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Brampton (Cumbria, England)

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A small market town in Cumbria, England

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      25.07.2008 12:02
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      A small town with an old fashioned feel.

      My review today is about a quintessential English town in Cumbria. Not as exotic as some of the towns I have reviewed I know but to me it has a special place in my travel diairies. It is an alternative Cumbrian experience, far from the maddening crowd of Lake Windermere and commercialism.

      I have always been enchanted with the town's cobbled streets and winding lanes which lead to quaint, little shops and old pubs and coaching inns dating from the 18th and19 th century, some even older. Some narrow walkways go to small shops selling hand made jewellery and clothes, there are at least a couple of old fashioned bakeries where the bread and cakes are made on the premises. The town has two art shops, two supermarkets, a local market every Wednesday and a farmer's market once a month. Other quaint shops include an antiquated pharmacy with dressed windows that look hundreds of years old. Most of the old houses have been built from the local red sandstone and the town is surrounded by green rolling hills, hegdegrows and pine forests.

      I have visited this inconspicuous market town many times and only just recently realised that it conceals a myriad of dark secrets. Read on...............

      This pretty market town dates back to the 7th century and consists of one main street and several side streets decorated with historical buildings.

      The name Brampton is thought to have originated from the old English name for brambles.

      The main street is very wide and undulating and the first market took place in 1252 along with four annual fairs. The main street is dominated by Moot Hall which was built in 1817 by the Earl of Lancaster. Apparantely, it replaced the original building from 1648 which was supposedly to have been used by Oliver Cromwell to imprison men.

      It is a strange looking building, octagonal in shape with an external staircase leading to the top floor. It has a square turret and windows which form points rather than arches. The lower part of the building which now houses the local tourist information centre used to be a butter, egg and poultry market and became enclosed in 1896. The area around the Moot Hall is used as a Car Park except for Wednesday's when the travelling market arrives in the town to sell local produce. This day is very busy and if you don't visit early morning you will be hard pushed to find a parking spot although there is parking at the back of the town and at the side of the Doctor's surgery.

      In front of the Moot Hall is a bull ring which is a reminder of the cruel blood sport that used to take place there. This sport took place in London and most provincial towns including Brampton. The bull would be placed in a specially constructed ring, and tied to a stake so that it could move around in an area of approximately 30 feet. Before the sport started pepper was blown into the bull's nose.The bull would sometimes be placed in a hole and dogs would be set upon the bull one at a time. Usually old English Bulldogs were used as the attackers and a succcessful attack would be when the dog's teeth were fastened firmly into the bull's snout.

      Thank goodness the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 put an end to that cruel and barbaric sport by reinforcing a rule forbidding the keeping of any pit or other place for baiting a bull or any other animal. Although it is known that some of these cruel sports with dogs still take place and I think only a couple of years ago a chap was fined for organising dog fights in Carlisle.

      Historical Buildings

      There are several buildings of historical interest located in the town including three pubs as I know of. The 19th century Howard Arms has just recently been refurbished and is famous because it was one of the inns Charles Dickens stayed at when travelling through. Now it is open as a restaurant, bar, and has bed and breakfast facilities.

      The Scotch Arms on Main Street is an 18th century coaching inn and The White Lion Hotel was built in 1790 which is a reasonably priced hotel and restaurant.

      In the 1800's there were more than 40 pubs in the town although there were only 3,000 residents . With the road being built from Newcastle to Carlisle in 1758 this became a popular route for traveller's going east or west so perhaps the pubs were a godsend for these weary travellers.

      Other interesting attractions are; the old fashioned police station on the corner of the main street leading to Longtown. It was built in 1860 and reminds me of that series Dixon of Dock Green where the friendly bobby stood outside the station bending down as if to ventilate his underpants whilst tipping his hat to say, 'Evening All.'

      Oulton House which was built in 1603 became the home of a famous violin maker in the 1800's.

      It is known that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in a house in the town, dating from 1603, during the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. He stayed for one night only. The house is now a shoe shop but has a plaque on the wall relaying this historical information. Why we are still on the subject of that rogue, Bonnie Prince Charlie, there is a monument just outside the town centre of a Capon Tree. It was built in 1904 and it is to commemorate the hanging of six of his men in 1746 by the Duke of Cumberland. These supporters of Charlie's were left in Carlisle Castle why the man himself scarpered. The word Capon is used frequently in the town as a name of a cafe, veterinary surgery, housing estate and a shop.

