Cream Of The Country: Kendal

This Cumbrian working town is an ideal base for hiking enthusiasts, says Nick Lloyd Jones
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The Independent Online

Kendal falls just outside the National Park boundaries," says Angela Thompson, of estate agent Carter Jonas. "That means property prices are often as much as 10 per cent lower than in towns such as Ambleside or Windermere that fall within the National Park."

These low prices were one of the main reasons why Jonathan and Lucy Chambers, both in their forties and working from home, chose to move to Kendal three years ago. Their second child had just been born and they were pressed for space in their two-bedroom flat in Brighton. So they sold it for £240,000 and bought a three-bedroom, traditional stone cottage just off Highgate, in central Kendal, for £220,000.

They don't regret the move at all. "We like it here a lot," says Lucy. "The people are very warm and friendly - they didn't make us feel like outsiders at all. There is also a good selection of schools, and the children have made lots of friends."

The Chambers already knew the area quite well, having spent several holidays in the Lake District. "It's so unspoilt here," insists Jonathan, "and a lot less chock-a-block than in Windermere, which is just nine miles away but which gets totally overrun in the summer. Kendal is more of a working town, with shops and services geared to meet the needs of local people."

There is no shortage of diversions and entertainments around Kendal either. There is a good selection of restaurants, especially around Highgate, as well as a number of excellent pubs, such as the Ring o' Bells, on Kirkland, and the Bridge Hotel, on Stramongate, that boasts a riverside beer garden.

The town also has a thriving arts scene, much of which is to be found in the modern Brewery Arts Centre, on Highgate, a multimedia complex including a theatre, cinema, gallery and concert hall. There is a jazz and blues festival every November, and another art gallery on the edge of town that regularly exhibits work by classic Lakeland painters such as Constable, Turner and Lear.

Apart from its low property prices, friendly atmosphere and good infrastructure, Kendal also retains an individuality and quirkiness of character lacking in some of the more popular Lakeland towns. Look up as you thread your way along its central thoroughfares, Stricklandgate, Highgate and Kirkland, for instance, and you will be amazed at the remarkable variety of chimney pots on view in every imaginable shape and size: there are long, pointy ones, squat, potbellied ones, and yet others in the forms of pigeons, castles and toadstools.

The town's layout is also slightly eccentric and still largely conforms to its original medieval plan. There are not many substantial family houses around - it would be better to look in picturesque outlying villages such as Crook or Staveley for these - and the town's principal streets are made up of a series of more or less uniformly sized premises, with a warren of alleys and yards giving off to the rear where stables and workshops would formerly have been housed.

Back in those early days, the town would have been dominated by its Norman castle, the skeletal remains of which still stand on the banks of the fast-flowing River Kent. The castle was famed for the skill of its archers and warrants a mention in Shakespeare's Henry IV. The market settlement that grew up around it, meanwhile, became renowned for the quality of its cloth and shoes. Vestiges of this street market still remain, with stallholders plying their wares every Wednesday and Saturday, but nowadays the town's shopping facilities also extend to several supermarkets as well.

For all that Kendal sits just outside Cumbria's National Park boundaries, it can still claim to be the southern "gateway to the Lakes". It is certainly close to some truly stunning countryside. Windermere, with its giant lake for watersport enthusiasts, is a 10-minute drive away, while beyond that lie the unspoilt fells of Langdale and the barren beauty of Wast Water.

The history of Kendal itself is bound up with hiking and climbing. The intrepid Lakeland walker and author Alfred Wainwright - principally remembered for his illustrated guides to the fells - was a distinguished former resident who served for almost 20 years as the town's borough treasurer.

Kendal also enjoys the dubious distinction of being home to Kendal mint cake - a hideously sweet and concentrated high-energy snack which was invented in the 19th century and which still mysteriously manages to find its way into the rucksacks of most Cumbrian ramblers.

The facts

One-bedroom flat from £87,000; two-bed cottage from £120,000; three-bed semi-detached house from £140,000; four-bed detached house from £230,000; five- to six-bed farmhouses in outlying villages from £650,000.

Attractions: Traditional stone-built houses; Brewery Arts Centre on Highgate with cinema, theatre, galleries, concert hall, restaurant and bar; open-air market every Wednesday and Saturday; good selection of bars and eateries including the Ring o' Bells pub and the New Moon restaurant; boating and watersports on Lake Windermere; handy for great walking and climbing on the Cumbrian fells.

Downside: No lake.

How to get there: Oxenholme station on the southern edge of town has regular trains to London Euston (three hours and 20 minutes journey time).

USP: Relatively low property prices and best selection of chimneys in the country.