In Cumbria’s Eden Valley, Penrith is not far from the northeastern edge of the Lake District.
The location offers you pristine highland views of the National Park, as well as noble mansions and castles in the low-lying rural landscape of the west.
Ullswater, arguably England’s most beautiful natural landscape, is just a few minutes’ drive away and promises a stroll in a historic steamboat, a ride on a historic steamboat, and the Ella Power, which inspires Hua Zwass wrote his most famous poem “Daffodil” at the waterfall.
Penrith sits on the bitterly disputed medieval border with Scotland and has two medieval castles with royal links.
On the days outside, you can explore the magnificent Palladian country house and one of the largest Neolithic stone circles in the country.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Penrith:
1. Brougham Castle
A very romantic place in the meadows by the River Edmont is the well-preserved ruins of Brougham Castle.
Abandoned some 300 years ago, the castle was turned into a picturesque ruin, explored by young Wordsworth and painted by JMW Turner.
Striking structures like the Alliance Tower, Fortress, and Double Gate Tower have survived, and Brougham Castle remains interesting because of its intricate mix of passages and spiral staircases.
You’ll set foot on the same land as Edward I, as the castle was an important military base for Robert de Clifford, Malches’ first warden during the Scottish War of Independence.
Edward lived here in 1300, and the castle was occupied and sacked by the Scots in 1388.
2. Penrith Castle
On the town’s west side, Penrith’s Grade I listed castle suffered a similar fate to many of England’s medieval forts when it was demolished after the 17th century civil war.
The castle was raised in the 14th century to protect the area from the Scots and later became a grand fortification.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III) lived here for some time before becoming king.
The ruins are located in a public park, and the broad ramparts remain at their original height, accessible via a pedestrian bridge over the moat.
Typically, you can make out several window openings, as well as the eastern front support.
Ullswater is a glacial banded lake considered by many to be the most beautiful lake in England.
This has a lot to do with its elongated zig-zag shape and the dominant features on its coast such as Place Fell and Hallin Fell.
Ullswater’s stunning natural beauty has attracted tourists since the 18th century, and the lake has always been the destination of choice for aristocratic holidaymakers in the 20th century.
From Penrith, your first stop will be Pooley Bridge, where you can catch a steamboat that sails the lake year-round.
Ullswater has offered boat tours since 1855, and the oldest ship in the fleet, the Lady of the Lake, was launched in 1877. The steamboat is the best way to get around Ullswater and stops at Glenridding, Howtown and Aira Force.
Water Foot Park is a 10-minute walk from Pooley Bridge and offers a variety of water activities in Ullswater, such as canoeing, paddle boarding and sailing.
4. Air Force
The 21m long Aira Force Falls is the most prized waterfall in the Lake District and is located in National Trust Park on the west side of Ullswater.
Wordsworth mentions Ella Power in several poems and is thought to have been inspired to create the daffodils after his visit in 1802. Ella Baker’s setting is not entirely natural, as it was the landscape of the Howard family in the 19th century.
They have planted a botanical garden in the canyon with 200 cedars, spruces, pines and firs, including a majestic Sitka spruce that is now more than 35 meters tall.
The result is almost magical, and you can experience the power of Airl’s power from two stone bridges, one at the top and one at the foot.
5. Harlem Falls
On the opposite side of Ullswater, you can’t miss the vantage point of the 388-meter-high Hallin Fell, which surrounds the lake on three sides.
You don’t have to be a climber to climb this mountain, as the path to the summit is deceptively light and takes about half an hour to complete.
You can park at St. Peter’s Parish Church near South Foot and look back at the majestic Mount Martindale on the way.
At the top of the hill, there are expansive views of the East Lake District, including the High Street, Blencathra, Helvellyn Peak and, of course, Ullswater.
Penrith has been designated as Cumbria’s first cycle hub, in part due to the town’s location on the Sea to Sea Cycleway (C2C). Combining sections of the shorter route, the route stretches 140 miles across the Lake District and the North Pennines, between Workington or Whitehaven in Cumbria and Sunderland or Tynemouth on the North Sea coast between.
Almost half of the trails are on off-road tracks with abandoned railroads and traffic-free bike paths.
There are bicycle lockers outside the tourist information center, and there are also local companies, such as Inspiring Cycle, that rent mountain, road and e-bikes.
The Eden Valley Tourist Office also offers flyers for five “one-day” loop rides that range between 15 and 31 miles.
7. Lorther Castle and Gardens
The Loser family lived in the mansion for centuries until they had to leave for financial reasons after World War II.
Roofs were removed, gardens overgrown and Gothic Revival buildings began to crumble, until conservation plans were drawn up in the early 2000s.
The castle is now a tourist attraction, and you can come and see the Gothic arches, ornamental zigzags, towers, vaulted galleries and spires.
These were designed in the early 19th century by architect Robert Smirke, who was only 25 at the time, and Lowther Castle was his first major commission.
The grounds feature stately avenues, patios, and stone urns, as well as a new playground: The Lost Castle is the largest wooden playground in the country, made up of 11 miles of sustainably sourced wood.
