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Are You Ready to Experience the World's Largest Coloured Pencil?
Cumberland Pencil Museum (Keswick)
Member Name: Frankingsteins
Cumberland Pencil Museum (Keswick)
Advantages: All you ever wanted to know about pencils, and more.
Disadvantages: Leaves a lot to be desired.
Keswick is one of the most beautiful and tourist-friendly towns in The Lake District, home of many breathtaking views that have long made it a popular destination for those looking to get away from it all, as well as more mountaineering shops than anyone could possibly need. Bizarrely, the town also features some really inappropriate museums too.
To its credit, the Pencil Museum wasn't chosen randomly - unlike its close neighbour the James Bond Museum (yeah, Keswick - that place that's synonymous with 007). This museum is constructed out of a functional unit next to the much more impressive Cumberland pencil factory, where they make all those high quality pencil crayons that the kids at school who belonged to more well-off families than you did flaunted so proudly. You know, the pencils that were supposed to work like watercolour paint if you wet the nibs, but which ended up making your hands stink of graphite for seven years instead.
The company is proud of its contributions to the pencil industry, which led to the creation of this attraction - which proudly informs visitors that it is the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the pencil. There is perhaps a reason for this.
Upon entering the Pencil Museum and paying the only slightly cheeky entrance fee of £3.50 (adult), visitors proceed through the only theme park-style exhibition, a replica of the Seathwaite mine were graphite was discovered, seemingly by a race of crumpled-faced sub-humans if the poorly maintained figure is anything to go by. Once this rather pointless embarrassment is out of the way, visitors are free to explore the compact museum, which features places to sit and draw (probably the best part, and while you could technically do this anywhere it's handy to have access to some slightly mangled pencil crayons). There are also 'interactive exhibits.'
Well alright, not really. There is an over-ambitious movie theatre though, which plays a 10-minute video ad nauseam demonstrating pencil production and showing some kids colouring things in, along with some non-celebrity opinions from what seems to be people who just like using Derwent watercolour pencils. The film concludes by playing an extended portion of Raymond Briggs' the Snowman, which was famously animated using the factory's pencils. It's a bit of a tenuous link though, and questionable justification for playing the excerpt hundreds of times each day, without any kind of commentary to try to make it more relevant.
You might think I've made the Pencil Museum sound a little boring so far, but I haven't even got to the main attraction yet. All the best museums have something of colossal proportions to wow audiences - whether it's a monstrous Tyrannosaur skeleton or gigantic turbines and steam engines - and what could be more exciting than seeing the world's largest functional coloured pencil firsthand? Well alright, it's enclosed in a case to protect its majesty, but it's still an impressive sight (it's 26 feet long, who's going to steal that? And how could they possibly make use of it without a giant colouring book?)
If this review seems a little sarcastic, I should confirm that I did enjoy my visit to the Pencil Museum on a recent break in Keswick, being fully aware even before we approached that I was not its target audience - indeed, from all the positive comments left in the visitor book it seems that kids find it both fun and educational (though strictly about pencils and nothing else).
The museum may be a little lacking in attractions and misguided in its reverence of pencil crayons, and essentially a front to sell loads of overpriced Derwent products in the gift shop that's as big as the museum itself, but it's a fun little attraction that makes Keswick a better place. I'd take it over the James Bond Museum any day. Did 007 have a pencil?
Well yes, he did actually, and it's on display in this museum. And you get a free souvenir pencil to lose on your own schedule.
The Cumberland Pencil Museum is clearly signposted all around Keswick, and is open from 9am to 4pm all year round except the usual Christmas holidays, on which days you can get your pencil crayon fix from watching the Snowman again and again and again.
Summary: The only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the pencil
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