The geological origins of Keswick, the surrounding area, the landscape of mountains, valleys and lakes, was initially shaped by glacial erosion in the Ice Age. There is evidence of settlement dating back to the Stone Age when Neolithic man used stone axes to making clearings in the forested hills and valleys to grow crops and keep livestock. Three axes were found inside Castlerigg Stone Circle which dates back some four thousand years to around the time of these early farming communities. The Stone Circle's original purpose is unclear; it may have been a trading post, a meeting place for social gatherings, an astronomical observatory or a site of religious ceremonies. Whatever the intended function the site of the circle is superb, completely surrounded by high fells.
Many Scandinavian place names in the area such as "thwaite" (meaning clearing) and "keld" (meaning spring) are indicative of settlement by Norsemen in the 10th Century. Later, in the 12th and 13th Centuries the Cistercian religious order acquired large areas of land and introduced large flocks of sheep to the district. Herdwick sheep are an ancient breed and are hardy resilient animals able to withstand extremes of weather and are a familiar sight on the fells today. Sadly they are not as popular with some farmers as they are less productive when bred and need to be a year older than the Swaledale and Dalesbred which are becoming increasingly populous.
Since the 13th Century there has been a market in the town of Keswick (from 'Cese-wic' - the cheese town), and apparently cheese fairs were held regularly until the early 1900's.
In Medieval times Keswick was planned, and built, as a ribbon development along either side of the market place. By the 19th century these plots had been filled in as Yards supporting small workshops and cottage industries based on wool and leather.
Industrially, Keswick had been at the centre of the mining activities that took place in the Lake District during and after the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1. The rural economy was transformed when minerals, copper in particular, were discovered in Newlands and Borrowdale. The discovery of black lead (graphite) in a mine in Borrowdale eventually resulted in the development of pencil production in the town. Initially it is said that the black lead was used to brand sheep - and so it is claimed that Borrowdale produced the first pencils in the world. You will undoubtedly have come across the famous Cumberland Pencil already either at school or in the work place.
The Moot Hall, the most prominent of Keswick's buildings, dates back to around the 1570s when it was used as a Court House. Since then it has been used as a market, prison and Town Hall. Now it is the site of the Tourist Information Centre.
Writers and poets have been attracted to relative isolation of Keswick and the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside since the late 18th Century. William & Dorothy Wordsworth stayed in the town in 1794, Samuel Taylor Coleridge rented part of Greta Hall from 1800-1803, and his brother-in-law, Robert Southey, the poet laureat, stayed in Greta Hall for forty years. Whilst resident there he wrote the famous children's story, the 'Three Bears.'
After the railway was opened up in 1865, Keswick became increasingly fashionable as a centre for visitors in search of stunning and impressive lake and mountain scenery. The population of the town is now 5,000 (although this more than doubles during the busy tourist season) and is only a little more than the 4,500 inhabitants of the early 1900s. The slow, but steady, increase in visitor numbers over the years has caused town to evolve rather than the drastic changes seen in many other tourist resorts. To that end the town still retains its small town feeling and atmosphere.
Fitz Park, in Keswick, is on the banks of the river Greta and is less than a five minute walk from the Guest House. It is an excellent place to relax in the colourful gardens or occassionally watch a local cricket or bowls game. There is a well equipped playground which caters for the children and just beyind the park there are swimming and exercise facilities in the Keswick Leisure Centre.
Continue past the park and pool and you soon find yourself on the side of Latrigg, the hill that overlooks Keswick and affords magnificent views across the town to Derwentwater and beyond to the Northern Fells of The Lake District.
In the other direction Derwentwater is only a brief wlk from Elm Tree Lodge and here you can rent a boat, take the launch around the lake or continue walking down Friars Crag for stunning views down to The Jaws of Borrowdale. At Friars Crag is a memorial, unveiled in 1900, to John Ruskin, who had many associations with Keswick. He once said Keswick was a place almost too beautiful to live in.
For a little more adventure a good combination is to take the launch part way around the lake (perhaps cutting off the bottom section) and then to walk along the banks of the lake shore. You can then get back on the launch when appropriate (it runs almost like a bus service with various stops around the lake) or you can continue all the way back to town for a well earned coffee / cream tea / beer or all 3!
For the still more adventurous there are the higher hills and, indeed, it is said that Catbells is The Lake District's most climbed mountain. A great day out is to get on the launch, up and over the hill, back down to The Lodore Falls Hotel for afternoon tea and then get the open top bus / launch back to Keswick. Or if you need to burn off the extra energy (afternoon tea) just walk back to the town along the lake shore.
Heading back towards the A66 will bring you to a cycle track along the old railway for a pleasant flat walk or alternatively you may want to wander up to Castlerigg Stone Circle to find out what the druids saw in Keswick and its location.
Keswick is an ideal base for access to Central Fells and The Northern whether you want to climb Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Grisedale Pike, Skiddaw, Blencathra or Cat Bells to name but a few.
For your well earned day off there are numerous cafes, galleries, museums and Keswick even boasts its own nationally renowned Theatre by The Lake. Or maybe you'd just like to shop for trinkets and outdoor gear.
A short drive away takes you to Bassenthwaite Lake and the family friendly 'Trotters', whilst a slightly longer journey gets you to scenic Cockermouth (to the west) or Penrith (to the east) where you can visit Rheged and the Mountaineering Exhidition.
Whatever the weather, and whatever your aspirations, there is somehting for everyone here in Keswick.