Historic northern cities are enjoying something of a renaissance of late, and Carlisle could be one such example of an emerging success story.
Perhaps overlooked in favour of the longer established offerings of York and Chester, or bypassed because of the lure of the Lake District’s Keswick and Ambleside, the principal Cumbrian city has unique features, stories and personality that you won’t find anywhere else.
Our base for the weekend was the second floor penthouse apartment at The Halston ‘aparthotel’ in Warwick Road, a few minutes walk from the city centre, railway station and major attractions.
Formerly a Post Office, the award-winning establishment (best self-catering provider at the 2017 Cumbrian Tourism Awards) bridges the gap between hotel and self-catering, with well-equipped modern kitchens alongside the hotel’s restaurant and bar Bartons Yard on the ground floor.
My wife and I arrived with our nine and five-year-old early on a Friday evening, and discovered a stunning two-bedroomed apartment with two bathrooms and a huge living area with large sash windows and skylights creating an impressive and well laid out space.
A quick nosy around revealed super comfy beds, heavy dressing gowns, a digital radio with Bluetooth, TVs in each room...and complementary slippers!
The kitchen is well stocked with milk, fresh coffee, bottled water and the option to indulge in price-tagged wine and prosecco.
We had decided to eat in on our first night and set about getting to grips with the kitchen.
Staff were prompt and friendly when we struggled with the super modern hob, and we cooked and served with relative ease before heading out for an evening walk in the city.
Carlisle is located at the confluence of the rivers Eden, Caldew and Petteril, 10 miles south of the Scottish border.
Known mainly for being a Roman stronghold, the settlement has a longer history and is understood to have been one of the strongest British towns prior to the Roman invasion.
Its proximity to Hadrian’s Wall as a settlement that served its forts makes it an ideal base for exploring the Scottish and English Borders, and all of the history dating back thousands of years.
The city centre itself is a wide, tree lined, traffic-free boulevard, with plenty of space for buskers to play and kids to let off steam.
The stonework in the cathedral precinct area is beautiful and the information boards tell an interesting story about the city’s historic social set-up. The cathedral was built in 1123.
There are lots of little alleyways and snickets to wind through and the underpass to Carlisle Castle, which dates back to 1093, is more like a museum than a tunnel under the road.
On Saturday afternoon, following a very good, reasonably priced cooked breakfast at The Halston and a mooch around the town centre, we headed to Bitts Park, a few minutes walk from the city centre.
A Roman battle reenactment was taking place to mark 1,900 years since Hadrian became the ruler of the Roman Empire.
The turma – or troop – reenactment is one of the largest the UK has ever seen.
It was an impressive sight with more than 30 horses, cavalrymen and weapons on display, with more displays taking place on the perimeter.
Bitts Park is definitely worth a visit with children. There’s a play area, splash park and skate park, as well as an assault course.
It also edges on to nearby Stanwix, which was once the largest fort located along the Roman Empire’s most northern frontier.
Saturday evening saw the children depart with the grandparents, giving us time to relax and enjoy a meal in The Halston’s restaurant.
The starters/tapas menu features 14 different choices, and we went for the salmon and pickled cucumber sushi, seared steak slices with smoked paprika peppers and new potatoes, and spiced Asian pork belly, Asian slaw, and Pak Choi (three for £15.95).
For mains we chose chicken Katsu curry and asparagus, pea and brocolli risotto and we enjoyed every mouthful. A honey panna cotta with roast peach, chocolate crumb and lavender ice cream, all made freshly by the chef, finished us off nicely.
Carlisle’s nightlife seemed good-natured and upbeat, although we didn’t stray too far from the Devonshire Street area, where I lucked out on finding The Fat Gadgie, which presented a huge, quality array of real and craft ale.
The bar staff said there was nothing like it in the whole of Carlisle and there was a good atmosphere with 80s classics getting people into the party mood.
On Sunday we explored some of the shopping areas, finding lots of independent shops but also a surprisingly good major shopping area as well. The Citadel is architecturally impressive and we’d definitely come back to visit the Tullie House Museum, which has a mini Hadrian’s Wall set into the pavement outside.
Parking at the Halston’s car park cost us £14 Friday to Sunday, inclusive of a 20 per cent discount for staying at the hotel.
Carlisle is also extremely well connected in terms of rail, being on the West Coast Mainline, and nothing in the city itself is more than walking distance or a short taxi ride away.
The Halston has certainly made a statement of intent and is a sign that there’s a market for high quality accommodation in Carlisle, which like many other northern towns and cities have spent some years in decline but now, perhaps, are making a resurgence based on getting their historic and cultural offer sorted.
Visit www.thehalston.co.uk or www.golakes.co.uk for more information.