8. Long Meg and Her Daughters
This Neolithic stone circle easily traverses the Valley of Eden and is the second largest stone circle in the UK at over 100 meters wide.
There are 59 stones here, 27 of which are upright, the largest of which is the sandstone boulder Long Meg.
This is etched in rings, spirals and ovals using megalithic art.
The site is thought to be at least 4,000 years old and is a burial ground that may have been used for ceremonial gatherings and trade.
The name comes from a local legend that claims the circle is a witch who turned to stone.
9. Hutton in the Forest
Penrith mansions are popping up, and Gothic Revival Hutton-in-the-Forest is another place to watch.
The house evolved from the medieval Bell Tower, and each subsequent generation has added something to the building.
Hutton-in-the-Forest has been home to the Fletcher-Vane family since 1605 and is open for tours on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays in spring and summer.
You’ll travel through the centuries, admiring the magnificent 1630s galleries and halls built in 1680 and centred on the elaborate Cupid Staircase.
Mrs Darlington’s room is delightful, dating from the turn of the century and decorated in an Arts and Crafts style.
On your way, you’ll be captivated by tapestries, portraits, furniture and fine ceramics.
The gardens are open year-round except on Saturdays, with a 17th-century terrace and a walled garden from the 1730s.
10. St Andrew’s Church
Penrith’s parish church is an unusual mix of Georgian and Gothic styles and is a Grade I listed monument.
The oldest part is a tower built from sandstone rubble, probably in the 1100s and 1200s for defensive reasons.
The nave is composed of smoother ashlar (finished) sandstone dating from the 1720s.
The interior is classical, with carved oak benches and galleries supported by painted Tuscan columns.
On the altar at the east end, stained glass windows can be seen, installed in 1870 and framed by frescoes by Penrith landscape painter Jacob Thompson.
The cemetery contains the mysterious Thumb of the Giant, a Norse cross carved in 920 as a monument to the King of Cumbria.
11. Acorn Bank Gardens and Water Mill
In Temple Sowerby, not far from Penrith, there is a beautiful National Trust garden with a working waterwheel.
The mill was first mentioned in 1323 when it belonged to the Knights Hospitaller, but the current structure is from the 1800s.
In addition to producing flour, the mill was used to power the gypsum mines on these lands, which were restored and opened to the public in 1995 after decades of abandonment. Most notable, though, is the Herb Garden, which surrounds the 17th-century city walls and houses the National Trust’s largest collection of medicinal and culinary herbs.
There are more than 300 varieties, as well as more than 100 regional apple trees, and an apiary with four beehives.
12. Daleman Building and Historic Gardens
Among the most beautiful mansions in the Northwest, Dalemain has a bold Palladian look from 1744. But this hides an even older building, parts of the 14th and 16th centuries connected by quirky staircases and small passages.
Open Sunday to Thursday from March to October, the house has remained largely unchanged since the 18th century.
The museum houses an exquisite collection of ceramics, furniture, antique toys, doll houses and family portraits, and the 18th-century hand-painted wallpaper in the China Room is even more stunning.
The formal gardens are also breathtaking, and in 1840 the famous botanist Joseph Banks gave them a Greek fir.
Major events on the Dalemain calendar are the International Jam Awards and Festival in March, and the Penrith Goes Orange celebration in Penrith the same weekend.
13. Penrith and Eden Museum
Inside the 17th century Robinson School building is a collection-worthy museum documenting the human and natural history of Penrith and the Valley of Eden.
Some very interesting pieces can be found here, such as Penrith’s medieval town seal and official measures, and 600 late Roman bronze coins found in Newby, just a few miles away.
There are also small memorabilia related to interesting local figures, such as the monocle of Percy Toplis, a notorious imposter who was murdered on the run in 1920 and buried in Beacon Edge Cemetery in an unmarked tomb.
There is also an excellent art collection consisting of Dutch and Flemish landscapes and works by Penrith-born 19th-century landscape painter Jacob Thompson.
14. Beacon Hill
The 286-metre-tall Beacon Hill rises over Penrith from the northeast, and you can climb up to enjoy stunning views of Penrith and the Valley of Eden.
You’ll find this trail off Beacon Edge Road, which takes about an hour round trip.
From the summit, many of the main Lake District peaks line the southwest, turning north and you can see across Solway Bay into Scotland.
Beacon Hill is named after a signal beacon that lights up in times of war and other emergencies.
It was built during the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century, while the current pyramid-shaped sandstone monument was erected in 1719.
15. Lakeland Raptor Center
Set in a beautiful walled garden at the entrance to Lowther Castle, the Lakeland Raptor Centre is home to more than 150 native and exotic eagles, owls, bald eagles, hawks, falcons and bald eagles.
These can be viewed in the elaborate aviary or during a special two-hour flight demonstration in the afternoon.
In this course, you’ll learn about the differences between various bird species and be encouraged to experiment with bird handling with the help of an experienced breeder.
The center is open every day from April to November.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Penrith, England
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