Keswick may have its Victorian villas, its townhouses, its restaurants, and its smatterings of culture, but it’s got a slightly ‘harder’ feel to it than its more genteel neighbours in the South Lakes. Maybe it’s those fells, Skiddaw in particular looming over the slate roofs, its bulky mass like a 931m-tall woolly mammoth. Maybe it’s the unpredictable weather (after all, Seathwaite, England’s wettest inhabited place, is just up the road) or the town’s association with historic mining in the surrounding fells. Or maybe it was just too far for those Liverpool and Manchester industrialists who built their sprawling homes on the shores of Windermere, gentrifying the landscape ‘down there’.
Nevertheless, these things are relative in the Lake District, and Keswick is still one of the Lake District’s most picturesque and thriving hub towns. Casual strollers will enjoy the shores of Derwentwater, but more serious fell and mountain types – hikers, runners, climbers, mountain bikers and so on – will feel very at home here. This is the place to come to buy your ice axe and crampons, as well as your waterproof jacket or your new lightweight tent. There are outdoor gear shops galore; as local people say, plenty of places to purchase outerwear but nowhere to buy underwear (unless it’s technical merino underwear, of course!).
You can reach the fells directly from the town, with local paths providing access to circular walks on Skiddaw or the airy ridge lines of some of the classic horseshoes. Better still, local buses open up the opportunity for long, satisfying linear routes. Transport options include the 555 south along the A591 to Grasmere, Ambleside and Windermere, the 78 bus through Borrowdale as far as Seatoller and, in summer, the 77/77A circular that’ll take you to Whinlatter, Buttermere and Honister Pass. There’s also the Keswick Launch on Derwentwater.
Before we get down to some walking, one last thing for pet owners… Keswick is doggy heaven. Thanks to its canine-convivial accommodation providers, shops, pubs and cafés, Keswick has been voted the UK’s dog friendliest town in the Kennel Club’s Open for Dogs Awards on several occasions. So, there’s nothing stopping you, is there?
Your weekend in Keswick, sorted
- Your itinerary
- More great walks in the North Lakes
- Food and drink
- Guides and activity providers
- Getting there
Hike to the top of England’s fourth highest mountain or stroll through Borrowdale, ending the day with a touch of culture…
It has to be done. It dominates the town like nothing else. If you’re staying in Keswick for any length of time, it’s hard to resist the siren call of Skiddaw. Setting off from Briar Rigg on the northern edge of town and using the ‘tourist’ path up Jenkin Hill, it’s a straightforward climb to the top. It’d be hard to get lost and you won’t encounter bare rock or other obstacles. You will, however, encounter other walkers. For a quieter return route though, drop to Skiddaw House via Sale How and then on to the superb balcony path through the Glenderaterra gap between the Skiddaw massif and Blencathra. (20.1km/12.5 miles; 1006m; 3300ft; 6-7 hours.)
If the clag’s down or you just want to take it easy, it’s got to be Borrowdale… Ancient woods, hanging valleys, waterfalls, caves, a sparkling river, a serene lake and small fells with big attitude. Catch the number 78 bus from the town, all the way through the valley to Seatoller and then walk back along the western side of this beautiful dale. (12.9km/8 miles; 470m/1,550ft; 4-5 hours.)
Having refuelled in one of Keswick’s pubs or restuarants, catch some culture at the Theatre by The Lake. Its varied programme includes plays, comedy, talks and live music events.
Enjoy a long, tough day on undulating ridges and then relax in one of the country’s oldest cinemas…
Two of Lakeland’s classic horseshoe routes can be easily accessed from Keswick – the Newlands and the Coledale Rounds. The former is a high-level round taking in Cat Bells, Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head and Hindscarth. Catch the Keswick Launch from near the Theatre by the Lake and set out from the Hawse End pier on a long, exhilarating fell day. This one suits all moods – it’s got little bits of rocky clambering, heather moorland, broad grassy ridges and spectacular views throughout. (17.7km/11 miles; 1097m/3600ft; 6-7 hours.)
