Keswick is the largest town in the Lake District National Park but it’s far from being a big settlement; urban visitors might be forgiven for calling it a ‘village’. It sits at the foot of England’s fourth highest mountain, Skiddaw, while Derwentwater, the Queen of the Lakes, borders it to the south-west. Walkers come here to scale the fells, to stroll along the lakeshore or to wander Borrowdale’s ancient oak woods, and there’s also plenty to keep you busy if the weather turns foul. The Derwent Pencil Museum tells the story of graphite, first discovered in Borrowdale, while the recently refurbished Keswick Museum and Art Gallery has exhibits covering the worlds of literature, mountaineering, art and geology. Just outside town is the enigmatic Castlerigg Stone Circle, built about 5,000 years ago. Come the evening, there are restaurants galore, an old-fashioned cinema complete with balcony and the Theatre by the Lake.
Beyond the theatre is the glorious lake itself, which can be explored in leisurely fashion from the deck of the Keswick Launch or, for those seeking a more energetic experience, by hiring a canoe, kayak or rowing boat. Hugging the eastern shore of Derwentwater is the B5289, one of the loveliest roads in England. In summer, open-top buses ply this route up into beautiful Borrowdale. Hop on and off to visit some of the key attractions, including the Lodore Falls, the Bowder Stone, picturesque Ashness Bridge and the tranquil villages of Rosthwaite and Grange. Beyond the valley, the road climbs steeply to Honister Pass and the Honister Slate Mine, where visitors can join an underground tour or scale the scary via ferrata up the side of the craggy fell.
Keswick vies with Kendal for the title of Cumbria’s festival town, hosting a diverse range of events – from film, literary and jazz festivals through to the massive Keswick Mountain Festival and the Keswick Convention, which attracts 15,000 people to Christian seminars every summer.
North of the town, the holiday crowds begin to thin out. This is where you’ll find Bassenthwaite Lake, the Northern Fells and tiny villages that time (and tourists) seem to have forgotten, such as Caldbeck and Hesket Newmarket. Attractions include the elegant 17th-century Mirehouse, the Lake District Wildlife Park for kids and, for adults, the Lakes Distillery. Whinlatter Forest is home to miles of hiking and biking trails. Some are family-friendly; others more challenging. And those screams you’re hearing? They’ll be from the brave souls swinging from the Go Ape tree-top obstacle course high above your head.