a dungeon. Formerly the stronghold of Lord Wardens of the Marches it shows evidence of earlier fortifications as far back as 1270. Many of the chambers are still medieval.
Further south and close to the Solway Firth, The Wordsworth House, Workington Hall and Wordsworth Museum offer pretty countryside and a glimpse of the places where William Wordsworth grew up. He is laid to rest along with his family at Oswald Church. His poetry was often a reflection of the beautiful Cumbria landscapes. Wordsworth House is in Cockermouth, on the main street. This busy market town dates back from the 12th century and Cockermouth Castle, which is partly in ruins, is still inhabited (by Dowager Lady Egremont), but unfortunately not open for tours. Cockermouth was built by Normans in 1134 and played a significant role in the War of the Roses. J.B. Bradbury has written a wonderful series on the castle entitled "Cockermouth in Pictures" which might be worth a look and quick read.
Wordsworth House, by contrast, is a nice Georgian structure and exhibits some of the family’s remaining possessions and furnished appropriately in the late 18th century style. The house overlooks the Derwent, which was the subjct of his Prelude. Wordsworth Museum (also known as Dove Cottage) was where this poet spent his most productive years and later, close by, Rydal Mount ,where he lived out the rest of his days.
The ruins of Workington Hall, which lie directly on the coast, was once the finest manor house in the region and was the last refuge of Mary Stuart in May 1568.
Eastward inland around Penrith, are Hutton-in-the-Forest, Penrith and Brougham Castles which cluster together and form a circling wall of strongholds around Penrith. These were maintained long after the border seiges had ceased. Penrith was once a Neville stronghold (remember my entry on Richard Neville at Middleham?) and like Carlisle was a royal castle of Norman origin. Brougham Castle, just south of Penrith, has a typical keep from the reign of Henry the II. Along with several others in the northern region, Brougham was held by the Cliffords for four hundred years. The last of their line, Lady Anne Clifford, devoted her long life to keeping and restoring all the Clifford castles, many of which were in Cumbria. At Brougham she erected a plaque to commemorate her work, which quotes Isaiah 58:12 and includes her four official titles. Of course, that was in the 17th century. Today Brougham is in ruins again but you can still climb to the top of the keep to survey the surrounding domain of Lady Anne and view the other nearby castles, perhaps, depending on the weather!
Penrith itself is a 14th century castle of sandstone on Ullsworth Road in Penrith. It’s construction began in 1399, when a stone wall was added to an earlier pele tower. It was improved and added to over the next seventy years. As the hub of the Eden Valley it was once the capital of Cumbria and a part of the Kingdom of Scotland and Strathclyde. It became a royal fortress to Richard, Duke of Gloucester before he became King Richard the III in 1483. A moat still exists around the castle and it is necessary toaccess it via the wooden footbridge that spans the moat.
Hutton-in-the-Forest lies six miles northwest of Penrith. The oldest part of it is the 13th century pele tower (square), which is a very typical medieval style for the northern region. Inside is a magnificent Italianate staircase, a beautifully panneled 17th century Long Gallery, the stuccoed Cupid Room and other rooms in Victorian style. The Inglewoods have had possession of this grand home since 1605. The gardens and grounds reflect the posh interior and make it complete.
Brough Castle, south of the Inglewood home, close to the North Yorkshire border and southeast of Appleby Castle (both are Clifford castles!), dates back to Roman times. The 12th century keep replaced an earlier stronghold destroyed by the Scots in 1174.
The southern end of Cumbria boasts no less than four citadels starting with Kendal Castle ruins, Abbot Hall near by, housing one of the best small art galleries in Britain. (Abbot Hall was built in 1759, and displays paintings by Turner and George Romney a local artist from Dalton.) In addition, Sizergh, Holker Hall and Levens Hall all hug the shores of the eastern coast, Holker Hall being the shortest distance, situated on the wooden slopes of the Cartmel peninsula. The earliest records of the site date back to the sixteenth century and has been home to three families: the Prestons, the Lowthers, and the Cavendishes. It was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1871 and the present day appearance of the castle can be attributed to Paley and Austin, Lancashire architects. The gardens and outside landscaping are an explosion of color and Eden-like arches and nooks covered in foliage.
Levens Hall, a short distance south of Sizergh, is an Elizabethan mansion that was built around a 13th century fortified tower. It houses Jacobean furniture and watercolors by Peter de Wint. The massive topiary garden was designed by a French horticulturist Guillaume Beaumont in 1694.
Dalton Castle on Morecambe Bay near the Furness Abbey houses a display about artist George Romney. It was built during the period of 1330-1336 and is a mere pele tower. Not much to see but it looks very unusual in its setting. Once a prison and a court, it is now owned by the National Trust.There are two photos of it in the Cumberland photo album.
Just across the bay on Piel Island is Piel Castle which stands on the southeastern point . It consists of a keep with inner and outer baileys surrounded by a ditch with three towers at three corners. It can be reached by ferry from Roa Island.
On the wild side of Cumbria, south of Ravenglass is the enigmatic Muncaster Castle, the richly furnished home of the Pennington family since 1208. An inside tour will include the magnificent Great Hall and an octogonal library and drawing room. Tours of the house and a special entertainment feature of seeing live owls occur during the year from March 11 through November 4th. Meet the Birds hour starts at 2:30 p.m. and Heron Happy Hour (in which they feed wild Herons!) is later at 4:30 p.m. These shows are scheduled daily. The Owl Centre includes an extensive collection of owls on display. This is the home of the World Owl Trust and is run by T.V. naturalist Tony Warburton. There are also other entertainment features for children so you can bring your entire family for a wonderful day of castle touring and animal watching!
I cannot possibly give you all the sights to be seen in Cumbria in one entry but if you will jog over to www.visitcumbria.com/castle.html you can pore over these world class wonders at your leisure. Tomorrow, we’ll visit Lancashire which is south of Cumbria. Until then….
Enjoy! The Castle Lady Mwah!
See much larger versions of these aerials, like this one of Naworth, and more in the Cumberland photo album.
It’s one click away at the top of this page !