Carlisle, Cumbria, England

We have been to Carlisle quite a few times, and each time we explore a little bit more of it. It is a handy rail link for that part of the UK, with trains to all parts of the lake district, down to Lancashire, up to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Kilmarnock in Scotland, as well as over to Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham and Berwick-upon-Tweed, via Hexham and Haltwhistle. So this post covers all of our adventures in Carlisle.


Status: City of Carlisle District, Cumbria (Historically Cumberland), City, England

Date: Various

Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Preston, Glasgow, Edinburgh Waverley), Northern Rail (Carlisle – Hexham, Newcastle, Middlesbrough), Scotrail (Carlisle – Gretna Green, Kilmarnock, Newcastle)

Eating & Sleeping: Nando’s, Castle View Cafe, Fontana’s Chip Shop, Costa Coffee

Attractions: Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle Castle, The Citadel, Bitts Park, River Eden, Town Hall, Market Hall, The Lanes Shopping Centre, Tullie House Museum, Solway Aviation Museum at Carlisle Private Airport, Military Museum, The Abbey, Guildhall Museum etc

Carlisle 1

If you arrive in Carlisle by train then the first building you will encounter is the beautiful façade of Carlisle Citadel Station which opened in 1847. It was designed by a man called William Tite (1798 – 1873, English Architect) and was one of three stations in the city, the other two being Crown Street and London Road. The station was the only regularly used one by 1851, and it was expanded between 1875 and 1876 to add new platforms.

I love the turreted octagonal tower shown on the right, and it makes the station feel more like a Castle than anything else, you could almost imagine it flying the English Flag back when border raids were common from Scotland.

Carlisle 2

Whilst the first building you will encounter physically is the station, the first view of the city itself will be this one as you exit the station. The imposing figures of the Citadel Towers greet travellers into the city, marking the original south entrance into the city.

The original towers were built by Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in 1541, as defensive towers. Rebuilt in 1810, the courts and County Gaol (Jail) were housed inside. Today the towers no longer fulfil these functions however and there is a separate Crown Court in the city. The Two Towers have their own features:


This tower held Civil Trials and outside stands a statue of the Earl of Lonsdale, William Lowther (1757 – 1844, British Nobleman).


The West Tower held Criminal Trials, and whilst there is no statue outside this one, which is a genuine cannon that helped to protect the city during the Stuart Uprising in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie attacked Carlisle. On this side there are a number of benches as well, so one day I just sat there outside the tower and watched the world go by. It was a very relaxing experience and it’s such a lovely part of the city to be in.

Carlisle 3

Moving past the Citadel, just up the road you will come to the extensive pedestrianised section of the city which contains most of the cities major landmarks. The buildings up and down either side are of a lovely stone construction and Carlisle has retained a lot of its heritage with lots of new Victorian buildings appearing in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Carlisle is full of finely detailed sculptures and statues. The first of these is on the pedestrianised section coming from the station, where the proud figure of James Steel, a former Mayor of the city between 1845 and 1846.

The next statue needs no introduction, her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) stood in Bitts Park (opened 1897) next to Carlisle Castle, which also contains a variety of flowers artworks.

The third and fourth sculptures are both located within “The Lanes” shopping centre, and there is an entrance to the centre just down from the James Steel statue. The first of the two is of a fiddler named Jimmy Dyer (1841 – 1903, who regularly performed at festivals and markets). The second is a pair of Bronze Otters that were once part of a fountain. Any money thrown into the fountain was donated to charity. They were eventually moved to this area of the shopping centre in 2004 and are sat on a glass base.

The final statue is sat outside Brunton Park, home to Carlisle United Football Club. This is Carlisle favourite Hughie Mcllmoyle (Born in 1940) a Scottish Player who has played all over the UK from Port Glasgow, to Leicester, Preston, Carlisle, Bristol and Middlesbrough.

Carlisle 5

Moving into the very centre of the pedestrianised area where three streets converge, the pleasant looking structure of the Old Town Hall greets you. It looks a lot newer than it is, and actually dates back to 1669, with an extension in 1717 adding the right hand side with the Clock Tower, which only has 3 clock faces. This section also has a plaque on it bearing the name of the mayor, the city arms and 1717 in Roman Numerals (MDCCXVII). An extension on the left was added sometime after 1788. The whole building became Grade I listed in 1949, and recently underwent a refurbishment which is now complete.

