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Visit Carlisle – Stay in Stanwix

Carlisle is one of the most under rated destinations on the holiday itinerary of the travelling world. As one of the few places (only 2 in England) that can lay claim to the status of being a 2000 year city, Carlisle has sat in the background for long enough.

Under-rated Oasis Where the Reivers Once Roamed

Where else, in the north of England, has seen: Roman, Reiver, Jacobite, siege, Castle, Cathedral, city walls, Railway and Canal, come – go and hide away to tease the unwary visitor? So subtle is the mark of the past that many locals are unaware of the rich tapestry beneath their feet and all around. While most signs of the past are gentle on the eye; the same cannot be said for the Castle and the Cathedral. When viewed from most city locations; most especially from the top of Stanwix Bank, the twin sandstone edifices dominate the town with its extraordinary backdrop of the Lakeland fells.

When I arrived in Carlisle nearly 30 years ago, it was a pretty attractive place, but … dead!  How things have changed! Leisure centres, live music, cafes that aren’t afraid to spill out onto paths and a post flood Renaissance have all added to this small city’s appeal.  The centre is now pedestrianised and plays host to many events over the year, including the Pirelli International Rally.

Recent Improvements to Carlisle’s Attractions

While the centre gets busier it also seems to improve visually each year. At Christmas time it is a truly spectacular place as the local partnership of business and council develop its identity as The Christmas City. With its vastly expanded array of shops, including many of the big national chains, Britain’s favourite leisure activity is well catered for, but the icing on the cake for you shopaholics is the variety of local names local produce and the quirky market.

The city is more than worth a visit in its own right – several visits in fact. But it is also brilliantly placed for the other major attractions of the North. A short journey away, minutes in many cases and you are into the Lake District National Park, the Eden Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Hadrian’s Wall country, the Scottish Borders and the Solway Coast. There’s no wonder I haven’t the slightest inclination to move back south to my own childhood stamping grounds.

Physically, Carlisle is a very compact city with a clearly identifiable centre, neatly set out between the Castle in the north and the Citadel to the south; the Cathedral safely nestled in the middle. This clear cut centre is further defined by the surviving western walls, still perched high up above the sprawling west side with stunning vistas of the Lake District – especially in the early morning or evening light. On the other side, as you wander along Lowther Street, you will be following the old course of the once mighty eastern rampart of the walled city.

Now, I’m not really a city guy at heart, I like the open spaces. So on moving from my previous country retreat into Carlisle’s northern village of Stanwix, I was treated to better quality countryside in the heart of Carlisle, than I had been used to, eight miles out of town, in the midst of farmland and fields. I was one happy boy! Carlisle’s award winning Bitts Park and its opposite number Rickerby Park are genuine national treasures. It’s not for nothing that Carlisle has received numerous awards for making great progress in its aim to be one of the greenest cities in Europe.

Stanwix, The Village on The North Bank

For most visitors, the natural impulse is to book the hotels and guest houses as close as possible to the centre, but there is a better bet. Stanwix, lying to the north on its rise just above the River Eden, is a fantastic choice for your visit to Carlisle and the surrounding regions. There is a friendly collection of pubs, hotels, eating choices and local shops. The variety in this small area reflects how Stanwix grew up as a separate village through the 1800s & 1900s. It still has that community feel to it, which isn’t a barrier to visitors. Scotland Road, the main route north from the city is a bit of a nightmare at rush hour, so why would I suggest you stay here? It’s simple really; the old Brampton Road leads you east to the motorway and most other routes without the traffic. It makes getting further afield a breeze.

Stanwix itself is only a ten minute walk from the city centre and on a clear day, walking into town over the Eden Bridge, you are presented with the classic view of Carlisle, over the Castle and Cathedral to the Lake District’s northern fells, topped by Skiddaw. On your return as you reach the top of Stanwix Bank, you are first of all presented with views up the Eden Valley to the Pennines in the East with mighty Cross Fell prominent and Cold Fell, the northern tip of the Pennine Chain, almost close enough to touch. A little further, over the rise; and framed by the houses either side, are the Border Hills near Canonbie, looking impossibly large in their brick and sandstone picture frame. I don’t know of any other city suburb with an outlook like Stanwix commands. It’s not surprising the Romans built Petriana, their largest cavalry fort on the Wall, right where the Church of St. Michael’s and Stanwix School now stand.

If that wasn’t enough to entice you to rest your weary head just outside the city centre, then think about the city centre countryside I mentioned earlier. Carlisle city is sliced across the middle by a green corridor following the River Eden. Stanwix sits right on the edge of that refreshing open space. Rickerby Park leads eastbound Hadrian’s Wall walkers on their quest to find the remaining stone relics of Hadrian’s handiwork. Across the bridge and leading west, to the final day, for those taking the other direction is Bitts Park. This park needs to be seen to be believed. A team of council ground staff have transformed this once ordinary space into a beautiful, prize winning garden and recreation centre for all ages. To add grandeur to the scene, the massive east wall of the castle overlooks the children’s playground; reminding everyone of the turbulent nightmare of siege, war and strife that characterised the English / Scottish border in the three centuries of the Reivers and the Debatable Lands… followed relatively soon after, by the Jacobite rebellions.

What Else is Near Stanwix?

Slightly further afield, there are woodlands at Kingmoor, along the banks of the Eden and tucked away in various locations around Stanwix where you can soon lose yourself and find peace without adding anything to your carbon footprint.

If you like indoor exercise when the rain pours down on us outdoor souls, The Sands Leisure Centre caters for all with a huge variety of activities organised by Carlisle Leisure. Just north you will find one of the famous Mr. Bannatyne’s most up to date leisure and fitness facilities. You really can’t go wrong.

Grog, Gruel and Getting Your Head Down.

The resting places and watering holes of Stanwix offer a surprising variety in a tiny area. There are several hotels in this area of Carlisle, two of them right in the heart of Stanwix. The Cumbria Park is a large establishment which even has its recently excavated roman well on display in a little beer garden. The Angus, next door, is a much smaller more personal hotel with its own excellent bistro attached: Almonds.

Further north, up the Scotland Road, you will find a Premier Inn and by the motorway junction a Holiday Inn. There are several guesthouses where you can have the bed and breakfast experience; these include No 1 , Marlborough House, Abbeydale House and Avar House all offer comfortable accommodation at the heart of Stanwix.

Almonds Bistro is a high quality, intimate place to eat, as is No 10 just up the street towards town. For something a little more informal, the Hourglass and The Crown both serve bar meals while the Stanwix Tandoori has kept the spice levels high in Stanwix for many a year. If takeaway is what you seek, you are spoilt for choice in Stanwix with our: chip shop, two Chinese takeaways, a kebab and pizza parlour topped off with a baker’s shop serving excellent pies and sandwiches.

There’s no need to go thirsty either! The Crown and Thistle is a real, old world, local boozer run by Fly! The Crown used to be the hub of the community and after a period out of favour, it is getting back to its old style and quality; while the newcomer, the Hourglass is a thoroughly modern, trendy bar that was the Overall Winner of Carlisle’s Best Bar None award scheme in May 2009.

Rest Your Head in Stanwix

For your visit to Carlisle, there really isn’t a better place to stay than Stanwix. There’s a great range of accommodation, food choices and watering holes. Stanwix has the best views in Carlisle, by far and it’s just far enough out of town to feel like you are in a country village, rather than a rapidly developing regional centre. Come and give us a try, you will not regret it.