These words could describe England in general, but they’re particularly characteristic of Kendal. This biggish market town is quite famous for a number of things, not the least of which is the mint cake that got Sir Edmund Hillary up Mount Everest.
My friends and I resolved to see the best of what Kendal had to offer in one afternoon. It’s a quiet place, but we found plenty to entertain and stimulate the imagination. Here are five experiences that made my trip to Kendal memorable.
1. Going to Church
My first stop was Kendal Parish Church, one of the widest churches in England. It’s normal enough from back to front, but it has five aisles, remnants of a time when the congregation overflowed to over 1,000 members.
We went inside and it was empty, which was slightly creepy, but it was also nice to have the place to ourselves instead of having someone pushing postcards and coffee at us, angling for a donation. From the bits and pieces we could see—prayer cards, handmade cushions, props for a play—there seems to be a fairly vibrant congregation meeting here and reaching out to the community.
It’s a beautiful church, very calm, with lovely chapels and windows.
2. Breaking into a Chinese Restaurant
This is one experience I wouldn’t recommend. Someone wanted takeaway food, so we went to a restaurant and saw signs on the door that said “Open” and “Door Sticks, Please Push Hard to Open.” So I pushed hard on the door, and harder, and harder, and it finally jolted inwards.
We walked inside and saw the place completely dark, with no one around. Then I heard a quiet beeping noise. We realized that, contrary to the sign, this place was actually closed, and we skedaddled. But the worst part was that the door wouldn’t shut!
The bolt on the old wooden double doors was shot across, so my friend and I wrestled with the door, trying to align the bolt with the hole. It finally worked, and that was the end of my breaking-and-entering career.
3. Storming the Castle
OK, so we didn’t storm it, but we did visit it.
Personally, I was astonished to walk through a place that was a ruin before Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered my continent. Being an American in Britain is still mindblowing.
It was a gray, drizzly day, which certainly made things interesting! Every now and then the rain would let up and I’d get out my camera, then the heavens would open and we’d crowd under my friend’s umbrella. Early travellers to Kendal complained of eight miles of “nothing but a confused mixture of Rockes and Boggs,” with a road “no better than the roughest fell tracks on high ground and spongy, miry tracks in the vallies.” Of course the roads are better nowadays, but a little rain still makes grass covered slopes into muddy slip-n-slides. That made getting up to the castle a messy job.
After nearly slipping several times and squealing loudly all the way, we made it up to the summit of the very cold and very windy hill. There were the ruins, big as life. Once inside the wall, we clambered over old stones, posed for portraits, and tried to imagine what the place would have been like long ago. Two of the castle cellars were still largely intact, and we found tiny stalactites on the ceiling. There was even a turret that we could climb (a delicate business because the floor was filled with muddy water, but it gave a great view of the pretty white houses down below).
4. Touring a Cemetery
Call me ghoulish, but I enjoy meandering through old graveyards. Ancient grave markers have so much character and personality, and more often than not the inscriptions themselves are interesting. Kendal’s atmospheric cemetery is perched atop a windy hill overlooking the town, and when I went it was covered in snowdrops. This is the perfect place for contemplation or a quiet walk.
The grand finale of our Kendal trip was a visit to The Famous 1657 Chocolate House. We climbed a narrow winding stair up to the “chocolate snug” (how cute is that?). I grabbed the window seat and ordered “Cromwell’s Downfall,” a mint and chocolate drink. Rich, hot, and frothy, served with miniature chocolate sticks and a tiny spoon on a paper doily, it was fabulous!
It was lovely to feel like a tourist in England again. Sometimes I feel like a native; I regularly shop at the grocery store and I have British coworkers and go to local events. Then sometimes I’m proud to be an American, of being “foreign” and having my own unique background and perspective on Britain, able to look in from the outside and see both its foibles and virtues. It’s a balancing act, and I love it.