To visit Penrith, Cumbria, is to visit one of the loveliest market towns in the UK. The town centre is based around the market square and shops are housed in hardy Georgian buildings, similar to Lancaster.
Checking through a newsagent, I was taken aback by the amount of local media. Granted, there were a lot of Have I Got New For You-worthy publications like Farmers Guardian but so too were there multiple local newspapers, including the Cumberland and Westmoreland Herald which unusually, came in a broadsheet format.
Leafing through these publications, one article kept popping up, the mass opposition to a huge Sainsburys superstore. The proposed development is due to take place in the southern part of Penrith, but there is massive local opposition. Talking to a salesman in the excellent Gents Outfitters, Arrnisons, it became clear that Penrith is proud of its stoicism in the face of chain stores and the endeavours to keep independent shops viable. Admittedly, Penrith has a branch of Morrisons, but it is outside the town centre, and small compared to the 98,000 square feet store proposed by Sainsburys. He went so far as to say that the new development would “kill the town centre” and that the sense of community created by close knit shops would be lost. Unfortunately the council seem to be in favour of this new development, but there is an open meeting at the Town Hall on 12th November where locals can voice their opinions.
Enough of the doom and gloom, as Penrith has so much to keep you occupied. The aforementioned outfitters is magnificent. Don’t come here looking for the new deconstructed avant-garde jacket by Junya Watanabe, because you won’t find it. What you will find is traditional high quality men’s formalwear, excellent service, and a brilliant selection of shoes. All the “classics” boxes were ticked, with chelsea boots, brogues, desert boots and oxfords, on sale in a variety of styles and colours. Hats were available in a range of measurements which were all catered for. No wonder the men of the town dress so sharply when such an excellent shop is on their doorstep. The service is helpful, knowledgeable, and crucially, unintimidating, which will allay most men’s fears about clothes shopping.
Pop across the square from here and you find the excellent delicatessen, J&J Graham. I wish I’d managed to stay longer but they were shutting by the time I arrived. What I did garner is that it had a mouthwatering range of cheeses, meats and freshly ground coffee on sale, as well as a vast selection of preserves and wine. It was impressive to find a shop like this so busy just before closing time, especially with the supermarket on the outskirts of town. A revisit is surely in order to pick up some treats for Christmas.
My final pick of the town is the Lonsdale Cinema, a two screen cinema built in 1910 in the city centre, adjoining a bingo hall. While it showed the typical multiplex fare of mainstream films, it was lovely to see the original building had been kept whilst having a modern interior. Sunday afternoons are host to the “Alternative” showing, which this week was Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces.
Penrith is only 20 miles from Carlisle. A quick google shows that it takes next to no time to come south from Scotland down to Penrith, nor does it take long if you live in any other part of the north west. It deserves a visit, and any money that can be put in the pockets of local retailers rather than money hungry supermarkets is much appreciated. The people of Penrith deserve better.