A market town and tourist getaway, Kendal lies in the Kent Valley under the eastern fells of the Lake District.
The town’s cottages, mansions and old traces of industry are built from rusticated limestone with a solemn grey tone, earning Kendal the nickname Auld Grey Town.
In the Lake District, walking trips have to be on your agenda, and you can test your mettle on the tough but awe-inspiring Kentmere Horseshoe.
To the east are the Howgill Fells, which roll into the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
To back up all that natural splendour, Kendal is also a cultural feast, with Medieval and Elizabethan mansions close by, as well as a prestigious art gallery and a thriving cultural centre.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Kendal:
1. Kendal Castle
In the east of Kendal, a few streets from the River Kent are the remnants of Kendal Castle, constructed on a hillock in the 12th century.
From the 14th century on, this was the seat of the Parr family, ancestors of Catherin Parr who was Henry VIII’s 6th and final wife.
By the time she was born more than five centuries ago, Kendal Castle was already a ruin, which makes it all the more remarkable that so much of the building is still standing.
A large chunk of the manor hall remains, along with its window openings and two vaults below.
The castle became property of the town at the end of the 19th century and since then has been a cherished picnic spot, blessed with far-ranging views west towards Lakeland’s peaks and east to the Howgill Fells.
2. Holy Trinity Church (Kendal Parish Church)
This capacious church dates from the 1200s, but is built over an Anglo-Saxon place of worship that made with recycled stone from a Roman fort.
The vastness of the church will hit you as soon as you enter, and this scale is created by two additional aisles on the north and south of the sides of the nave, making five in total and drenching the interior in light.
These extensions date to the 18th century, and when they were completed the Holy Trinity Church could hold 1,200 worshippers.
Allow a while to see all of the fittings and monuments inside, like the black marble font from the 1400s and the 16th-century effigy of the local nobleman Sir Walter Strickland, and the Parr Chapel, which contains the 15th-century tomb of Sir William Parr, grandfather of Catherine Parr.
3. Abbot Hall Art Gallery
A cultural journey through the Lake District, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery is in a glorious Georgian mansion from 1759. This took the place of the earlier Abbot’s Hall, a Medieval residence for abbots visiting Kendal from St Mary’s Abbey in York.
The house was in a state of disrepair in the 20th century until it was fixed up to house this gallery.
There are works by the 18th-century portraitists George Romney and Daniel Gardner, depictions of Windermere by the landscape painter Philip James de Loutherbourg and a variety of watercolours by J. M. W. Turner, Edward Lear, John Robert Cozens and John Sell Cotman.
John Ruskin, the prominent Victorian art critic, resided in the Lake District, and the gallery has a trove of his sketches and watercolours.
In the modern collection are sculptures by Elisabeth Frink and Barbara Hepworth and paintings by Hockney, David Bomberg and Ben Nicholson.
4. Kentmere Horseshoe
At the hamlet of Kentmere not far north of Kendal you can set off on one of the Lake District’s longest and most isolated walks.
The Kentmere Horseshoe is hardly a cakewalk, with a total ascent of more than 1,000 metres and a distance of 12.8 miles, which will take around six hours to complete.
But your effort will be more than repaid with spellbinding panoramas from all of the fells curving around the Kentmere Valley.
Once you’re up on the ridge the path is like a rollercoaster between the peaks, until you reach the 784-metre summit of Thornthwaite Crag.
There you’ll have to stop for a picnic, and can see for miles across the Lake Districts valleys and fells.
5. Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry
In the Georgian stable block of Abbot Hall is a highly-rated local history museum dedicated to the Lakeland region in from the 1700s onwards.
You can step into an old-fashioned street scene, visiting a reconstructed toy shop, pharmacy and tailor’s shop, while there are also reproductions of domestic interiors from different periods, as well as workshops for weaving and woodworking.
One absorbing piece of equipment is the Williamson Brothers vortex turbine from 1856, an efficient waterwheel used to power farm equipment.
The museum goes into depth on the 20th-century author Arthur Ransome, a Lake District resident who set his popular Swallows and Amazons series in these landscapes.
6. Sizergh Castle
This late-Medieval fortified manor house has been in the same family, the Stricklands, for 750 years and is operated as a visitor attraction by the National Trust.
Sizergh Castle has been transformed over the centuries, but retains a lot of Medieval architecture, most memorably in the 14th-century four-storey solar tower.
In the 16th century Catherine Parr is believed to have lived at Sizergh Castle for a time.
The interiors are clad with oak panelling, which are exquisite in the Inlaid Chamber, where they have floral and geometric inlays made with bog oak and pale poplar.
The Stricklands had connections to the Jacobite court in exile (expelled after the Glorious Revolution in 1688), and there are contemporary portraits of the Catholic Royal Stuart family.
You’ll be free to explore the estate, hiking in the fells and touring the seven-hectare gardens, which have a beautiful limestone rockery.
7. Levens Hall
A bit further on from Sizergh Castle, Levens Hall is an Elizabethan house in stunning formal gardens.
The 16th-century mansion was built around a 14th-century Peel Tower, a fortified house common in the Borders.
