I went for a little break down to Carlisle with family last weekend – there were 4 adults and 4 kids all under 10. In my opinion Carlisle has got to be one of the top places to go with that age range, especially if you catch some good weather which we did. If you don’t know much about the area then Carlisle is a city with a large castle, surrounded by lots of Roman history, beautiful countryside and not far from The Lake District. Hadrian’s Wall runs through it and goes right along to Newcastle and there’s various Roman forts, bits of ruins and museums along the
My little girl is a bit too young to appreciate all the educational stuff but I’ve bookmarked a lot of what we did for some future homeschooling visits later down the line. It real is a perfect setting to see history in action. The attractions in the area like the Castles and forts are all part of the English Heritage group – a bit like the National Trust really. If you know you’re going to be able to visit a lot of the English Heritage sites then it would definitely be worthwhile to get an annual membership; especially if you’re a larger family as adults gain discounted entry and kids under 19 go free (although children under 5 always go free).
If you need to stay in Carlisle we got a really good deal at the Premier Inn – I’m sure there’s more B&B’s and historic settings to stay at but it was great value and they’re very kid friendly with a good bar and restaurant. Also nearby there’s a Brewyer’s Fayre just down the motorway which has a great Wacky Warehouse attached that the kids can go mad in for no extra price. I was impressed by what you got for your money on the menu here too – if you’re looking to do a family break and keep to a budget there’s plenty to find
We went round Carlisle Castle first as soon as we arrived- it’s a large place with still operational army barracks. Some of it’s in ruins but most is intact with a good amount of information on display and also there are some real performances by people in costume during the holidays. They re-enacted scenes from history with the kids during the ‘Kings and Queens’ weekend and the kids got some cheap Roman swords and shields in the gift shop that kept them amused for the whole break – my wee monkey even got her own foam sword that I’m still getting whacked with on a regular basis, which she of course finds hilarious :)
The following day we headed off to find some of Hadrian’s Wall that we could walk along and to hunt out Birdoswald Roman Fort (again, part of the English heritage group). There’s a warrior school on during the holidays that costs an extra pound per child. The kids get dressed up and were taught battle techniques and fighting styles and they got to make masks and other crafty things. They really loved all of this. You can then walk round the fort and see loads of information about the Roman and viking history. If you’re looking for
something even more educational then there’s 2 further sites further along from Birdoswald called the Roman Vindolanda Fort & Museum and The Roman Army Museum. These are basically the definitive roman experience for kids and I will definitely be taking my monkey back when she’s bigger. There’s a high amount of Roman artefacts on display here, fantastic 3D re-enactment of battles, and the building of the wall, tons of activities for kids such as writing messages home in the traditional roman style and plotting the conquest of Britain. If you’re an adult or older child with a keen interest in history and archaeology you can even volunteer to help excavate the ruins from April – September. And this is all the stuff I’ve just read about as we didn’t even go!! I think if you go to Hadrian’s Wall in Carlisle and want to investigate the Roman history then this is the place to go to – we’d just run out of time and had already done
Birdoswald and we were on a bit of a budget. If it was one or the other I’d say skip Birdoswald and go straight to the Roman Vindolanda.
Anyway, on the way back to the city we stopped at Talkin Tarn for a picnic and ice cream and the bigger kids managed to fit in a row boat trip too. This tarn has a variety of watersports on offer including one of those transparent inflatable balls you go in and try to run around on the water – although in reality I saw lots of people take 2 steps and fall over and not manage to get back up again. This was quite fun to watch but possibly not as fun to do so more of a spectator sport :) I can’t remember the exact pricing (sorry) but it wasn’t extortionate. There was also an enclosed kids playground, an area set up for lots of bird feeding and you
can buy proper bird feed (not bread) cheaply and feed the ducks – this was of course the highlight of monkey’s day.
The following day we nipped to Ullswater to see The Lakes – we unfortunately didn’t have time to go on the wee steamer boat as it’s a 140 minute round trip but we did go to Pooley Bridge and have a very nice ice cream! Bare in mind that if you do want to go on the steamer then the queues were huge as it’s an extremely popular tourist destination. I’d investigate buying tickets in advance if I went again.
So that was our little 3 day trip to Carlisle – the place is enriched with local ancient history and you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views of classic British countryside whichever direction you go in out of Carlisle. Definitely somewhere go to if you have the chance and particularly great for children so they can really engage with history outside of the classroom in a much more inspiring way. If you go as adults though, there’s plenty of really good walks of varying difficulty and lots of country pubs and restaurants to rest and recuperate along the way!