Sunday, 19 January 2014

Carlisle, Cumbria

On our trip to Cumbria we wanted to explore places outside of the Lake District for a change as it can get really touristy.  One place I’d only ever passed through, but never stopped at, was Carlisle.  Technically a city, it certain felt more like a town, and is the most northerly place we have visited for the blog.

Thankfully to get to Carlisle from Cartmel is easy enough as you pick up the M6 and drive north.  Although Cumbria is a rather big county and it takes about one and a half hours to get from the south to the north.  It’s quite a desolate stretch of motorway and whilst the scenery is lovely when the weather gets bad driving is pretty torturous on this stretch of motorway.
Getting to Carlisle is pretty darn easy as you just veer off at junction 43 and follow the signs into town.  However getting parked is an entirely different matter.  Maybe I was being dim, but the signs for parking around Carlisle send you round in circles and I could not for the life of me find the entrances to these mythical car parks.  In the end we headed to the edge of town and parked in the Asda car park as we needed a drink and a trip to the toilets. 

We walked into Carlisle along possibly one of the most depressing stretches of roads I had been down in a long time, the A6 – London Road and Botchergate.  This clearly was the rougher end of town with unloved houses and cheap shops.  On the plus side there were lots of charity shops to trawl through and Neil managed to find some cheap vinyl records.
The charity shops along here perform a vital social service to the local community.  One charity shop had a little café selling cheap drinks.  You could see some of the people browsing through the shops had mental health issues and some of the young girls had really hard faces which can only stem from really rough lives.  Despite this the old ladies who ran these shops were really friendly and kept their shops in immaculate condition.
Outside these shops were young teenage lads dressed in tracksuits roaming round like a pack of wolves on bikes.  Years ago they would have been working in factories on apprenticeships, these days they are NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) wandering the streets, trying to score dope and making a general nuisance of themselves. 
Weirdly I noticed lots of people were smoking and I couldn’t spot any electronic cigarette shops.  Maybe that trend hasn’t quite made it to Carlisle just yet.  Certainly a business opportunity if I ever saw one.
I managed to drag Neil into the centre of Carlisle from the piles of vinyl records.  This is where Carlisle gets classier.  At the central roundabout there is the wonderful Citadel, which is comprised of two towers that dominate the entrance to the city.  Apparently they have recently been restored and you can visit them too.
As we were hungry we went to Nando’s and the food was as you expect from a high street chain.  The staff were friendly and surprisingly it wasn’t too busy either.  At the Trafford Centre I’ve never seen the Nando’s without a queue or not busting at the seams.  Although I think Neil would have been happy with just a battered burger or battered black pudding from the nearby takeaway.  To be honest I think he likes any meat product served in batter.
Wandering into Carlisle you find the shopping areas are pedestrianized which is really good.  What I did notice about Carlisle is that the architecture appeared to more Scottish in origin than English.  The buildings look really impressive, solidly built in local stone with a touch of the gothic about them.  The station is definitely a place to visit with its Victorian gothic façade.
As we only had a couple of hours of free parking at ASDA we had to curtail our visit to Carlisle.  We didn’t get to do all the shops in Carlisle, but then again quite a lot of them are high street chains. 
We would definitely come back to Carlisle again so Neil could look through the cheap records in the charity shops and for me to have more time to explore the city centre further.  Carlisle has a lot to offer with its history, the friendly locals and being the only city in Cumbria, however it definitely has its deprivation problems which were sad to witness.  Next time though we will find a car park closer to the town centre.