Cumbria overflows with industrial heritage, ancient fortifications and elegant historic houses, while the county’s more remote sites prosper from the footfall of travellers attracted by the proud fells of the Lake District or the numerous routes that cross Cumbria, including the Cumbria Way, Coast to Coast and Hadrian’s Wall Path.
Within Cumbria’s Lake District, visitors can explore the homes of Wordsworth and Ruskin, board heritage steamers on Ullswater, and survey ancient sites such as Castlerigg Stone Circle or Ambleside Roman Fort. Beyond the Lakes, you’ll find Furness Abbey, Penrith’s Brougham Castle and also Hadrian’s Wall, which once marked the Roman frontier with Scotland.
Of Cumbria’s range of outstanding historic sites, we’ve selected 10 of the best.
Hadrian’s Wall is a magnificent remnant of Roman Britain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the time of its completion, Hadrian’s Wall would have been between 13 and 15 feet high, made of stone and turf and would have stretched east to west from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth.
Large sections of Hadrian’s Wall remain intact in northern England. These are connected with various Roman monuments, forts and other ruins. There are several ways to visit all of these sections and sites, notably as part of the National Trail, which is a signposted walk.
The impressive remains of Brougham Castle overlook the River Eamont on the site of an earlier Roman fort. Lord of Westmorland, Robert de Vieuxpont, began building Brougham Castle’s keep, hall and initial timber wall in the 13th century. The castle expressed his authority over his estates and reinforced England’s border with Scotland.
Under the control of the Clifford family, the castle formed the centre of an important estate. Robert, 1st Lord Clifford, multiplied the fortifications and transformed the keep into a secure house. Today, Brougham Castle bears the marks of Lady Anne Clifford, who restored the castle in the 17th century and died there aged 86 in 1676.
Built in 1835, Stott Park Bobbin Mill is the only surviving Lakeland bobbin mill. It was once one of over 100 mills operating in the Lake District which supplied the millions of bobbins, used to wind yarn around, demanded by the Lancashire textile industry.
Stott Park Bobbin Mill is located on the shore of Cumbria’s Lake Windermere and is the only working bobbin mill in the Lake District. The mill’s Victorian industrial history is explored through tours and an exhibition.
Castlerigg Stone Circle in Cumbria is a Neolithic Stone Age monument of 38 stones which ranks among the earliest stone circles found in Britain. Situated just outside the market town and tourist centre of Keswick in the Lake District, Castlerigg is easily approached from there by foot or by car.
Castlerigg’s impressive stones are set against panoramic views of the Lake District’s fells, including Helvellyn, Blencathra and High Seat.
Furness Abbey is a partially ruined 12th-century monastery which now operates as a tourist attraction and museum. Founded by King Stephen in 1123, the former Cistercian abbey sits beside woodland on the north side of Barrow-in-Furness. For a time it was the second most powerful abbey in England.
It was sacked by Robert the Bruce in 1322, but it had long been subject to the violence of border disputes. The Tudor reformation spelled the abbey’s end: in 1537 all of the abbey’s roof tiles were removed. In the museum reside gargoyles and the tombs of knights.
Tullie House Museum is a beautiful Grade I Listed Jacobean mansion in Carlisle, Cumbria which is part contemporary art gallery, part natural history museum and part local historical document. Opened in 1893, Tullie House Museum houses the greatest collection of Roman artefacts in the north-east.
Tullie House incorporates a townhouse of the same name, which can be traced back to the 16th century. The Tullie family occupied the building until the 19th century. Formerly known as the White House, the house was modernised in the late 17th century by Thomas Tullie, who was sometime Dean of Carlisle.
Brantwood is a historic country house in Cumbria, overlooking Coniston Water. It was the home of the philosopher, art critic and social reformer John Ruskin from 1872 until his death in 1900. The house is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.
Brantwood was built in the 18th century and before Ruskin’s tenure was home to an artist, Egyptologist and a Dean of Durham Cathedral. Ruskin filled Brantwood with paintings by Gainsborough, Turner and other works, and often hosted artist and translator of Nordic sagas W. G. Collingwood.
Brantwood is dedicated to Ruskin’s life and legacy. Its displays explore Ruskin’s relationship with the Pre Rapaelites, the Arts and Crafts Movement, the National Trust and the Welfare State.
The remains of Ambleside Roman Fort date from the 2nd century and are located on the shores of Lake Windermere. Though much of the fort’s history remains unknown, its ruins provide an atmospheric walk amidst the breathtaking surroundings of the Lake District.
At its peak, the Roman Fort at Ambleside could hold up to 500 men. It remained in use until at least the 4th century. Due to its strategic location, it may be that after the Romans departed Britain, Ambleside was occupied by a local warlord as the Roman fort of Birdoswald had been.
9. Carlisle Castle
Carlisle Castle, located in northern Cumbria, is among the most besieged places in the British Isles. This isn’t terribly surprising considering Carlisle’s location, treading close to the English border with Scotland. Construction of the castle began during the reign of William II of England, when Cumberland was a part of Scotland.
In 1122, Henry I ordered a stone keep in place of the wooden motte-and-bailey castle. The castle frequently changed hands over the following 700 years, and was the last English castle to undergo a siege during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-1746. The castle is managed by English Heritage, but parts of it are still used by elements of the British Army.
10. The Dock Museum
Barrow-in-Furness was an important 19th-century port and a major shipbuilding centre under the stewardship of Vickers. The Dock Museum in this southern Cumbrian town, historically in Lancashire, traces the town’s transformation from a boatyard to a centre of industry.
The Dock Museum is under public ownership and has free entry. The largest part of the museum is located in a former dry dock. It is not solely a maritime museum, but has a prehistory collection containing a range of artefacts.