If you enjoy browsing round independent stores, looking for something special you may not be able to find anywhere else, then Cumbria could be your idea of shopping heaven. Independence, family-run, specialist… all these words are the norm across the Lake District and indeed the whole of Cumbria.
Of course the county does also deliver when it comes to providing the largest High Street names in dedicated shopping centres, so let’s start with these. Carlisle is the only city in Cumbria and as you’d expect, many major stores can be found here, selling pretty much everything. This means there is no need to travel miles to a larger centre – save those trips for a day out.
The Lanes Shopping Centre alone offers more than 70 shops under one roof, including plenty of places to eat and drink and a 600-space car park above. The Lanes, so called because it was built on an area of the city which used to be characterised by narrow passageways, offers customers a free wifi service and also houses the city’s main library.
Penrith opened the New Squares shopping centre in 2013. It includes a major supermarket and the town’s largest free car park. The covered Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal offers major stores alongside local independents, coffee shops and restaurants. The town continues this pattern along Highgate, with a cluster of larger name stores gathered in the attractive Elephant Yard shopping centre.
In Windermere, a town renowned for its specialist stores, one outstanding larger exception is Lakeland, a glass-fronted building situated next to the bus and train stations and selling just about everything you could ever need for the home and garden.
Independence, family-run, specialist… all these words are the norm across the Lake District and indeed the whole of Cumbria
Variety of shopping options
West Cumbria’s main shopping centre is Workington, with Washington Square containing 60, mainly famous name stores from across the retail spectrum.
Dunmail Park is about a mile and half north of the town, providing a large supermarket, other major stores including big name fashion outlets, along with food outlets, a multiplex cinema, petrol station and even a car dealership. There are also 475 parking spaces available.
The major centre of population in the south is Barrow-in-Furness, the town providing national high street retailers along Dalton Road and in Portland Walk shopping centre. A short walk away are the Hindpool Retail Parks – four parks joined together offering 30 major brand names alongside leisure facilities and ample parking.
Let’s stay in Barrow to begin our look at independent retailers. A wide variety can be found along Buccleuch Street and Rawlinson Street, with Cavendish Street and Scott Street specialising in designer labels and unique fashion items.
Barrow Indoor Market is one of the largest markets in Cumbria and sells goods from more than 60 independent traders. Along the coast is a fine example of the many independent food producing traders in the county, from which you can buy a unique gift or simply enjoy the quality for yourself.
Cartmel Cheeses also sells bread and savoury pastries, while next door Unsworth’s Yard Brewery is open to visitors every day of the week. View the beers being made, sample their taste then head to the shop to buy your favourites in bottles.
Along the coast is a fine example of the many independent food producing traders in the county, from which you can buy a unique gift or simply enjoy the quality for yourself.
Wonderful independent traders
There are too many wonderful independent traders to name them all, but let’s head north across the county and pick out some of the best. Wilson Reclamation Services at Yew Tree Barn, Low Newton, near Cartmel, is renowned across the country and full of unusual architectural gems, from Edwardian cast iron baths and Victorian fire surrounds, to stone fountains and traditional post boxes.
Cumbria Crystal, near Ulverston, has a team of 22 skilled workers creating crystal using techniques employed since Roman times. Select from quality products as seen on TV programmes like Downton Abbey and the James Bond films. The Factory Outlet is open all year round except on Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year.
Farfield Mill in Sedbergh ceased production as a woollen mill in the early 1990s and is now a visitor attraction and home to artisans in studios, crafting everything from silverware to soaps. Sleepy Elephant, meanwhile, can be found on Main Street in Sedbergh, specialising in quality, affordable fellwalking equipment and collectable books.
It can be difficult for the first time visitor to determine where the border lies between Windermere and Bowness. They have grown together to become one settlement, though both towns have their own main shopping streets.
Windermere has a large number of outdoor shops to satisfy the needs of adventurous locals and visitors, while Bowness has many more shops, cafes and restaurants on a most attractive, long high street stretching down the winding hill to the bustling shore of Lake Windermere.
Cumbria Crystal, near Ulverston, has a team of 22 skilled workers creating crystal using techniques employed since Roman times. Select from quality products as seen on TV programmes like Downton Abbey and the James Bond films
Further up the lake lies Ambleside and The Waterhead Shell Shop there has many unusual shells, crystals, jewellery and ornaments on sale. Hayes Garden World is more than a leading supplier of plants and garden equipment. It also sells books, clothes, footwear, jewellery and handbags, alongside the Four Seasons Terrace Café and plenty of free parking.
The Old Courthouse Gallery in Ambleside has become one of the leading independent contemporary arts galleries in the region and offers plenty to take home as well, from wooden furniture to ceramics, metalwork and jewellery.
Church Gallery in Kirkby Stephen has three floors to explore, selling bags, scarves, jewellery, perfumes and many other gifts, plus more than 7,000 greeting cards.
Grasmere is a delightful, picturesque village full of small, independent stores, and is of particular interest to foodies. Grasmere Gingerbread is loved across the world and can be bought from a tiny specialist shop. And The Grasmere Chocolate Cottage sells luxury hand-made chocolates, along with other local products.
Herdy has shops in Grasmere, Kendal, Bowness-on-Windermere and Keswick. Inspired by the breed of sheep seen right across Cumbria, Herdy’s home and fashion goods and gifts are responsibly sourced and a percentage of the profits help support sustainable rural communities and the iconic Herdwick sheep.
Farmers of these Herdwicks, and of other creatures and crops, made the journey into the nearest town or village to sell their produce at market for centuries. Today’s popular Farmers’ Markets have revived the tradition and are particularly successful in Orton and Brough.
