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As England’s third-largest county and one of two that borders Scotland, Cumbria has everything to offer those looking to visit and get away from it all. Featuring England’s most distinguished and largest national park, the beautiful countryside is what attracts millions of visitors every year. But there’s plenty of history, charm, and culture to discover in ​​the Cumbria towns beyond the lakes, valleys, and fells of the Lake District.

Days out in Cumbria

Cumbria is dominated by the natural beauty, scenery, and views of the Lake District National Park. Covering over 900 square miles, this spectacular landscape is why many visitors flock to the county. But, while it’s famous for many of Cumbria’s towns, like Keswick, Windemere, and Ambleside, other towns including Kendal, Penrith, Workington, and the city of Carlisle, all offer plenty to explore.

In Carlisle, discover the significant highlights at Carlisle Cathedral including the famed Choir Ceiling and the stained glass of the East Window. The Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery features amazing collections covering art, natural history, and the city and county itself. And in the heart of the city, Carlisle Castle holds over 900 years of history to discover.

Famous for its Mint Cake, the town of Kendal has a lot going on. Sitting on the edge of the Lake District, this beautiful town is home to the stunning views of Kendal Castle and the medieval house of Sizergh Castle. And based in a magnificent Georgian building, the award-winning Quaker Tapestry Museum documents over 350 years of history across more than 40 fully embroidered panels.

In Barrow-in-Furness, once the largest producer of iron and steel in the world, there’s plenty to discover about the town’s industrial background. The Dock Museum will give you a history of Barrow through the ages, from the Romans and the Vikings to the present day. Nearby Furness Abbey lets you explore the 12th-century monastery ruins as well as the conservation work that’s going on.

Undoubtedly, the Lake District National Park is the overriding attraction for Cumbria. Famous for its waters, mountains, and spectacular scenery, there’s plenty to explore and is a rich playground for lovers of outdoor activities of all types.

Windermere is home to The World of Beatrix Potter, an amazing, family-friendly attraction for everyone, while in Hawkshead, you can visit Potter’s beloved home, Hill Top. But the lake is the place to visit if you love water sports, with windsurfing and sailing among the most popular activities. There are also numerous boat trips to experience the lake and the surroundings from a calmer perspective.

The picturesque town of Keswick sits on the edges of the lake Derwentwater, which also provides a range of water sports. The town is also well worth visiting, with several museums to enjoy, including the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery and the fascinating Derwent Pencil Museum!

Famous for being the home to the 18th-century poet, William Wordsworth, literary fans can’t help but be drawn to Grasmere and its surroundings. A visit to his home, Dove Cottage, is essential, where you can see the museum that details his life, work, and inspiration.

Topography, geology, and climate

With a glorious blend of coastline, open countryside, and of course, the Lake District, Cumbria, presents many diverse land qualities to give the county a mix of different soil types and fertility levels.

The dominant land feature is the national park which is made up of shallow, acidic upland soils, as well as plenty of free-draining loam, alongside pockets of blanket bog peat soils. Beyond this area, Cumbria largely consists of slowly permeable and seasonally wet acid loam and clay soils, with smaller areas of mildly acid, sandy soils between Carlisle and Penrith. The far eastern edges feature more blanket bog peat soils on the edges of the North Pennines.

Generally mild in climate, thanks to its positioning, winters are generally milder with temperatures averaging around 7ºC (44ºF), while summers tend to be cooler, averaging around 18ºC (64ºF). But Cumbria has the reputation as being England’s wettest county. Thanks to westerly winds coming in off the Atlantic, rainfall can average at around 1,500mm (59”) across the year but can be significantly more across the higher grounds.

Cumbria’s parks and gardens

Alongside the enjoyments that Cumbria’s glorious open countryside and the Lake District will bring you, there are also plenty of traditional gardens to visit and enjoy. With a wide variety of styles ranging from formal to wild and naturalistic, our selection will bring joy to every visitor, from garden hobbyists to seasoned horticulturalists.

North Cumbria

In the village of Unthank, north of Penrith, Hutton-in-the-Forest is a historic landmark and house with spectacular gardens. Surrounded by parkland, the gardens cover different styles and include the walled garden with herbaceous borders, annual plants, and wonderful rose collection, formal terraces with meticulously clipped and shaped topiary hedges, and lower gardens with stunning wildflower meadow giving spectacular views back up to the house.

In Melkinthorpe, Larch Cottage Nurseries is an RHS Partner Garden and a real hidden gem. Once part of a field, it’s been transformed and now features a wide selection of plantings. Included are plenty of rare and unusual plants, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials, alongside gorgeous wisteria, standout roses, and dwarf conifers. Certainly a garden to lose yourself in.

South west of Penrith is Dalemain Mansion and Gardens, near Ullswater Lake. Covering 5-acres overall, some of the highlights of these tranquil gardens include many rare plants and a collection of over 100 old-fashioned roses, filling the air with scent over the summer months. Wide herbaceous borders are also plentiful, alongside a wildflower spiral garden and Tudor knot garden.

Just north of Keswick, overlooking Bassenthwaite Lake, Mirehouse and Gardens is another stunning example. Wonderful formal terraced lawn gardens include a grand display of daffodils in the spring, followed by beautiful rose varieties, including a central rose feature, during the summer. There’s also a Bee garden, a sheltered walled garden filled with bee-friendly plants. Look out for the heather maze, providing colour and more pollen for the bees.

South Cumbria

South of Kendal in Levens, Levens Hall Gardens are a spectacular sight – and something a little different. Largely unchanged since the 17th-century, the gardens feature some of the world’s oldest topiary gardens. Box and Yew trees have been clipped and shaped into a collection that are a feature in their own right. But there are also over 30,000 plants in the beds and borders providing colour and interest all year long.

Between Ambleside and Grasmere, Rydal Mount Gardens, once the family home to poet Wordsworth who was also a keen gardener, is a four-acre space that remains much as he designed it 200 years ago. With views out to Rydal Water, expect to see plenty of herbaceous plants and borders along the fell-side terraces, as well as rhododendrons, and of course, springtime daffodils.

Near the town of Grange-over-Sands, Holker Hall stands proudly overlooking Morecambe Bay and features award-winning formal gardens. Within 200-acres of surrounding park and woodland, the gardens cover almost 25-acres and provide colour, texture, and interest all year round. Expect to see tulips, daffodils, and wallflowers, alongside magnificent rhododendrons and magnolias in the spring. While summer and beyond shows off wonderful herbaceous beds and borders with flowering trees including styrax and eucryphia.

Near Windermere, Holehird Gardens overlooks the great lake and features wonderful naturalistic hillside landscaping. Highlights include a largely herbaceous Walled garden that also includes much seasonal colour with roses, shrubs, and climbers. The Upper garden is a diverse display of national collections including astilbe, daboecia, and polystichum as well as rhododendrons and magnolia. The Lower garden also has plenty to take in including the hydrangea walk and of course, amazing views.