Historic Houses of the Lake District.
The fringes of the Lake District have some fascinating historic houses. There are Elizabethan houses, Georgian homes and medieval castles, many still in the hands of families who have lived there for generations, such as Mirehouse, Holker Hall and Muncaster Castle. As a result, you can tour not just a museum-like building, but a real lived-in historic home.
Not all are like that, of course, so here is a run-down of the stately homes and other historic houses of the Lake District (either inside or just outside the Lake District National Park).
Historic Houses of the Lake District – Southern Lake District
For over 700 years one family owned Sizergh Castle and developed the building into the fortified home that it is now. The 14th century pele tower, designed to fend off Scots raids, has been extended many times over the centuries, including the Tudor period.
The Strickland family finally passed the building and estate to the National Trust in 1950, with the agreement that they could continue to live in the wings of the castle. The contents of a leading family’s home over 700 years are still there: knights’ armour; Elizabethan oak panelling; paintings and mementos of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his exiled court; and portraits of generation after generation of a single family.
Outside the castle, the gardens are beautiful and there is a large café and a shop. Read a more personalised blog post about a fleeting visit to Sizergh Castle here.
Sizergh Castle is close to the A6, not to far from Kendal. Postcode for satnav: LA8 8AE
Blackwell ‘Arts and Crafts’ House is very different to Sizergh Castle, but a stunning place nonetheless. The ‘holiday home’ was commissioned from architect Mackay Hugh Bailey Scott by the wealthy owner of a Manchester brewing business. Finished in 1901, the task was to show off the distinctive ‘Arts and Crafts’ style using local materials and reflecting historical architectural influences and yet make a fabulous family home with views over Lake Windermere.
There is gorgeous wood carving, plus plasterwork and stained glass windows; a minstrel’s balcony, tiled fireplaces and inglenooks.
Blackwell has been rescued from serious neglect by a charitable trust, which is doing a wonderful job of restoring the building to its former glory.
Blackwell also has a café and a book gift shop featuring Arts and Crafts design and tables outside which look down over Lake Windermere.
Situated not far from Bowness-on-Windermere, the postcode is LA23 3JT.
Levens Hall gardens are famous for the wonderful topiary, while the house is famed for the Elizabethan wood panelling almost throughout the house. The ceilings are of white plasterwork, carved into geometric shapes and inlaid with coats of arms, while historic family portraits line the walls.
Levens Hall is close to the A6, south of Kendal. The postcode is LA8 0PD.
Probably the grandest of the historic houses surrounding the Lake District, Holker Hall was rebuilt by its Victorian owner, the Duke of Devonshire, after a huge fire. It is a magnificent Victorian take on an Elizabethan style: drawing room, billiard room, gallery and more. You will find chandeliers, oak carvings and family portraits, and if you need some air afterwards, the gardens are glorious. One of the best ways to see the gardens is at the hugely popular Holker Garden Festival.
Holker Hall is about 25 minutes from Kendal or the M6 and the postcode is LA11 7PL.
Swarthmoor Hall is a fascinating historic house. Just outside Ulverston, it is an Elizabethan house with a huge role in the founding of the Quakers around the time of the English Civil War.
The house recreates its 17th century history with furniture and pictures from the period, and an audio commentary tells the story of both the house and the early history of the Quaker movement.
There is also a café and a small but very pretty garden.
Very well worth a visit.
Swarthmoor Hall is about 40 minutes drive from Kendal (and a little difficult to find), so satnav using postcode LA12 0JQ is useful!
From 20th February to 30th October 2017 opening hours are as follows:
Mondays-Fridays (except last Thursdays of each month): 10.30-4.30pm;
Saturdays, Sundays & last Thursdays of each month: 1.30-4.30pm.
Historic Houses of the Lake District – Northern Lake District
Close to the shore of Bassenthwaite Lake and looked down on by the Skiddaw range of fells, Mirehouse is far more rooted in the Lake District itself than many of the other historic houses listed here. The family have lived here for generations and the visitor feels welcomed into their home.
The family were friendly with many of the Lakes poets and their work can still be found here. Even better if you should time your visit with one of the volunteers playing the piano in the Music Room. You can even sit and relax to listen. How many historic houses have that sort of friendly atmosphere anywhere in the country?
Don’t miss out on a walk down to St Bega’s church across the fields (so long as it is not too wet), a gorgeous little church with links back to Saxon times.