Herdy has shops in Grasmere, Kendal, Bowness-on-Windermere and Keswick. Inspired by the breed of sheep seen right across Cumbria, Herdy’s home and fashion goods and gifts are responsibly sourced
Also in Orton, situated midway between Kendal and Penrith, you’ll find Kennedy’s Fine Chocolates, a small hand-made chocolate-making company that produces more than 100 chocolate varieties. Keswick has its own well-known chocolatiers, Friars, which was established in 1927 and remains in the same family. They also have a store in Ambleside. The chocolate gifts here are truly unique – they are designed in-house so won’t be found anywhere else.
There’s real value in people who know what they’re talking about, and even though the Lake District has many shops devoted to trekking the fells, George Fisher in Keswick has an enviable reputation as the go-to place for walking and camping gear. The staff are knowledgeable and there is a great range of products. Abraham’s Cafe, on the top floor, is also very popular.
Keswick has a charming, compact town centre which winds through traffic-free lanes and down alleyways within easy strolling distance of the shores of Derwentwater. Packhorse Court is one area brimming with speciality shops, all independently owned, while Poets Interiors is an Aladdin’s cave of quirky ornaments, furniture and more.
Keswick Market, which has maintained a 700-year presence in the town centre, has about 70 stalls running down Market Square and Main Street on a Thursday and Saturday. The award-winning market sells everything from local produce to crafts and unusual gifts and stands on both sides of the Moot Hall, the town centre’s main landmark, which dates back to 1571.
Up the A66 towards Penrith, follow the directions to Rheged, a visitor centre with many attractions including specialist shops, some of them focusing on local produce. Penrith town centre itself is renowned for its plethora of independent retailers, situated down attractive lanes and in the Devonshire Arcade shopping centre.
The award-winning market sells everything from local produce to crafts and unusual gifts and stands on both sides of the Moot Hall, the town centre’s main landmark, which dates back to 1571
Further east, Appleby has its own impressive selection of independent shops and cafes, selling food and crafts produced locally. The town provides its own real ale through Appleby Brewery and award-winning cheeses via Appleby Creamery, while the outdoor market is held on a Saturday. Alston’s market is held on the first Saturday of most months – worth a visit because Alston is the joint highest market town in England.
Back on the western side of the county, Cockermouth built its reputation as a tourist town based largely on the stunning Georgian architecture, nowhere better displayed than in the various colours of the independent shops, cafes and bars along Main Street. The New Book Shop and The Toy Shop both delight traditionalists while also keeping up with the times.
Whitehaven is a very attractive Georgian harbour town, whose seafront has been spruced up significantly in recent years. Its shopping centre includes a good few High Street chains, but here, too, there are many smaller, independent retailers who contribute to the local economy. One of the better known businesses is Brooks of Whitehaven, established in 1923 and an award-winning stockist of home entertainment and appliances. No doubt like most of the independent retailers in the county would tell you, Brooks pride themselves on being a local, family-run business that puts customer care first.
Further up the coast, the quaint, colourful town of Maryport does not boast the larger chain stores; instead it thrives on its broad-ranging mix of independent traders. From jewellery to hand-crafted walking sticks, you’ll no doubt find what you’re looking for. And Maryport isn’t shy on beauty salons, hairdressers and charity shops either.
Wigton is a busy market town west of Carlisle. In fact it only recently celebrated 750 years since being awarded its Market Charter. Perhaps due to its close proximity to the city, again it is largely independent shops, pubs and restaurants that populate Wigton’s main shopping streets. Brampton is in a similar position on the east side of Carlisle, and offers shoppers the chance to purchase many unique gifts.
Cockermouth built its reputation as a tourist town based largely on the stunning Georgian architecture, nowhere better displayed than in the various colours of the independent shops, cafes and bars along Main Street
Back up to the capital city and aside from the shopping areas named at the top of this article, Carlisle offers further independent shops and services on the fringes, and in suburban residential areas like Stanwix, Denton Holme and Houghton.
There is also Houghton Hall garden centre, which offers so much more for the home and family, and also houses the Topiary Restaurant, Cafe Eden, the Eden Food Hall and Butchers, and a basement unveiling the World in Miniature Museum and craft shop. It has a garden centre rival in Dobbies, a few miles from Dalston, which also includes a petting zoo, play area and large restaurant.
If you’re looking to buy a gift that is Cumbrian-made, or simply want to support the local economy, then look no further than the members of the Made In Cumbria movement, many of whom have their own shops or open studios, or sell their goods at county fairs.
Firefrost Jewellery uses Murano glass from Venice, Italy, but designs and hand-makes the beautiful creations in Cumbria. Something Precious specialises in modern hand-made porcelain jewellery with stunning blends of colour.
Once Upon A Time In The North creates highly original keepsakes, producing photographic textiles onto cushions, bags and even cards. Laura’s Loom creates handwoven scarves and fine woollen blankets woven from top quality wools sourced from farms in Cumbria. And Farfield Clothing has earned an international reputation for its unique collection of outdoor clothing for adults and children.
Another business gaining international recognition and plenty of awards is The Hawkshead Relish Company, producer of more than 100 hand-made relishes, pickles, preserves, mustards, sauces and more. Award-winning Mr Vikki’s makes Indian and Bangladeshi fusion pickles, while Elliott’s Chutneys are produced along with jellies and piccalilli. Friendly Food and Drink produce their own unique range of hand-made preserves, chutneys and sauces.
Shopping in the Lake District and the rest of Cumbria is a delight without the huge crowds and traffic jams of bigger centres. Browse while you breathe in the fresh air. Enjoy the experience and bag plenty of unique bargains.
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