Given it's title of 'The Great Border City' it can be quite surprising to find that despite being the only city in Cumbria, and the nearest city shopping venue for parts of Northumberland and South west Scotland, there is very much a 'town' feel about the centre of Carlisle and it's shopping areas.
The main shopping area of Carlisle is essentially one long pedestrianised wide street. Separated in the middle by the Town hall and Tourist Information office, the South end is named English street, and the North end, unsurprisingly, Scotch street. There are a few small streets leading off from English street, (Bank and Devonshire street) where banks, charity and small independent shops, such as a specialist coffee shop, can be found. Scotch street boasts 2 entrances to Carlisle's indoor shopping Mall, The Lanes, which houses 75 stores.
~ The shops ~
Along English and Scotch street and in the lanes you will find high street staples such as Debenhams, Next, Boots, Marks and Spencer, and so on. I love the Marks and Spencer store in Carlisle, and has nothing to do with the fact I recently worked there. I love it it's huge! It's the size store usually found in the larger cities such as Newcastle. This store is actually 2 massive shops, as 10 years ago or more, when Littlewoods closed Marks and Spencer took over the neighbouring building. Debenhams in Carlisle is also a large store, as is New look. In fact I have never seen another New look store on this scale. If department store shopping is your thing, Carlisle also has a House of fraser, which is quite delapitated and not somewhere I enjoy shopping, and a brand new Hoopers.
What I really like about the stores in Carlisle is that they are all close to each other, walking from one end of town to the other would take no more than 10 minutes. The indoor mall, The Lanes, is quite small and is handy for nipping in out of the rain, and most of the large stores can be accessed from both inside the mall, and from the main high street. Unfortunately recent economic climate has had an effect on this high street, as it has on many others, and quite a lot of stores now stand empty. There does seem to be new business moving in, most notably B&M who have moved into the massive Woolworths building.
The downside of shopping in Carlisle for me, is a lack of choice, particularly in the budget clothing sector, and toy shops. Carlisle has no Primark, which grieves me greatly, and the nearest is 80 miles away in Newcastle or the metro centre. We also have no peacocks, Ethal Austin, or other such 'cheap' shops I enjoy a rummage in when visiting my Gran in Sunderland. Since the demise of Woolworths, toy shops are severely under represented here with only Argos, ELC and a small independant toy store open for business, which drives me to spend my money away from the city and on the internet. Kids clothing is also an area which is severely under represented and I rarely shop for my children here. I think some people would also find the lack of designer stores annoying, as I'm not in the financial position to care about this...I Don't!
What the city centre lacks in shopping choice, I think it gains in charm though. It really is one of the most prettiest High streets I have shopped on, and I especially like the pedestrianised streets which are wide and rarely feel crowded or jostled.
~ Markets ~
As well as the high street stores, Carlisle also has a permanent indoor market. This I have to be honest is very disappointing and somewhere I rarely shop. I do like the fruit and veg stall in here, as it's all locally sourced and incredibly well priced and far superior to supermarkets.
Each Bank Holiday weekend Carlisle city centre plays host to an outdoor European Market. This is worth a visit, if only for the delicious Belgian waffles and the specialist cheese stall. The atmosphere is very up, with European musicians, dancing and children's entertainment taking place through the day.
~ Eating ~
The big stores all have restaurants in them, serving the same stuff they serve everywhere, if you just want a quick cuppa without the hassle of finding somewhere, House Of Fraser is probably the best, especially as it has quite a good children's area. Costa and Starbucks sit not 2 doors away from each other right next to the town hall.
I recommend The Loaf and Ladle, though! This little basement cafe can be found Down Bank street, and in a dark little alley. It serves the most delicious home-made soup and hot sandwiches as well as having a daily specials menu. It has a real rustic fell and is a favourite of mine and my mums. I also recommend Pancho's, a Mexican restaurant near the railway station if you want somewhere more lively and modern.
~ Access by Public Transport and Car Parking ~
Both the train station and bus station are situated within less than 5 minutes walk from the city centre, and while the shopping areas are pedestrianised, local bus services stop at the New B&M store at the top of English street, and outside the indoor market on Scotch street. Both of these places can be very congested both with people and traffic and I like to avoid school coming out times, which are between 3.00 and 4pm, as it's horrendous then.