      St. Martin's Church is situated on the right hand side of the road leading to the market square as you enter the town. This church from the outside doesn't actually look anything special . It is big, square and built out of red sandstone although it was designed by the architect Philip Webb who was part of the pre-raphaelite movement. It's only when you enter inside and notice the beautiful stained glass windows which were designed by Edward Burne-Jones and actually made in the studios of William Morris who was an artist, designer and member of the pre-raphaelite brotherhood, that the building can been seen in a different light. These two artists were known to work well together and their use of colour, in my humble opinion was fantastic and I love the way the pictures tell stories but in a fairy like way. Each window tells a seperate story of the Good Shepherd, heroes of the bible, childhood, paradise and virtues.

      I have also found out that Brampton had it's very own white witch. Her name was Lizzy Batey and she is buried in the cemetry of St. Martin's church. There is a faded 19th century headstone with her name. She was known to the town as the Brampton Witch.

      Lanercost Priory

      This Augustinian priory is situated in a quiet valley near the River Irthing. It was founded by Henry11 in 1166 and it was completed in 1220 with stone stolen from Hadrian's wall. This priory suffered damage from wars and many raids from the Scots being very near to the border of both countries. It was dissolved as a priory in 1538 by Henry V111. It is open to visitor's from the beginning of April to the end of September from 10am to 6pm.

      Other facts;

      Brampton's first railway was called the Dandy. It was laid by the Earl of Carlisle in 1775 to transport coal. Originally, wagons were pulled by horses. In 1836, a new line to Brampton was built along with the Carlisle to Newcastle line. Brampton's first Stationmaster, Thomas Edmondson invented the first railway ticket to be printed by a machine. The coal depot closed in 1923 along with the old line.

      You wouldn't think such a small town would have so much history on offer and this is one of the reasons it does attract a lot of visitors in the summer.

      Hadrian's Wall
      Hadrian's Wall is not too far away - about 25 minutes by car. Sections near to Brampton that are of interest are Banks Turrets which is a 30 mile section which was first built of turf incorporating stone turrets and then eventually totally replaced with stone.

      At Birdoswald located in Gilsland there is a Roman Fort and Visitor's centre which illustrates Roman connections and depicts stories of the border raids as well as Victorian and 20th century discoveries. We have visited this centre a few times and it is really interesting but what is more fascinating is that the parts of the wall are scattered around this part of Cumbria and you can actually touch and interact with this amazing creation. To think of those warm blooded Latins coming to this freezing rain filled land makes me shuddder.

      As you enter the town near St. Martin's Church there is a monument of Hadrian and I am always surprised how small the monument is. It makes him look tiny but I suppose Italian's aren't very tall but I always think of Hadrian as being big, strong and courageous.

      Okay so if you are not an history buff what can you do.

      Well there is a golf course off the A69 following the road for Castle Carrock. It is on the right side near the railway crossing. It is known to be very popular with golfers and a lot of visitors have given it the title of mini Gleneagles. It has a club house where you can eat and drink and a games room with pool and snooker tables. I haven't actually been on the golf course but it's location is very pretty.

      Brampton doesn't have a swimming pool but there is a public baths at Haltwhistle which is about 25 minutes away. Beware, it is an outside pool and it can get nicky nacky noo!!!

      Carlisle is the nearest city if you fancy a day out shopping, a visit to a museum, theatre, or a look inside the cathedral.

      The countryside around is suitable for walking, cycling, horse riding and bird watching. Talkin Tarn, a 10,000 year old glacial lake is now a country park for walkers to enjoy the trails. Sailing, canoeing, and windsurfing is allowed on the lake. This 65 acre park is two miles sout east of Brampton. The park is open all year round except Christmas day and Boxing day. Admission is free.

      Accomodation is in abundance . The area is awash with Bed and Breakfast establishments so you shouldn't have a problem in that department. You can book accomodation at the tourist office or look on line at web sites like country cottages.www.english-country-cottages.co.uk

      Brampton has a local library with the use of 2 computers and usually they are not working. Alternatively you can use Brampton Busines Centre whee there are a numbers of computers and they are free to use.

      Apart from the pubs I have mentioned above there is The Nags Head which is situated in the main market square. From the outside it is very attractive and they offer cheap and generous pub grub. However, they screen live football matches and it can get very rowdy and even a bit yobbish at times. So don't visit when a big match is being shown unless you want a fight!

      In the summer months of July and August the town is decorated with flowers and garlands as exhibitions, craft fairs, processions take place but also one of the largest folk/world/roots festivals in the north of England takes place in the William Howard School and it's grounds. It is usually staged for 3 days from July and I believe it has just finished.

      How to find Brampton?

      Take the exit 44 on M6 following A69

      Brampton Railway Station is out of the town about 1 and a half miles away.

      Local buses runt to Longtown, Carlisle and Newcastle.


      This small market town is definitely worth a visit. It isn't glamorous in any way but it is full of history and has an old fashioned feel about it. The countryside around is really very pretty and it is easy to get to. If you are looking for a quiet break and a step back in time, then Brampton is definitely the place for you.


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