Kendal is a vibrant, growing town of almost 30,000 people in South Lakeland and is also a gateway to the Lake District national park – itself a Unesco world heritage site. The town, eight miles south-east of Windermere, is listed in the Doomesday book but while there is history to explore, it is the opportunity to experience great landscapes and outdoor pursuits that best sum up its many natural wonders.
Cycling for all
Kendal and South Lakeland attract road and mountain bike enthusiasts, due to the beautiful and challenging terrain. For road cyclists, there are great short routes such as Kendal to Grange-over-Sands or Windermere, both 15 miles or less. The scenery is captivating and there’s the option of a train ride back to Kendal, too. Road bikers who want to clock up the miles can try routes across the Lakes or into the Yorkshire Dales. And for the fit, and competitive, there’s the annual Fred Whitton Challenge (13 May), with its 112-mile Lakeland circuit featuring the one-in-three slopes of Hardknott Pass. Recommended for mountain bikers are the Grizedale or Whinlatter trail centres where there is something for all abilities: singletrack or trail riding, along with bike hire, parking and cafe facilities.
The Mason’s Arms
With views over the Winster valley and four miles from Whitbarrow national nature reserve, this inn, which dates back to the 16th century, is the perfect pitstop. It’s especially good in summer, when the terrace comes into its own. For cyclists who want to work up an appetite, there’s a challenging road-ride loop via the Lyth valley and past Gummer’s How, with views of Windermere; and for walkers a 1½ mile walk around Gummer’s How.
• Double rooms and cottages from £95 room only, mains from £13.95, Cartmel Fell, Grange-over-Sands, masonsarmsstrawberrybank.co.uk
Red Door Kitchen
Hidden up one of Kendal’s many alleys is Red Door Kitchen, which makes the most delicious soups, with flavours such as pea and ham, sweetcorn and lemongrass, and mushroom and rosemary. Other dishes reflect a mix of styles, including Spanish, south-east Asian and South American. For example, beef and pork ragú with messicani pasta and nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice). The coffee is top-notch as well. And Baba Ganoush, on Finkle Street, serves healthy lunches – the soups and salads are favourites.
• Unit 7, Yard 2, Stricklandgate, Kendal, on Facebook
Kendal to Sizergh hike
Although it has a steep start, a walk from Kendal town hall and up Beast Banks to Brigsteer takes you on the old racecourse to the limestone escarpment of Scout Scar, with views of Morecambe Bay, the Langdales and central Lake District. It’s a steady walk down to Sizergh Castle and Garden, where you can stop at the National Trust tearooms. Or continue for about 600 metres to the cosy Strickland Arms for classic pub grub and a beer garden in summer.
Swimming at Fell Foot
Nothing beats a summer evening swim at the lakeshore park of Fell Foot, at the southern end of Windermere. Last summer I took part in the Summer Solstice Starlight Swim (22 June, £22), a social swim followed by a glass of Pimms. It starts at 10pm and the swim lasts around 30 minutes. It was raining when I did it but the friendly atmosphere more than made up for it. The park also offers canoeing and kayaking, walking routes and running trails.
A cliff-edge run
Not many inland towns can boast of a cliff-edge run but, starting in Kendal, a 10km loop will take you over the magnificent Scout Scar, with views over the Lyth valley to Morecambe Bay, and to the fells of the Lake District. Try it towards evening and there’s a chance you’ll catch an awesome sunset.
Walk – with bay views
Visit Kendal has created a wonderful woodland trail – actually a circular walk – that sets off from Kendal Castle and heads onto the impressive limestone crag of Scout Scar and provides breathtaking views over the Lakeland fells and Morecambe Bay. It is also the summit of choice for the Kendal Mountain Festival 10k Trail Race.
The Howgill Fells
The Howgills, a group of hills to the east of Kendal, aren’t dramatic mountains like some in the Lakes: they’re rounded and grass-covered, cut through with deep valleys. However, they have their own beauty and are the perfect place to escape the crowds (and traffic) that can afflict the Lakes at certain times of year. Walk from picturesque Sedbergh up to The Calf, the highest top in the fells (676 metres). Or explore the waterfalls at Cautley Spout from a hard-to-beat spot at the 400-year-old Crosskeys Temperance Inn.
Practise your climbing
An excellent rainy-day option – and/or a chance to improve existing skills – Kendal Wall climbing centre features England’s highest indoor climbing wall (25 metres). It’s a five-minute drive north of Kendal and also offers three bouldering spaces, a via ferrata, known as Skyline, and has a decent cafe.
• Adults £11, 9-17 year olds £9.40, under 8s £6, kendalwall.co.uk
I’m the director of the four-day Kendal Mountain Festival, an inclusive gathering of many outdoor communities to celebrate the best in adventure. It focuses on film, particularly documentaries, as well as the arts and literature, and usually has a top-notch lineup of speakers and guests. The parties are legendary and there’s even a challenging 10k trail race to blow away the cobwebs on the Saturday morning – over 600 runners took part last year.
• 15-18 November 2018, mountainfest.co.uk