There's a large Multi story car park right above Debenhams giving you direct access into The Lanes shopping Centre. This has parking for 600 cars, and we have rarely been able to find a space, apart from at Christmas. Alternative parking can be found at the Sands Centre at Hardwick circus, a 10 minute walk away from the city centre. We often prefer this option as it's cheaper, and while I don't drive, my mum hates the multi story.
~ Conclusion ~
Carlisle is hardly at the cutting edge in terms of shopping. The big high street names are well represented as well as some local independent craft stores (Fiona Habbick at the town hall being my favourite) I find it lacking though in budget shopping, and toy shopping and find myself heading to nearby Newcastle or Gateshead when I require serious retail therapy.
What I do like about Carlisle's shopping area though is it's charming 'town' feel. It's an incredibly clean city centre and very well maintained. Spring time is an especially nice time to be in the town as it's decked out in flowers. I also like that I never feel crowded or jostled and find it an altogether more leisurely and pleasant shopping experience. There seems to be little in the way of undesireables congregating in the town centre, or if they do they are dealt with swiftly. This is in stark contrast to other high streets I have visited and I feel very safe here.
Carlisle Castle, Cathedral, Tullie house museum and Guildhall museum are all located within 5 minutes of the city centre. I'd recommend Carlisle shopping for a more leisurely retail experience with perhaps a little culture thrown in too.
I live in Carlisle and I remember a few years ago when this big development began in the city centre. I found out that this was to be a Debenhams. I was quite pleased at the thought of it but had no idea how long it would take. During spring 1999 it began to take shape. A poster was hung saying 'Opens in October'. But not just October. October 2000. That was about a year and a half to go. Eventually it was finished and I remember the opening day. It was absolutely jammed. There were bands performing in The Lanes (shopping centre that Debenhams was built on to), and lots and lots of people. Me and my mate went in for a look but as it was so packed, plus the fact that I didn't know my way around, it was really easy to get lost. We found our way back to the door. We were going to the cinema later that day. I found out that there had been a bomb scare literally the minute I'd left, and the whole shop had to be evacuated. It turned out to be a hoax but it was still annoying thinking that somebody wanted to cause so much havoc. This was to be the first of few similar incidents. One was real, but not too serious, and that took place on May 30th. Debenhams was not the only shop to be built. There is also a Gap and a H&M. From there is a long tunnel leading into The Lanes. The shops in this tunnel are: Dixons, A perfume shop, a mobile accessories shop and a Baskin Robbins ice-cream shop (very popular in Canada and the States). If you turn left at the end of the tunnel (in the Lanes) you have: The library, public toilets, a coffee shop, a newsagents, a shoe/key shop, a hairdresser, a health food shop, a blind shop and a travel agent. Straight ahead you have: A mobile shop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Clarks shoes, a jewellers, a camera shop, James Thin books, JJB sports, Virgin, Superdrug, BHS, Bow bangles (a.k.a. Claire's Accessories), Accessorize and Monsoon, Dolcis, Laura Ashley, another jewe
llers, Index and Littlewoods Extra, and a male clothes shop. If you turn right at the end of the tunnel: Internacionale, JD sports, Original Shoe company, BT shop, health food shop, opticians and Birketts. There are a couple of car parks in the shopping centre with lift access. The first one is behind the library and the second is in Debenhams.
The Lanes in Carlisle has now been extended. I must admit that I wasn't too enthusiastic about it when it was first planned but it is better than I thought it would be. The whole area is quite big and has a range of shops all under one roof. You can choose from Debenhams, Paco, GAP, S&H and a whole range of others. There's also a Dixons, a cut price perfume store (the genuine stuff, not copies), a health shop offering great prices on herbal remedies and even a specialist 'Cookie' shop. There still lots of units to let as the extension was only opened last month but it looks promising. It's pleasant to just stroll through and see whats happening. Get a coffee in Debenhams of BHS (on the old site). Internationale have a range of clothing and home accessories to choose from (this is my favourite shop.)C&A are disappearing from the old site soon but there is talk of another well known High Street name taking over. This is a good shopping area with its own car parking facilities right in the middle of the city.