The Lake District is known for having loads of things to do outdoors – walks, water sports, rock climbing, to name just a few activities. But did you know it's also the home to some of the world’s most famous museums and attractions? From pencils and mines to Hollywood Stars and literary legends, there’s something to appeal to all ages and interests. They also make a great rainy day alternative! Here are just some of our favourite museums in the Lake District and Cumbria!
Derwent Pencil Museum
Did you know that Keswick was home to the very first pencil? Or that graphite, used to make the famous Derwent pencils, was first discovered in Borrowdale where farmers used it to mark their sheep? Located just next to the River Greta, the Derwent Pencil Museum is a popular tourist attraction, albeit one that gets a bit of a ribbing! Really? A museum for pencils? We hear you cry. But don’t be fooled by the cynics, the attraction is a celebrated part of the town’s history and a surprisingly fascinating place to visit!
On entering the museum, visitors are greeted by a replica graphite mine, just like the ones that miners used to source the pencils over 300 years ago. Leaving the ‘mine’, you can follow the Derwent Pencil from its beginnings as a small cottage production to today's modern manufacturing. The second part of the museum contains some amazing pieces of history: see the secret pencils that were used in World War Two that contain hidden maps inside them or the Queens special diamond jubilee pencil and miniature pencil sculptures. Finish off your visit by getting your picture taken next to the museum’s showstopper – a huge, 8-metre tall pencil!
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Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum
Dove Cottage, situated on the edge of the village of Grasmere, is a significant part of literary history. From 1799, it was the home of the world-famous poet, William Wordsworth, his wife Mary, and his sister Dorothy, also a writer. It was here that William produced some of his most famous works, including ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ (or ‘Daffodils’ as it is colloquially known) and the epic poem, ‘The Prelude’. Regular visitors to the cottage included Romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, who, along with Wordsworth, formed what later came to be known as the Lakes Poets. Perhaps it was the beautiful Grasmere scenery that inspired so much literary activity in this quiet little cottage!
Nowadays, the cottage is run by the Wordsworth Trust, who have maintained it almost exactly as it was when occupied by the Wordsworths. The Trust offers informative guided tours so that visitors can see for themselves what everyday life was like for the Wordsworths in the 19th century Lake District. Attached to the cottage is the Wordsworth Museum, where you can discover all about the life and works of William Wordsworth, as well as view rare items such as his letters, manuscripts and, unusually, a pair of his socks!
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From one literary legend to another… Beatrix Potter is as much a part of the Lake District heritage as the hills themselves, penning beautiful children’s books that are still hugely popular today. Her love of the Lake District started as a child, as she frequently holidayed in the area with her parents growing up. Years later, with a few successful children’s books under her belt (most notably ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’), she used some of her royalties to buy Hill Top in the village of Sawrey, near Windermere, in 1905.
Now, Hill Top is a popular tourist attraction for fans of her books and visitors who share her love of the Lake District. Going through the different rooms of the house, visitors can see her furniture and possessions up close, including her writing desk in the New Room, where she wrote some of her best-loved stories and letters. The garden can also be recognised from her drawings: keep your eyes peeled and you might recognise the little gate and the neighbouring beehive near to where Jemima Puddle Duck would sit.
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Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
Educational yet good fun, the award-winning Keswick Museum and Art Gallery has a large collection of historical artefacts that represent life in Keswick and the rest of the Lake District. Recently renovated in 2014, the museum has such a diverse collection it is difficult to summarise, but expect to see archaeological and geological items (including those from pre-historic and medieval times), decorative art, and a literature collection that covers the Lakes Poets and other famous local writers. One of the talking points in the museum’s natural history collection, which includes a naturally mummified, 700-year-old cat!
Throughout the year the museum runs guided talks, family activities and exhibitions. Visitors can currently see the ‘Man and Mountain’ exhibition (running until January 2019), which showcases the amazing achievements of renowned mountaineer, Chris Bonington.
Tullie House Museum
If you’re planning on venturing out of the National Park to the Cumbrian town of Carlisle, then don’t miss Tullie House. Located on the edge of the city centre in a converted Jacobean building, the attraction is packed full of things to see and do, including a wide range of exhibitions and events. Follow history through the ages from the Romans to the present day, as well as local history in the Carlisle Life gallery. Carlisle is a Border City, so where better to experience history hands-on by climbing the life-size section of Hadrian’s Wall, or fire a Roman weapon? Definitely one for kids!
As well as a custom-built art gallery with permanent displays, the building has a changing programme of exhibitions featuring locally-inspired art. For nature lovers, the museum has an extensive collection of geological, zoological and botanical materials, as well as the huge database with over 200,000 records of wildlife sightings in Cumbria!
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Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum
Consider this: it has taken 500 million years of geological activity to form the Lake District lakes and mountains that we now know and love. Every day we walk, climb, and swim amongst those formations, all in the name of fun.
Located in a microgranite quarry in Threlkeld, three miles east of Keswick, this museum is often frequented by geology enthusiasts and groups looking to learn more about the natural history of the Lakes. There’s lots to take in, such as the quarry itself and an underground tour of a replica mine. The educational Mining Room is the place to learn about the different types of mines in the area, and the Quarry Room gives us an insight into the geology of the Lakes, including how those amazing mountains were formed!
Whilst a mining museum might not sound like fun for kids, hear us out! The quarry site features its own narrow-gauge railway where you can hop on one of the three locomotives, including one called Sir Tom. These rides are popular with both locals and tourists and are a great way to take in the scenery of nearby Blencathra and Latrigg.
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Laurel and Hardy Museum
One for fans of Old Hollywood and classic comedy, the Laurel and Hardy Museum is based in Ulverston, the hometown of Stan Laurel. Founded by an avid fan of the famous duo, the museum boasts a huge collection of memorabilia, all set - quite fittingly - in an old-style cinema complex. Learn all about the humble beginnings of Laurel and Hardy in the exhibition, before sitting down to a classic black and white movie in the cinema area.
Whilst your visiting, be sure to check out the statue of Laurel and Hardy and get your picture taken! The statue stands outside of the Coronation Hall, where, in 1947 Stan and Ollie appeared on the balcony.
Penrith and Eden Museum
Penrith in CumbriaEnjoy a look into the history and culture of Penrith and the Eden Valley at this lovely museum. With objects of both local and national significance on display, you can explore everything from the Neolithic age – including insight into the mysterious Long Meg Stone Circle – to more recent history and a number of ‘curiosity’ objects. There is also a Fine Art Collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings alongside local artworks. The Penrith and Eden Museum holds regular events throughout the year including ‘Find Days’ where you can bring your own discoveries and have them examined by an expert – who knows, you could pick up a piece of ancient history on one of your walks in the area!
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Ravenglass Railway Museum
The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, locally known as La’al Ratty, is a true gem in the southwest Lake District. The miniature, single gauge steam railway trains run from the coast at Ravenglass to the centre of beautiful Eskdale, taking in some wonderful scenery on the way. At Ravenglass, you will also find an accompanying museum where you can find out more about these sweet little engines and their history as important working trains. With historic photos of the trains in use and full-size engines that you can ‘drive’ yourself, there’s a wealth of interesting information in this tiny museum. And, when you’re done, you can just head across the car park and experience the seven-mile rail journey into Eskdale for yourself!
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We hope you find something interesting to do whichever museum you visit. To book your stay near somewhere fabulous, visit our cottage search page to find your perfect Lake District cottage.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.