This pleasant little market town of colour washed terraces and old workers cottages dates back to the 12th century and beyond. Although now quite built-up, Cockermouth has retained much of its original charm and character. It stands in attractive countryside on the fringe of the Lake District National Park, at a point where the River Cocker joins the Derwent.
The Romans first recognised the strategic importance of this area and built a defensive fortification here. Later in the 12th century the English built a castle to protect it from the marauding Scots. Robert the Bruce destroyed part of its fortifications in 1315 and during the Civil War it was fully destroyed by Cromwell's forces. Although still mostly in ruins, a rebuilt section is still in use as a residence by the Wyndham family (not open to the public).
Cockermouth was granted a market charter in 1221 and from that point gradually developed into an important market town. In the late 17th-c it became the chief commercial centre for the original county of Cumberland. The town has good examples of domestic Georgian architecture and provides good facilities for visitors, with car parks, shops and accommodation.
The poet William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth on 7 April 1770. The Georgian mansion where he lived still stands overlooking the River Derwent, and has delightful gardens and terraced walks. Now run by the National Trust, it retains much of its original features, including the staircase and some of the fireplaces and panelling. Many of the poet's personal artefacts are on display. Open to the public from April to October.
The 19th-c church of All Saints, beside the Market Square, occupies part of the site of an old grammar school that was once attended by Wordsworth. It has a 180ft spire with a peal of eight bells and a memorial window to the great poet.
The town is a good starting point for exploring the Lake District. The Cockermouth Festival is held mid summer, with talks by popular authors, music concerts, art and craft exhibitions.
Local attractions include 'The Lakeland Sheep and Wool Centre', which hosts excellent daily sheep shows and sells high-quality woollen products, and the 'Toy Museum and Shop' (near the Market Place), with exhibits ranging from dolls in ethnic costumes to model trains.