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Kendal's Two Castles

Visit two ancient castles, on opposite banks of the River Kent.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 300ft (91m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Pavements, surfaced and grassy paths with steps, no stiles

Landscape Historic Kendal and open hillside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 7 The English Lakes (SE)

Start/finish SD 518928

Dog friendliness Open hillside grazed by sheep, busy roads through town

Parking Free parking area by river (occasionally occupied by fairground), numerous pay car parks near by

Public toilets Near road bridge, Miller Bridge, end of river parking area

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1 Walk upstream along the riverside parking area to a footbridge crossing the river. Cross and bear left to follow the surfaced walkway, through Gooseholme. At the junction of roads by the Church of St George turn right down Castle Street. Pass the Castle Inn and join Ann Street. Turn right and continue up the hill to Castle Road on the right. Ascend Castle Road to where a kissing gate on the right leads on to Castle Hill. Follow the broad path ascending the shoulder to the ruins of Kendal Castle.

2 Round the castle ruins until, at a point beneath its southern end, a path can be found dropping down to the right. Descend steeply to pass through an iron kissing gate on to Sunnyside Road. Follow Sunnyside, which becomes Parr Street, and exit on to Aynam Road.

3 Turn right along Aynam Road to a crossing. Cross and find a footbridge leading over the River Kent. Over the river bear left, downstream, and walk a short distance to a narrow, surfaced path leading right. Continue along the path, lined by yew trees and limestone coping stones, to pass between Kendal parish church and Abbot Hall Art Gallery. Emerge on to the Kirkland Road, the main road through Kendal, by the impressive iron gates of the church with the Ring O'Bells pub to the left. Turn right along the road and proceed 300yds (274m) to a crossing. Cross it then bear right to cross Gillingate Road and keep along the main road, now called Highgate. At Lightfoot's chemist shop go left up Captain French Lane for 300yds (274m) then go right up Garth Heads Lane. Follow this until a steep path ascends to the left. Steps lead to a terrace and a view out over Kendal. Cross the grass terrace towards the mound and its distinct bodkin-shaped obelisk. Climb the steps then spiral left until, as the path levels, steps lead up right to the obelisk and the top of Castle Howe.

4 Return to the path and go right. Find a gap on the left and emerge on the road at the top of Beast Banks. Descend the hill, which becomes Allhallows Lane, to the traffic lights and pedestrian crossing opposite the Town Hall. Cross the road and go left and then immediately right down Lowther Street. Go left at the bottom to a zebra crossing beyond the Holy Trinity of St George, which leads to the riverside.

Known as the 'Auld Grey Town', because of the colour of its predominantly limestone buildings, enterprising Kendal retains much of its original character. Until recently Kendal was the administrative centre for the former county of Westmorland. Sited either side of the River Kent its occupation stretches from Roman times to the present day and its varied stone buildings, nooks, crannies, yards and castles offer a rich historical tapestry. This walk visits two important strongholds located strategically on high ground either side of the river; Kendal Castle and Castle Howe.

Sited in a commanding position over Kendal and the River Kent, the ruined Kendal Castle is quietly impressive and offers fine views in all directions. The people of Kendal know it as an old friend and may tell you that here was the birthplace of Catherine Parr who became Henry VIII's sixth and last wife in 1543. Although her grandfather, William Parr who died in 1483, lies entombed in Kendal parish church, apparently there is no evidence that Catherine ever set foot in Kendal and the castle was probably falling into decay by that time.

It is thought that Kendal Castle succeeded Castle Howe, sited opposite on the western side of the river, sometime in the late 12th century. After the Norman barons had secured the kingdom they required suitable quarters with sufficient space to administer their feudal territories and so replaced their chiefly wooden motte and bailey castles with castles of stone. Initial timber buildings surrounded by a ditch and small tower were replaced by new stone buildings in about 1220 and work continued until 1280 by one of the early barons of Kendal, either Gilbert Fitzrheinfred or his son William de Lancaster.

Today, the ruins of Kendal Castle consist of a circular defensive wall and three towers plus a residential gatehouse surrounded by a partly filled ditch. The entrance path leads through the wall at the point where a gatehouse once stood. To the left are the largest standing remains, the house where the baron's family lived, known as the Lyons Den, or Machell Tower. To the right, a favourite climb for adventurous children, stands the Troutbeck Tower sporting its 'dungeon room' below and garderobe (toilet), with free fall into the ditch/moat, above. If you do climb the tower, and it may be against regulations to do so, don't fall through the unprotected hole. It could be both extremely dangerous and highly embarrassing. South of the compound is a lesser tower and the exit here, a former gatehouse, is now barred by a locked door.

The Parr family occupied the castle for four generations, from 1380 to 1486, when William Parr's widow remarried and move to Northamptonshire. The demise of the castle took place at a pace after this and much of the stone is thought to have been recycled for use in building works in the 'Auld Grey Town' below.

What to look for

Castle Howe, Kendal's first Norman motte and bailey castle, was built between 1068 and 1100. At the time it was the cutting northern edge of the rapidly established Norman kingdom and Kendal, then known as Kirkbie Strickland, was mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086. The obelisk on top of Castle Howe was designed by Francis Webster and built by William Holme in 1778. It was dedicated to the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 when William of Orange replaced James II. It is known locally as 'Bill Holmes' bodkin'.

While you're there

Kendal Museum, Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Kendal parish church are all centres of attraction. The former, with everything from stuffed bears and crocodiles to neolithic Langdale stone axes has long held a fascination for me. There are so many interesting buildings and features in Kendal, the history so rich and varied, it is impossible to single out individual items. Have a roam and afterwards know that there are numerous quiet places on the banks of the River Kent, reputedly England's fastest flowing river and once a huge source of power for this the 'Auld Grey Town', to eat your fish and chips.

Where to eat and drink

Kendal is famed for its many fine pubs and there is a plethora of cafés and restaurants. On this walk you pass the Castle Inn and the Ring O'Bells. Both offer real ale and bar meals. In Kirkland there are several fish and chip shops and take-aways. The Brewery Arts Centre, just beyond Captain French Lane along Highgate, has both café and bar facilities.

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