Places to go: Kendal

Places to Go is a monthly feature written by’s stationmaster, Alex Nelson. His passion for the UK rail network combined with his desire to travel to new locations have inspired him to write a regular piece on UK tourism.

The Auld Grey Town of Kendal is the third largest in Cumbria, behind Carlisle and Barrow in Furness.

The town lies in the valley or “dale” of the River Kent from which it derives its name, and has a total resident population of around 29,000.  But Cumbria is a modern construct, and traditionally Kendal was in Westmorland, and at the time of the Domesday book was compiled it was part of Yorkshire with the name Cherchebi.

It’s a town for walking around, the centre being quite compact, and the railway station where you will arrive is on the north side of town and close to the town museum.  I enjoyed poking around to find extraordinary signs like the one shown about the 1745 rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  I had lunch in an excellent Thai restaurant at 101 Highgate called Jintana.  Although a major centre of the Lake District, there are no lakes nearby, the closest being Windermere.

Sign Railway

Fares have increased since I went to Kendal last August, but you can negate the 2019 fares increase by splitting your ticket.  You change trains anyway at Carlisle and Oxenholme for the Lake District, and the normal day or period return fare is £55.30 from  Chester-le-Street, which seems rather steep to me.  By requesting split tickets at the fare fell to £29.28 for a return journey on 6th March, for example.  Similar savings will be available from other stations, and railcard discounts will reduce that fare further.

Kendal today is known largely as a centre for tourism, as the home of Kendal Mint Cake, and as a producer of pipe tobacco and tobacco snuff.  I was surprised to learn that anyone still takes snuff in these days of vaping. Samuel Gawith and Company uses equipment dating back to the 1750s.

The impressive Castle on top of the hill east of the town is now a ruin, but when I walked up one autumn evening the scale of the building was still apparent, and the views wonderful.  “Kendal Green” was a hard-wearing wool-based fabric specific to the local manufacturing process. It was supposedly sported by the Kendalian archers who were instrumental in the English victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

Kendal Train TIckets

Early travellers to Kendal complained of eight miles of “nothing but a confused mixture of Rockes and Boggs.”  Riding horseback was the fastest form of travelling for the road was “no better than the roughest fell tracks on high ground and spongy, miry tracks in the vallies.”  Things improved a tad with the arrival of the railway in 1846. The Lancaster Canal was built as far as Kendal in 1819, but the northern section was rendered unnavigable by the construction of the M6. Part of this section was also drained and filled in to prevent leakage, and the course of the canal through Kendal has now been developed. The canal towpath, however, remains as a footpath through Kendal.

One of the most interesting and surprising parts of my visit was finding the Quaker Meeting House near the Bus Station which houses a fascinating display of tapestries, including one on the history of railways in which Quaker families feature prominently.  Unable to join the law, or the military, and hardly likely to join the clergy of the established church, many Quaker families excelled at business, including the promoters of the 1825 Stockton to Darlington Railway.

Railway Tapestry

Quaker Tapestry ©

This image is one of the 77 illustrations known as the Quaker Tapestry which is a modern community textile of embroidered panels made by 4,000 people from 15 countries. The exhibition of life, revolutions and remarkable people can be seen at the Quaker Tapestry Museum in the Quaker Meeting House in Kendal, Cumbria UK

Further information

Alex Nelson