Cockermouth

This is one of the most attractive towns in the northwest and is one of only two places in the Lake District to be designated a ‘Gem Town’ by the Department of the Environment 40 years ago. That means it is protected and will , in essence, remain the same in perpetuity.

It is just outside the boundary of the Lake District National Park and perhaps for this reason is not inundated with tourists and the tackiness that often goes with the industry. It developed at the confluence of two great salmon rivers – the Cocker, which flows out of lakes Buttermere, Crummock and Loweswater; and the Derwent, which runs through lakes Derwent and Bassenthwaite to Workington.

The town got its market charter in 1221, and has retained its importance over the centuries. Later there was quarrying and mining for lead and iron outside the town, and a brewery at the foot of the castle mound, where the two rivers meet.

It has long fascinated writers, poets and artists and is the birthplace of William and Dorothy Wordsworth – one of the finest buildings here is Wordsworth House, pictured above, the Lakeland poet’s family home, which is now in the care of the National Trust.

The great architectural guru Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, in his ‘Buildings of England’, described the place as ‘quite a swagger house for such a town’. Built in 1745 for the then High Sheriff of Cumberland, Joshua Lucock, it was bought in 1761 by Sir James Lowther, son of Sir John, who built Whitehaven and its port. John Wordsworth, the poet’s father, moved to Cockermouth as agent to Sir James in 1764, and in 1766 married and moved into the house. Here four sons and a daughter were born. Their mother died when William was eight, and he went to live with relations in Penrith.

The house thrived as a private residence until 1937, when it was put on the market. Since it was in a prime location in the centre of town, bosses of the local bus company snapped it up as the natural spot for a bus station. They applied for – and got – planning permission to bul doze it, but there was such a national outcry that funds were raised for the town to buy it back and hand it over to the National Trust. The old kitchen and the housekeeper’s room now serve as a café/restaurant where you can get morning coffee, light lunches and afternoon tea. Two other famous men were born in Eaglesfield, a mile from the town’s centre: Fletcher Christian, the man who led the mutiny on the Bounty was born in 1764, and attended the same school as Wordsworth; then in 1766 came John Dalton, a brilliant scientist and originator of atomic theory.

Cockermouth Castle was built in the 13th century, but not much of it remains because of the efforts of Robert the Bruce and his marauding Scots. Most of the remaining ruins are from a later period, between 1360 and 1370.

Places of Interest

Jennings Brewery Offers 1½ hour tours around its premises, pictured below, explaining the processes involved in brewing traditional beer. 0845 1297185, www.jenningsbrewery.co.uk

The Museum of Printing A fascinating range of printing presses brought together from all over Britain.01900 824984

The Bitter End, 15 Kirkgate The first pub in Cumbria with its own working brewery – ‘Cumbria’s Smal est Brewery’. 01900 828993 www.bitterend.co.uk.

Lakeland Sheep & Wool Centre 01900 822673 At the roundabout on the A66 is where you can meet Cumbria’s most famous residents.

Castlegate House Contemporary art exhibitions.  01900 822149

The Toy & Model Museum Mainly British toys from 1900 onwards. 01900 827606

Tourist Information Centre Town Hall, Market Place, Cockermouth, CA13 9NP 01900 822634