Sitting on the south-eastern edge of the Lake District is the busy market town of Kendal. Besides being one of Cumbria’s best shopping centres, it is also one of its best cultural centres too. There are several museums including the Lakeland Museum (formerly the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry) and Abbot Hall which regularly holds major art exhibitions. Also at the south end of the town is The Brewery Arts Centre.
Historically, Kendal’s prosperity was based on the wool trade and manufacture of woollen cloth, the most famous being known as Kendal Green, which had the reputation of being very hard-wearing, and was even mentioned by Shakespeare. At the southern end of the town centre is Holy Trinity Church; this impressive building is symbolic of Kendal’s prosperity, and is reputed to be the largest parish church in England.
Kendal’s most famous export now-a-days is the energy-boosting snack, Kendal Mint Cake. The recipe for this sugary treat was accidentally discovered in the 1860s, and the cake has since been taken on expeditions all over the world; its great advantage is that it remains edible at extreme temperatures as it neither melts nor freezes.
Overlooking the town from the east are the ruins of Kendal Castle. The castle stands on a natural hill and would have once dominated the whole valley. It dates back to the 12th Century, and passed into the possession of the Parr family, whose best-known member was Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII.
Kendal takes its name from its river, the River Kent, which has its source just 12 miles north, high amongst the fells east of the Kirkstone Pass. This is the Kentmere Valley which properly starts just north of the village of Staveley. For 3 miles it winds peacefully through fields and woodland to arrive at Kentmere village; the road ends here, but above the village the scenery changes dramatically as the valley climbs up into the mountains, overlooked on its western side by the peaks of Ill Bell and Froswick.
East of Kentmere, and running almost parallel to it, is Long Sleddale, which stretches for some 9 miles north of Garnett Bridge. This long, straight valley with its scattered farms was the inspiration for ‘Greendale’, the valley in the BBC’s Postman Pat animations, written and created by Kendal resident, John Cunliffe. As with Kentmere, the most dramatic scenery is at the head of the valley, but here a good track beyond the last hamlet, Sadgill, makes exploration on foot much easier.
Kendal is sheltered on its western side by Scout Scar (height 229m), a 2 mile-long limestone escarpment. There is parking at the top of Underbarrow Road, with a good path from there to the summit, which has excellent views in all directions.
At the very southern end of Scout Scar is Sizergh Castle, a stately home now run by the National Trust. The oldest part of the building to be seen today is the square crenelated tower which dates back to the mid-14th Century. These towers, known as Pele Towers, are a common feature in the grand houses of Cumbria of this period; many were built as defensive structures although it has been argued that some were not practical structures, but were simply following what appeared to be a fashion. Sizergh Castle continued to be extended and improved, even into the early 20th Century, all of which was accomplished by the same family, the Stricklands. The family is still in residence at Sizergh, making this the oldest family home in England. There are extensive gardens around the castle, perhaps the most memorable part is the Rock Garden, one of the largest of its kind. This was laid out in the 1920s, and used weathered limestone from local outcrops.