Pocket Britain

The south-eastern gateway to the Lake District


Kendal Museum
Kendal Castle
Kendal Mint Cake
This Cumbrian settlement is sometimes known as "the auld grey town", as most of its buildings are made from an ash-coloured limestone. This makes the place look like a black and white film, even in real life. It more than makes up for this lack of colour by being next door to the Lake District, England's brightest wonderland. In fact, Kendal is less than a kilometre from the National Park's border, making it the primary gateway for most visitors. Almost everybody coming from the south passes through here on their way to the multicoloured mountains and lakes.
Kendal caters to these travellers by providing hiking equipment, maps and guide books. However, this isn't just the Lake District's equivalent of a motorway service station. There are plenty of reasons to make the town a destination in its own right. It has over a thousand years of history, as is well-documented at Kendal Museum. This institution is so old that it should probably be in a museum itself. After being established in 1796, the exhibitions have grown in size and scope. They document practically everyone who ever came here, from Romans to hikers.
As you'll discover, this wasn't always a peaceful place. You can still see the remains of two well-used forts, which exist in varying states of ruin. Castle Howe was built first, sometime in the 11th century. The building's gone, but the hill and ditch are still there. Kendal Castle is newer, although it too has been ravaged by time. The remaining walls and towers mark out the rough shape of the fortress, giving clues as to how it might have looked.
The castles saw plenty of action in their day. Even Kendal's high street is connected to a series of narrow, fortified alleys, known locally as "yards". These offered a quick escape from the Scottish raiding parties. Today though, they're more useful as brief shelters from the legions of shoppers. This is a retail paradise, with everything from modern shopping centres to a traditional market.
The town's most famous product is Kendal Mint Cake. The name is somewhat misleading, as this isn't really a cake at all. It's essentially pure sugar, with a peppermint flavour. The snack was invented entirely by accident in 1869, by a local confectioner called Joseph Wiper. He was trying to develop glacier mints, but quickly noticed his new creation's potential. Its high glucose content made it a perfect energy food for explorers and mountaineers. The product has since been used on countless expeditions to the world's deepest wildernesses. Most notably, it was taken by Edmund Hillary's team of climbers on the first ever successful ascent of Mount Everest. Apparently their only criticism was that they "did not have enough of it".

Quiggins superior Kendal Mint Cake from the 1970's
Photo sludgegulper
Visitor Information
Kendal Tourist Information Centre, Town Hall, Highgate, Kendal, LA9 4DL. Tel: 0153 979 516
Kendal Museum is open Thursday to Saturday from 12noon to 5pm (from 10:30am on a Saturday). Entry costs around £3 for adults, children are FREE. Station Road, Kendal, LA9 6BT. Tel: 01539 815 597

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