Keswick is the largest town actually within the boundaries of the Lake District National Park. But it’s still 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, but there’s plenty to keep you busy if the weather turns foul. The Cumberland Pencil Museum tells the story of graphite, first discovered by farmers in Borrowdale many centuries ago, while the recently refurbished Keswick Museum and Art Gallery has exhibits covering the worlds of literature, mountaineering, art and geology. Just outside of town is the enigmatic Castlerigg Stone Circle, built about 5,000 years ago. Come the evening, there are restaurants galore, a cinema that’s been operating for more than 100 years and the two stages of the Theatre by the Lake.
Beyond the theatre is the glorious lake itself with its famous view across to Cat Bells, one of the most popular summits in the area. If you’re thinking of climbing this small but rocky fell, catch the Keswick Launch to the Hawse End jetty, and walk from there. The boats serve eight jetties around the lake, enabling visitors to do many short, linear walks along the water’s edge. Alternatively, go the whole hog and complete the nine-mile circuit of Derwentwater. To get up close and personal with the lake and its islands, hire a boat. Canoes, kayaks, rowing boats and small motor boats are all available.
Keswick vies with Kendal for the title of Cumbria’s festival town, hosting a diverse range of events throughout the year – from film, literary and jazz festivals through to the massive Keswick Mountain Festival and the Keswick Convention, which attracts 15,000 people to Bible teachings and Christian seminars every summer.
As it heads south from Keswick, the B5289 – surely one of the loveliest roads in England – hugs the eastern shore of Derwentwater and enters beautiful Borrowdale. In summer, open-top buses ply this route. Hop on and off to visit some of the key attractions, including the Lodore Falls, the massive Bowder Stone, the picturesque Ashness Bridge and the tranquil villages of Rosthwaite and Grange. Beyond the final valley settlement, Seatoller, the road climbs steeply to Honister Pass, often closed by snow in winter. At the top of the pass is the Honister Slate Mine, where visitors can join an underground tour or, those with a head for heights can scale the scary via ferrata up the side of the craggy fell.