The Coledale Round is a horseshoe of even higher, craggier fells to the north-west of the Newlands group. Catch the X5 or summer-only 77 bus to Braithwaite (or walk, if you don’t mind adding a few extra miles to what’s going to be a tough day) and then step out into a walker’s paradise that includes Crag Hill, Hopegill Head and Grisedale Pike among others. (15.2km/9½ miles; 1183m/3880ft; 6-7 hours.)
You probably won’t be up for much after your long day on the fells, so head to the recently refurbished Alhambra to enjoy a film in one of the few UK cinemas that has been operating for more than 100 years.
Other walks in the North Lakes
Rosthwaite Fell and Glaramara
Distance: 11.3km/7 miles | Ascent: 808m/2650ft | Duration: 4½-5 hours
Various peaks can be accessed via the road through Borrowdale. If you want to escape the crowds, consider climbing Rosthwaite Fell from Stonethwaite and then continue on to Glaramara before returning via Thornythwaite Fell. Route-finding can be difficult, so save this one for a clear day.
Distance: 14.2km/8¾ miles | Ascent: 328m/1076ft | Duration: 4-4½ hours
For those days when you’d rather gaze up at the fells than stand on top of them, the circuit of Derwentwater is hard to beat. Passing in and out of ancient oak woodland and along shingle beaches, you can cut the walk short and get the boat back to Keswick at any one of several piers.
Accommodation in Keswick
At peak times – summer Bank Holidays in particular – Keswick is full to overflowing, but you can normally find a place to lay your head whatever your budget. There are hostels here, campsites large and small, pods, yurts, cabins and, of course, the traditional B&Bs, inns and hotels.
If you want to self-cater, you can do that too. The assistants in the tourist information centre in the Moot Hall – that’s the building with the tower in the middle of the pedestrian area – will help you find something suitable.
Located beside the River Greta, the Keswick YHA hostel is a five-minute walk from the town centre and includes a bar and restaurant. Slightly further afield, and not accessible by motorised transport, the independent Skiddaw House hostel lies in the heart of the Northern Fells, on the route of the Cumbria Way. It’s well worth the effort if you’re seeking peace and quiet.
Food and drink in Keswick
Again, there’s something here for all budgets – from the Old Keswickian chippy opposite the Moot Hall to the Michelin-starred Cottage in the Wood up in the Whinlatter Forest, with a massive range of pubs and restaurants in between. The tiny Square Orange on St John Street, known locally as ‘Squorange’, serves up the best coffee and pizza in town. One of my personal favourites at the time of writing – the food scene in Keswick is a constantly evolving affair – is Lake Road Brunch, where a South Indian masala dosa will set you up well for a day on the fells.
Guides and Activity Providers
- Lakeland Mountain Guides – reliable and experienced local guides who also offer navigation and winter skills courses
- Hayley Webb – locally based guide holding summer and winter Mountain Leader qualifications
- Keswick Adventures – climbing, gill scrambling, kayaking and more for groups and individuals
- Cyclewise – mountain bike hire and courses at Whinlatter Forest
- Great Mountain Days in the Lake District by Mark Richards (Cicerone)
- Lake District: High Level and Fell Walks by Vivienne Crow (Cicerone)
- Scrambles in the Lake District – North by John Fleetwood (Cicerone)
- Lake District: The Low Fells by Steve Goodier (Northern Eye Books)
- Short Walks in the Keswick and Borrowdale Area by Paul Buttle (Baskerville-Muscutt)
Getting to Keswick
Although the railway line’s long gone – and is now a surfaced, multi-user path – reaching Keswick isn’t too tricky. Penrith, which is on the West Coast Mainline, is about 28km to the east. From there, you can catch the X4 bus (every two hours, no Sunday service) along the A66 to Keswick.
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