The building now houses a number of shops, along with the Tourist Information Centre on the top floor up the outer steps, which are a replacement from 1825 of the original 1717 ones. As you go into the Tourist Information Centre you enter the old council chamber, evident from the wooden panelling at the far end of the room. There was also a large model of the building made out of cake last time I went inside!

The best picture I have of the building is from Christmas 2013, with the lights up, and the annual Golden Angel figures stood outside.

Carlisle 4

Also, that same evening, the Coca-Cola Lorry from the adverts was in Carlisle, which we had seen previously in Preston. Both of these occasions were part of it’s national tour of 2013. The whole area was also decorated in Christmas Lights and it was a mini wonderland.

On the right, in front of the Lorry is the Market Cross, erected in 1682, and bearing the name of the then mayor Joseph Reed. Prior to this there was an earlier Market Cross and the new one is stood on the same spot.

Carlisle 6

Just off to the left of the Old Town Hall is the Guildhall Museum,  housed in the ancient Carlisle Guildhall, built before the 1400’s. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, and when it first opened it was a series of shops and workshops attached the house of a wealthy merchant. It passed into the care of the City Council since the 1400’s.

Today it houses the Guildhall museum, and you can find out about the original 8 Guilds, although only four remain today. The 8 were:

1) Shoemakers

2) Skinners & Glovers

3) Smiths

4) Tanners

5) Tailors

6) Butchers

7) Merchants

8) Weavers

Carlisle 7

Continuing down the street past the Guildhall, you will arrive at Carlisle Cathedral, which is easily visible on the approach into the city centre by car, due to it’s elevated position up a hilly area of the city centre.

Construction started on this magnificent building in 1122, as an Augustinian Priory by Athelwold (Died 1156), who would go on to become the first Bishop of the new Cathedral between 1133 and 1155. Cathedral status was instated 11 years later in 1133. This makes it notable as the Cathedral is one of only four Augustinian Priories in England to actually become a Cathedral.

It was part of a complex of buildings related to the monastery/priory, although the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 by Henry VIII meant that these become unused and the building became Church of England. During the English Civil War part of the Nave was demolished by the Scottish Presbyterian Army to reinforce Carlisle Castle. Carlisle has changed hands a number of times between England and Scotland due to their long history of fighting each other, along with Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town in Northumberland right next to the Scottish border that has also changed hands, starting in Scotland and finally staying in England.

The Cathedral is free to enter, and the interior ceiling is worth a look. It is painted a radiant blue with stars peppered all over it. On the outside there is also a grotesque of a Policeman, see if you can find it. Find out more about that particular item in Gemma’s post here.

Carlisle 8

Continuing down the road you will come across one of the two entrances (the other being out on the main road opposite the Castle) to the Tullie House Museum.

The building opened in 1893, after the original Jacobean Mansion was converted. The main front of the mansion still survives however and is visible from the adjacent street, Abbey Street. In 1893 it contained a Museum, Library, Art and Technical School. The Schools moved to new premises in the 1950’s and the Library in 1986 leaving on the Museum, with part of it moving to the Guildhall in 1980. Inside the museum is a large collection of Roman artefacts related to the nearby Hadrian’s Wall which stretched from Coast to Coast, from Cumbria to Northumberland. There are also art collections, fine gardens and of course the original front of the building.

Carlisle 9

Moving out onto the main road from here, there is a White Metal Bridge which crosses over to the Castle. Standing on the bridge you get a fantastic view of  Dixon’s Chimney, part of Shaddon Mill, which was built in 1836 by Peter Dixon. The Mill made Cotton and the sheer size of the Chimney made it a landmark in the area, and it was designed to take the smoke from street level far away from residents. By 1883 Peter Dixon’s company had gone bust and Robert Todd and Sons Ltd took over, converting production to Wool.