Mirehouse is three miles north of Keswick on the A591 – postcode CA12 4QE. Parking is opposite in a car park shared with the Forestry Commission, where there is a small café and some of the cleanest public toilets I have found! So a combined visit with one of the forest waymarked walks is easily possible.
William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth and the Georgian home of his parents is preserved by the National Trust. So you won’t be visiting a family home, but there are mementos of Wordsworth. Even without that, it would be an interesting example of a well-to-do Georgian home.
The house is not open all year, so check with the National Trust Wordsworth House web page before you go. Wordsworth House is at one end of Cockermouth’s interesting Main Street and the postcode is CA13 9RX.
Isel Hall, not far from Cockermouth, is a quirky building, including a great hall and pele tower from around 1400 and additions over the next 200 years. Don’t just turn up expecting to visit: it is a private house and only open (at time of writing) on Monday afternoons from March to October.
The house is part of the Historic Houses Association and their Isel Hall web page will give you current opening dates.
The Hall is in the tiny village of Isel, postcode CA13 0QG.
Historic Houses of the Lake District – Eastern Lake District
Dalemain is a fascinating mix of ages, starting from its pele tower and afterwards its medieval hall. The structure has then been added to through the following centuries, including a wonderful Georgian frontage. Walking around the house is a history lesson in itself and you can finish off in the Medieval Hall Tea Room!
Dalemain’s gardens are lovely and the house is a short few miles from Ullswater. It’s not far off the A66 west of Penrith, postcode CA11 0HB.
Like Dalemain, Hutton-in-the-Forest has grown out of a pele tower to deter Scots raids in the 13th century. From there has grown into a fabulous country house. Additions from the 17th and 19th centuries made the house fit for the Vane family with its links to King Charles I, the governorship of Massachesetts and – later – Prime Minister Gladstone. And the house is well worth visiting. Much of it reflects the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century, with original wallpaper by William Morris.
The gardens are beautiful and there is of course a tea room as well.
Hutton-in-the-Forest is north west of Penrith, not far from junction 41 of the M6 and the postcode is CA11 9TH.
Historic Houses of the Lake District – Western Lake District
Muncaster Castle is a wonderful day out with its rhododendron-filled gardens, cafés and the owl centre. Much of what you see of the castle itself is Victorian, but there are sections of real historic castle – the great hall and parts of a pele tower. Somewhere underneath everything are Roman remains as well.
Time your visit to coincide with the rhododendrons or maybe the bluebells. You won’t regret finding your way here from the heart of the Lake District.
Be aware that it can take a little time to get to Muncaster Castle (postcode CA18 1RD) as it is well down the western side of the Lake District. It lies just outside Ravenglass, so if you are starting out from the main Lakeland towns make a day of it. Visit little Ravenglass village, or drive to Eskdale or Wasdale, gorgeous valleys often missed by visitors to Ambleside and Windermere.
Historic Houses of the Lake District – Central Lake District
Central Lakeland doesn’t have the grand houses or the castles of the fringes of the National Park. It does have one ‘castle’, complete with gatehouse, turrets and arrow slits. Wray Castle is a fairy-tale castle, built in 1840 where no real castle had previously gazed down over Windermere. That doesn’t mean it is not worth visiting, as the National Trust will tell you. Just don’t expect tales of fending off Scots raiders, or beds slept in by Mary Queen O’Scots, or stories about a siege by Cromwell’s roundheads.
The National Trust have been restoring the property in recent years and making it child-friendly for visits.
There is also no doubt that the view of Windermere is fabulous. You can find Wray Castle near Low Wray, postcode LA22 0JA.
In complete contrast to almost all of the other historic houses of the Lake District above is Townend.
Townend is a 17th century house built by one of the families of yeoman farmers of Lakeland – a wealthy family by local standards (though not of the standard of the stately homes above). The yeoman farmers developed the farming of Lakeland in the centuries after the dissolution of the monasteries, gradually acquiring land, sheep and cattle. Townend reflects many, many years of ownership by a single family, with the National Trust nurturing the history of the house.
It’s not a large house, but take your time and it can be fascinating. You will find it quite a contrast to the stately homes surrounding the National Park – more linked to the hills and valleys of the Lake District.
Townend is in the little village of Troutbeck (postcode LA23 1LB), not far from Ambleside.