You can go in to view the sumptuous oak panelling and stuccowork in the great hall, dining room, drawing room, library and bedrooms.
Much of this dates back to the time of the Bellingham family, who expanded Levens Hall and lived here until the end of the 17th century.
There’s Jacobean furniture, a collection of historic portraits and above the fireplace in the great hall is the coat of arms of Elizabeth I. The gardens are out of this world, and follow a plan set out in 1694 and have more than 100 outlandish topiaries, many of which go back to the garden’s foundation.
8. Kendal Museum
The story of this museum begins in 1796, putting it among the oldest in the country.
Kendal Museum is most definitely old school, as you’ll guess from the mounted animal heads, the dioramas of taxidermies in glass cases and a full-sized polar bear.
There are some riveting items in the archaeological displays, like swords from the Iron Age and Viking period, as well as a Viking bowl mount, a Medieval annular brooch and a pair of steel dies used to make tokens for Kendal’s Mercers’ Company.
The geology of the Lake District is also fascinating, and there’s a large array of minerals collected in the 20th century from disused mines around the Lake District, along with crystals gathered from as far afield as Myanmar and Brazil.
9. Brewery Arts Centre
In a converted Victorian brewery, Kendal’s cultural centre has a diversity of entertainment on offer, appealing to as broad an audience as possible.
The Brewery Arts Centre has live music by upcoming artists, established names and tribute acts, representing a whole spectrum of genres, from jazz to soul and heavy metal.
You can also come for theatre and dance, comedy shows, talks and seminars.
The cinema at the centre screens both Hollywood blockbusters and indie flicks, while there are always two concurrent art exhibitions, and the bustling Grainstore restaurant keeps the centre at the heart of daily life in Kendal.
10. Scout Scar
One of the easternmost fells of the Lake District, the 235-metre Scout Scar is three miles west of Kendal.
There’s a car park near the foot of the hill, and a circular walking trail to the summit and back.
The eastern slope is smooth and light, but to the west this limestone peak has a steep scarp slope, acting as a kind of ledge from which you can contemplate the Lake District’s Central Fells.
There are two summits, and the lower of these has a shelter known as the mushroom.
This was raised in 1912 to commemorate the coronation of King George V and has a toposcope denoting the Central Fells.
11. Hawkshead Brewery
This small craft brewery produces 140 barrels a week, distributed around the North of England.
Hawkshead was founded in 2002, and since 2006 has been based at this converted wood turning mill in Staveley.
Looking onto the brewery floor there’s a beer hall, open seven days a week, where you can sample the Hawkshead’s range of beers (lager, bitter stout, pale ale and more) from the bottle, cask or keg.
If you’re interested in the finer details of how these beers get made, there are 45-minute brewery tours every day at 13:00 to find out about processes like mashing and fermenting.
12. Lakeland Maze Farm Park
Believe it or not but there’s such a thing as a Maize Maze Association, and the Lakeland Maze Farm Park has won the award of “Maize Maze of the Year” a couple of times in the last five years.
Away from Kendal’s galleries and hill walks, here’s an attraction just for children.
The Lakeland Maze Farm Park is open during spring and summer, and has alpacas, sheep, pygmy goats, pigs, ponies, donkeys and guinea pigs that kids can feed and touch, both outside and in the pet barn.
The maize maze is open from July to September, while there’s also a mini-maze for younger children to solve, along with tractor rides, go-karts and spacious indoor zones like a soft play area and a sand pit in case of bad weather.
13. Howgill Fells
Across the River Lune, this scenic range is about ten miles east of Kendal.
The Howgills offer a degree of seclusion that is rare in the much more popular Lake District.
The lower Howgill Fells are inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but curiously still count as the county of Cumbria.
Park up in the picturesque town of Sedbergh and you can take on the Winder Fell, 473 metres high and with far-off vistas of the Yorkshire Dales, the fells of the Lake District and much of the Lune Valley.
Within hiking distance to the north of Sedbergh is Cautley Spout, the highest waterfall in England, cascading down a drop of almost 200 metres.
14. Quaker Tapestry Museum
The Georgian Friends Meeting House (name for a Quaker place of worship), displays a work of art recording the 350-year history of Quakerism.
The Quaker Tapestry is an embroidery inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry and using similar techniques, with 77 panels stitched by 4,000 men, women and children from 15 different countries over 15 years between 1981 and 1996. Each panel is 64 cm by 21 cm an in the mid-90s the whole set was transported to America for a tour.
The tapestry celebrates important Quakers like the 19th-century chemist John Dalton, and also recounts the Quakers’ historic commitment to peace and the abolition of slavery.
15. Castle Howe
There’s a compelling scrap of Kendal’s history in open space next to the Brewery Arts Centre.
At Castle Howe you can see the well-defined earthworks of a Norman motte and bailey castle.
This would have been put up at the end of the 11th century, not long after the Norman Conquest.
Castle Howe wasn’t in use for long before being abandoned little more than a century after.
Some 800 years later, the motte stands at 11 metres high and measures almost 20 metres across.
In 1788 an obelisk was placed here for the centenary of the Glorious Revolution, when William III, the Dutch Prince of Orange, invaded England and ascended the throne.