When it was built it was the largest cotton mill in England the and Chimney was the 8th largest in the World. The Chimney started off at 305 feet tall, before a reduction in 1950 left it at only 290 feet. Parts of the Mill are flats, with the rest being used by the University of Cumbria.

Carlisle 10

On this picture you can see the aforementioned bridge, which as a lift at either end. If it one of two ways to cross the main road, the other being a subway tunnel that runs from outside the 2nd entrance to Tullie House to the main path into the Castle. If you take the second route you will pass the Cursed Stone of Carlisle, which was installed in 2001. It bears an inscription all round it over a 16th century curse, and it is said that since the arrival of the stone there has been disaster for Carlisle, including the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, a Flood from the River Eden and many others, although many think it is just a coincidence.

The main landmark in Carlisle of is of course the Castle, which is nearly 1000 years old, with construction starting in 1093 on the orders of William II (1056 – 1100) of England. He was the son of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087) who invaded England in 1066.

The Castle endured attacks throughout it’s history by the invading Scottish, and of course the English who took back the Castle many times. This lasted until the union between England and Scotland in 1603 under one Monarch, as most armies were being lead by the monarch of the time, including Henry VIII who converted the Castle for artillery, and later in 1568 Mary Queen of Scots (1542 – 1857) who was imprisoned here.

I mentioned before about the Stuart Uprising when Bonnie Prince Charlie attacked Carlisle in 1745, and this was one of the major battles the Castle saw. This was also the last battle at Carlisle Castle as England and Scotland were united to form one country.

It’s a great building and you can go inside and explore the Castle Walls, and look back out over the city. The Castle also contains the Kings Own Royal Border Regiment Museum.

Carlisle 11

Moving out of the city centre towards the River Eden, is an unusual feature, situated in the middle of a large roundabout. The roundabout isn’t your standard grass mound, it is more a large open hole accessible via subway passages containing a fountain and flowerbeds, with the road running around it above.

This is called Hardwick Circus, and located just over the main bridge over the River Eden (Mallerstang near the Yorkshire border, through to the Solway Firth), which you can see in the picture below. The rivers Caldew and Petteril also run through the city and run into the Eden.

Carlisle 12

We spent a bit of time walking down the river on one of our many trips to the city, and looking back got a perfect view of the bridge from 1815, designed by Sir Robert Smirke (1781 – 1867). It has five large arches, and the overall width of the bridge was doubled in 1932 to accommodate the amount of  traffic as the popularity of the car increased.

Also in this area of the city, just out of shot behind the trees on the left bank of the river is the Sands Centre a large theatre complex with regular appearances by notable comedians and singers.

Elsewhere in the city you could visit Hammond’s Pond (Upperby Park) with a number of entrances on Blackwell road, Buchannan Road, Henderson Road and Scalegate Road. As you can see in the picture gallery, there are a number of features, from the miniature railway that runs around part of it, the boating lake that has a wide variety of ducks and birds, and the aviary where birds can come and go as they please and build a nest inside. It’s a pleasant, open space with a lot of different foliage. The colours on the trees came out really well on our last visit as you can see.

That marks the end of our exploration through the city, which was a fascinating experience.

There are a number of train lines converging on Carlisle, with Virgin Trains services from London/Birmingham running to Glasgow and Edinburgh via Crewe, Wigan, Lancaster and Preston, Northern Rail trains to Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Whitehaven, Barrow-in-Furness, Leeds, Settle and Lancaster, and Transpennine Express trains between Manchester and Glasgow/Edinburgh.

The other user of the station is Scotrail, which runs trains to Glasgow from Carlisle via Gretna, AnnanDumfries, and Kilmarnock and occasionally services continue on to Newcastle or start there. Local buses run to Dumfries and Annan via Gretna and Longtown, and the X95 runs to Edinburgh bus station.

Carlisle is a fascinating, ancient city with many old buildings, and a long history of conflict with neighbouring Scotland, giving it many stories to tell. It is easily accessible by train and road, as the M6 Motorway runs around the city with a number of junctions given access to North, South and Mid Carlisle.

To find out more about Carlisle’s rich history and to see many old photographs of the city, visit this Facebook page.


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