Keswick, the National Park’s largest town, sits at the heart of the northern Lake District. With Derwentwater lapping at its southern fringes and steep-sided fells bearing down on all sides, it has always had its natural resources to thank for its prosperity – from Elizabethan times, when miners first started exploiting the area’s mineral deposits; through the Industrial Revolution when its rivers and becks powered countless industries; to the twenty-first century, when sixty per cent of its population is employed in tourism.
Understandably, people come here to enjoy the spectacular scenery, to get a rejuvenating kick from being outdoors and interacting with nature. That might mean lounging on the deck of the Keswick Launch or sitting in a beer garden gazing up at the fells. It might mean strapping on protective gear and hurtling down one of Whinlatter’s mountain biking trails at break-neck speed. Or it might mean indulging in any one of the many activities on offer in this great outdoor adventure centre – rock-climbing, kayaking, wind-surfing, paddle-boarding, fell-walking, ghyll-scrambling, paragliding, ice-climbing, sailing, canoeing, wild swimming, road cycling... You name it, you can probably do it somewhere near Keswick. You can even go and climb the walls of England’s only working slate mine – at nearby Honister – if you want.
Of course, there are indoor attractions too. The Derwent Pencil Museum, the Keswick Museum, the Puzzling Place and the Leisure Pool are just a few within the town itself. Come the evening, you’ll find pubs and restaurants galore as well as the Theatre by the Lake and the Alhambra, one of the oldest British cinemas still in operation.
Keswick hosts a diverse range of festivals throughout the year. In the early spring, speakers from the worlds of literature, politics and the media share their love of the written word at the Words by the Water Festival. During May, the colourful and noisy Keswick Jazz and Blues Festival takes place, as does the Keswick Mountain Festival. Come July, it’s the turn of the Keswick Convention, which attracts thousands of people to Bible teachings and Christian seminars. There’s also a film festival (February), a beer festival (June), the Victorian Christmas Fayre and the Keswick Agricultural Show, which traditionally takes place on the Bank Holiday Monday in late August.
Visitors can normally find a place to stay whatever their budget. There are hostels, campsites of varying sizes, pods, yurts, cabins and, of course, lots and lots of B&Bs, inns and hotels. If you want to self-cater, you can do that too. Be warned though, the area gets very busy during some of the key festivals, school breaks and at bank holidays. If all else fails, the friendly assistants in the tourist information centre in the Moot Hall – that’s the distinctive-looking building with the tower in the middle of the pedestrianised area – can help visitors find something suitable. They’ll even find something for people who have brought their dogs on holiday with them. After all, Keswick is doggy heaven! Thanks to its canine-convivial accommodation providers, shops, pubs and cafés, the town has three times been voted the UK’s dog friendliest town in the Kennel Club’s Open for Dogs Awards.
For those travelling to Keswick by public transport, the nearest mainline railway station is about 17 miles to the east, at Penrith, which is on the West Coast Mainline. From here, you can catch the X4 bus (every two hours, no Sunday service).