This historic market town was the capital of Cumbria up until about 1070. Located just five miles from Ullswater, it essentially forms the northern gateway to the Lake District, with a thriving market and shopping centre. Awarded its market charter in 1223, it has a long and bloody history. The centre is approached by narrow streets that open into wide squares. A defensive layout that dates back to the time when Penrith was in constant fear of raids from across the border.

Penrith Castle
Penrith Castle © Alexander P Kapp (CC2)

The name Penrith is Celtic, pen rhyd, meaning principal ford; although the River Eamont actually lies 1 mile to the south, just outside the town. It is believed that the original settlement was probably the capital of Owen Caesarius (Owain ap Dyfnwal), King of Cumbria from 920 to 937. The 'Giant's Grave', a massive stone monument in the graveyard of St Andrew's, is said to mark his grave. The part Norman, part medieval church is also part defensive, having a tower with 6ft thick walls.

Scottish raiders from across the border regularly pillaged the town right up until the 17th century. Penrith's red stone castle was built near the end of the 14th-c, following one such brutal raid. Its keepers included Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (Warwick the Kingmaker) and the future Richard III, when he was Lord Warden of the Western Marches. Now in ruins, the castle stands in a public park opposite the station. Only the main curtain wall remains, complete with moat. Also on the banks of the River Eamont, to the south-east, stands the ruins of the 13th-c Brougham Castle.

The town has many fine old Cumberland-style houses and public buildings dating from the 15th to 18th century. The Town Hall, in Corney Square, is essentially two late 18th-c neoclassical style houses merged together. The Penrith and Eden Museum, near the church, is based in a former 17th-c grammar school named after William Robinson, a native of Penrith.

Towering above the town to the north-east is Penrith Beacon, a reminder of the town's turbulent past, where a fire was lit to warn residents below of imminent incursions. The beacon was made famous by William Wordsworth. A short footpath to the top of the hill rewards walkers with fine views across Ullswater.

The River Eamont provides excellent riverside walks and has good Salmon and Trout fishing in season.

Map of Penrith


 • Festivals & Events  • Where to Stay  • What to Eat  • Walks & Trails  • Weather  • General Info  • News & Articles

UK Regions:

 • South East  • South West  • London  • East Anglia  • Midlands  • Wales  • North East  • North West  • Scotland