Lying just outside the boundary of the Lake District National Park, Cockermouth is an attractive market town not overwhelmed by the tourist atmosphere of Keswick and Ambleside. It is one of only 51 towns in Great Britain designated as a ‘Gem’ town and is, therefore, recommended for preservation by the state as part of our national heritage.
Cockermouth grew up at the junction of the two most important rivers in the area. Here the River Cocker, flowing out of the lakes Buttermere, Crummock and Loweswater meets the River Derwent on its journey from lakes Derwent and Bassenthwaite to the sea at Workington.
The Romans built the fort of Deventio at Papcastle, about a mile from the present town, at a meeting place of roads from Maryport, Carlisle and Penrith. Cockermouth Castle was built in the 13th century, but little of that remains because of the efforts of Robert the Bruce. The majority of today’s ruins date from 1360 to 1370, though there have been some modern additions. The castle is privately owned, and not normally open to the public. Tours are often available during the Cockermouth Festival in July.
Today’s visitors are attracted by the town’s calm, its nearness to some of the more peaceful lakes and mountains, and the fact that Dorothy and William Wordsworth were born here. The large Georgian house in the Main Street where they were born, is now in the care of the National Trust.
Another famous son of Cockermouth was Fletcher Christian, the man who led the mutiny on ‘The Bounty’. He was born about a mile from the town at Eaglesfield in 1764, and attended the same school as Wordsworth. John Dalton, born in 1766 also at Eaglesfield, was one of the most brilliant scientists of his age, and was the originator of the atomic theory.
The town received its Market Charter in 1221, and has retained its importance as a market town ever since. Quarrying and mining for lead and iron were later developments outside the town, and a brewery has been built at the foot of the castle mound, where the two rivers meet.
Cockermouth is home to Jennings Brewery, which offers 1.5 hour tours around the Brewery, explaining the various processes involved in brewing traditional beer.
On Kirkgate is the Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth’s centre for art, theatre, film and music.
Banks Ironmongers is a traditional ironmongers and hardware shop with its roots firmly in the past. It was opened in 1836 and has been owned by two separate families. There is a small museum of ancient artifacts at the back of the shop.
A programme of archaeological research is being undertaken in the area around Cockermouth and Papcastle, focusing on Roman activity related to the Roman fort of Derventio and the Derwent river valley. The current project is called ‘Discovering Derventio’ and runs from July 2012 for 3 years.
The settlement is one of the largest Romano-British settlements ever found in northern England and was unearthed during the 2009 floods.
To help visitors and locals alike the Cockermouth and District Civic Trust have publicised a fascinating walk through the town’s history. The walk mirrors some of the work done by well known local historian Bernard Bradbury, who’s books are the recognised ‘bible’ of Cockermouth’s historic townscape. Small cast iron numbered plaques created by the children of Cockermouth School help guide you as you take the Town Trail. A leaflet describing the Town Trail is available from the tourist information centre.
On Thursday 19th November 2009, the rivers Cocker and Derwent, which join in Cockermouth, rose to a level that flooded much of central Cockermouth, leaving huge amounts of destruction, and most of the shops, restaurants and pubs in the town completely wrecked. See flood pictures. For 3 days immediately after the flooding Cockermouth was under the control of the British Army.
It took a year before most of the businesses were back up and open, and the town now has some substantial flood defences. The silver lining to the floods is that the affected area has now been repaired to be even prettier than before with many of the flooded businesses having their Georgian shop fronts restored.
Cockermouth has a large proportion of high quality, small independent shops as well as a Sainsbury’s and Co-Op. The main shopping area is comprised of Main Street, Market Place and Station Street. There are well stocked local butchers, bakers (including a Bryson’s), greengrocers, a really excellent fishmongers (Fyne Fish on Station Street), and a very good deli, wine merchant & cafe/wine bar (Shill’s on South Street near Sainsbury’s). There is also a wide selection of interesting antique and gift shops, the ‘New Book Shop’, and numerous good cafes, restaurants, inns and bars.
It is usually easy to park, either in the disc zones, or in one of the 4 main central car parks, but please be aware that the traffic wardens are over zealous, much to the locals’ disgust, so take careful note of your ticket expiry time.
See Town Plan showing car park locations and charging periods and costs.
Cockermouth is also the home of the Visit Cumbria offices.
Grid Reference: NY 122308