DAVE FLETT and family enjoy a break in the Cumbrian capital

PERHAPS surprisingly, when Robert the Bruce did not succeed in a 14th-century siege on Carlisle, he didn't return and try again.

The then King of Scotland, famed for his persistence, was met with fierce resistance by those from the borders who, thankfully, extend a much more hospitable welcome to visitors 700 years on.

Unlike Bruce, my family will certainly be back after enjoying a two-night stay in Cumbria’s capital city.

Situated little more than an hour away from both the Lake District and Scotland, a short break in Carlisle could easily be tagged on to a holiday at either of those enduringly popular destinations.

Accordingly, we decided it would be the perfect place to break up our journey ahead of four days in Fife.

Alternatively, if you want to leave the car behind, the Transpennine line will take you from York to Newcastle before boarding a Northern Rail train to Carlisle, while the scenic Leeds-Settle-Carlisle route is another option.

Largely due to its geographical position, Carlisle is of great historical significance, dating back to its status as a prominent stronghold for the Roman Empire in the early second century.

The excellent Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery lovingly, thoroughly and interestingly details every period and aspect of the region’s past through to the modern day, with the incredible whale skeleton of “Driggsby,” found in nearby Ravenglass five years ago, as awe-inspiring as anything you might see in London’s National History Museum.

Another skeleton - found down a well in the 1980s - tells the story of a murder committed 1,000 years earlier, with a tell-tale hole in the skull still visible.

Among many more fascinating exhibits on display are some of the personal belongings found in six individual Viking graves, which were discovered when a metal detectorist found a brooch in 2004 at Cunwhitton, initially believing he had unearthed a Victorian artefact.

The story of the Reivers families, who protected the border and fought both English and Scottish soldiers, is also intriguing with the common surnames of their clans listed for visitors to check any possible ancestral links.

A “Life In Carlisle” section focuses on more recent times, complete with some great newsreel footage.

Britain’s first black policeman PC John Kent, appointed a constable in 1837 by Carlisle’s city force, is commemorated in the same room.

Revered by children, who called him “Black Kent”, his career, nevertheless, ended in dismissal due to him being intoxicated on duty.

My ten-year-old daughter, meanwhile, enjoyed the information sheet she was invited to fill in as we walked around the museum.

Proving that size isn’t everything, England’s second-smallest cathedral is another must-see for anybody visiting Carlisle.

Just a short walk from the museum, the 12th-century place of worship boasts both Norman and Gothic architecture.

The ceiling of the choir, painted in a striking blue with golden stars pattern, is stunning and the giant 4,000-pipe organ is equally as breathtaking.

Walking into the town centre, all the usual suspects, in terms of popular High Street names are prevalent, but we preferred Bank Street and its row of independent traders with their old-fashioned shop fronts.

John Watt & Son have been roasting coffee in Carlisle for 150 years and one visit is sufficient to gauge why they have resisted the rise of Costa and Starbucks in recent times.

With the mature and friendly waiting staff providing a personal touch that goes far beyond scribbling your name on a cup, the coffee house has a really welcoming atmosphere.

All flavours of tea and nationalities of coffee are available, along with homemade hot and cold food, with the scones sizeable and deliciously fresh.

Shop artefacts, dating back to Victorian times, are dotted around everywhere too, adding to the charm of the venue.

Next door, Will Nixon & Sons Pet Shop offers another opportunity to step back in time, offering a huge array of natural pet treats - the like of which you won’t have seen on the shelves of your local giant chain store.

For our hotel, however, we really welcomed the modern luxury that a stay in The Halston provided.

Housed in an impressive Edwardian building which, until 2008, had been home to Carlisle’s main post office, the Warwick Road hotel is a stylish venue.

Our visit coincided with a Saturday night when the Penny Blue bar and restaurant transforms into a vibrant and happy setting in which to celebrate the weekend.

A wide range of cocktails are available, adding to the fun ambience, which the friendly and trendy young staff help to promote further and the food is excellent too with very generous portions.

The sweet-and-sour belly pork starter was a real highlight for me and a side order of onion rings to go with a juicy steak also proved very tasty, although the serving size was belly-busting.

With a full stomach, retiring to our two-bedroomed penthouse suite, meanwhile, offered a perfect relaxing end to the evening.

The rooms were bright and contemporary with sky-lights, tasteful blinds and big stylish mirrors, as well as other cool accessories such as a golden globe, cactus and Dyson fan.

With a fully-equipped kitchen adding to the homely aura, we actually felt like we’d moved into an upmarket flat, rather than reserved a suite in a fully-functioning hotel.

Having made ourselves at home, it was somewhat of a wrench to leave but, with our next destination Scotland, we grabbed the opportunity to visit Birdoswald Roman Fort en route.

Lying just half-an-hour north in a car from Carlisle, Birdoswald boasts some of the best-preserved stretches of Hadrian’s Wall to walk alongside, with beautiful views across what would have once been known as Caledonia.

The fort, itself, incredibly retains foundations and features from its construction almost 2,000 years ago and can be brought back to life as you stroll around the signposted areas of a site that once housed a thousand Roman soldiers.

Children are catered for, meanwhile, with an entertaining Horrible History trail, as well as a series of staff reenactments and interactive activities.

There is also an interesting exhibition on the wall’s history, which is family friendly and not at all heavy going.




Birdoswald: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/birdoswald-roman-fort-hadrians-wall/