Discover some of Cockermouth's best walking trails

Cockermouth and District Civic Trust Town Trail

Cockermouth owes its existence to the river system, being at the confluence of the Derwent and Cocker and at good crossing points. There were probably Celtic settlements here. ‘Kukra’ means crooked and ‘mot’ means the meeting of 2 rivers. So this is a possible explanation of the name Cockermouth. There was a Roman camp at Derventio, modern Papcastle, on an important road network south-north from Ravenglass up towards Hadrian’s Wall. There have been various archaeological digs in Papcastle, which point towards Deventio maybe being as important as sites like Vindolanda and Houseteads on Hadrian’s Wall.

After the Romans left in 410, Cumberland had no written records until the Normans came. The Priory of St Bees holds one of the first mentions of Cockermouth in their register of 1150.

The castle building began mid 12th century and the town developed below it into a typical medieval town, with a broad main street and burgage plots along both sides stretching to a back lane – the bank of the Derwent on one side and the present South Street on the other.

Cockermouth has long been a market town, obtaining its market charter in 1221 with markets ever since. As well as the market for domestic needs, it has also had markets for farm stock such as cattle and sheep. In the 17th Century, there were horse and cattle fairs held along the banks of the Derwent.

From 1349, there were also hiring fairs twice per year. Labourers, shepherds and ploughmen had been freed from serfdom, but had to go to the nearest markettown to offer their labour for hire. These fairs became quite festive occasions with a large influx of people – in 1874, 9000 people arrived by train alone.  From very early times the town produced textiles, beginning in domestic settings until the industrial revolution brought machinery driven by water from the rivers. Then there were over 40 mills of differing sizes in the town. Woollen, linen and cotton textiles were produced.
There were tanneries, hat factories, and smaller sites produced chairs, churns, mangle rollers, nails farm machinery and later even cars. Most mill buildings have been demolished, but a few remain, converted to flats. Today, although the town centre retains its medieval structure, it is known as a Georgian town. This is because of the predominance of Georgian architecture within the Conservation Area.

Why not explore the town centre further by following the Civic Trust Town Trail? It is marked by numbered plaques, described in the Town Trail Guide that can be purchased from the Tourist Information Centre. The walk is circular, about 1 mile long and is best started from Old Kings Arms Lane. The Civic Trust also publish the following related booklets, all available from the TIC: ‘Cockermouth and Papcastle, Walks round the Town’; ‘Discover Cockermouth’s Hidden Places – take a 5 mile circular walk around the town’; ‘Cockermouth, Exploring Market Place’.

Photographs are:

1. Cockermouth Castle
2. Market Place. Artwork and mosaics were introduced in 2008, an index is included in the Town Trail Leaflet.
3. Cockton’s Yard, originally a medieval burgage plot, then developed with weaver’s houses down one side during the industrial revolution, restored in the 1980s.
4. Wharton’s (woollen) Mill, Waterloo Street. The street was restored in the 1970s
5. A town trail plaque

Dorothy Wordsworth 250th anniversary walking trail - National Trust

Dorothy Wordsworth may not be quite as famous as her brother William but she was an author and poet in her own right – and she too was born right here in Cockermouth. You can visit their childhood home, now in the care of the National Trust, on Main Street. The National Trust has commissioned this walk from Wordsworth House & Garden, to Rydal where she died, to mark the 250th anniversary of Dorothy’s birth.

wordsworth house cockermouth cumbria

Two Rivers by Vivienne Crow

START/FINISH: Memorial Gardens car park, Wakefield Road Cockermouth, on north side of River Derwent


MAP: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer map OL4,English Lakes, North-western area; or Harvey Maps’ 1:25,000 Superwalker XT25 Lake District North

DISTANCE: 4 miles/6.4km
TIME: approximately 2 hours
HEIGHT GAIN: 300ft/92m
TERRAIN: town paths and pavements; parkland and riverside paths

You could spend hours wandering around Cockermouth, ducking in and out of its hidden courtyards, exploring lanes lined with colourful Georgian buildings, but this walk focuses on the two rivers that helped stimulate much of the town’s growth from medieval times right through to the Industrial Revolution. These two rivers are the Cocker and the Derwent, both fed by becks that come raging down from the high Lakeland fells. 

As well as the rivers, the walk takes in Jennings Brewery, a view of the castle,a disused railway, Cockermouth Cemetery, Harris Park and, probably the town’s most famous landmark, Wordsworth House, where the poet William Wordsworth was born.

  1. On the side of the car park nearest the River Derwent, you’ll see a surfaced path to the left of a children’s play area. This is signposted to the town centre and tourist attractions. Follow it towards the river but then, just before the bridge, bear left to drop on to a riverside path. (You’ll return to cross the bridge later.) Now, walking with the water on your right, follow the path upstream until it ends near a small wooden bridge. This little detour allows youto have a look at Cockermouth Castle, the walls of which rise up steeply on the other side of the river. It’s not open to the public and this is probably the best view you’ll get of it anywhere in town.
  1. Having reached the end of the path, turn around and walk back towards the substantial footbridge you saw at the start of the walk. Keep left when the path splits and then turn left to cross the river. Follow the lane up to Main Street and turn right. Immediately after Wordsworth House, turn right along Low Sand Lane.


  1. At the end of the lane, you’ll pick up another riverside path, along which you turn right – back under the footbridge you just crossed. Soon after a floodgate, turn left along a lane. When the lane bends sharp right, go left to cross the bridge over the River Cocker. You’ll find yourself on Brewery Lane which, as its name suggests, passes between the buildings of Jennings Brewery. Beyond the brewery, continue uphill to a T-junction with Castlegate.
  1. Turn right and, at the bottom of the hill you’ll see Market Place heading left. On the opposite side of the road, between two shops, is a paved alley. Walk along this and then turn right. Follow the lane round to the left, into the Riverside car park. At the far end of the parking area, cross Quaker Bridge back over the River Cocker and turn left along a waterside lane. Go under the road bridge and then, just before the old railway bridge, climb the steps on the right.
  1. At the top, turn left to cross the bridge on a shared walkway/cycleway. Keep straight on, along the disused railway as it passes under a road bridge and over Tom Rudd Beck. Keep right where another surfaced path joins from the left. At the next junction, continue straight on – with the cemetery on your right.
  1. Immediately after the next bridge over Tom Rudd Beck, turn right on cycle route 71 – signposted Keswick and Sunderland. When thisbends sharp left, go through the small gate straight ahead to enter the cemetery. At the first junction of paths, cross diagonally left, continuing in the same direction as before. Ignore the next two turnings – first a path on the right and, immediately after this, one to the left. Keep right again at another junction, but then take the next path on the left.
  1. Pass through the archway between the Victorian chapels and out to Lorton Road. Turn right and then take the next road on the left – Vicarage Lane. When this bends left, turn right. At the bottom of this street, head right. In a few yards, you’ll see a yellow grit box to the left. Immediately after this, a path between the houses drops towards the River Cocker. Turn left along the riverside path. After leaving the trees, keep close to the river as you enter a park. There’s not much of a path here and it gets muddy after heavy rain. Before long though, you reach more solid ground again.
  1. Recross the river via the Double Mills footbridge and immediately turn right, going through a small gate to enter Harris Park. At a three-way split, take the path heading uphill on the left. When this splits, keep right – along a level terrace through the trees. In spring, banks crowded with daffodils lead up from the river. Keep straight ahead on joining a surfaced path coming up from the right.
  1. You’ll eventually reach a junction of routes close to metal gates on the edge of the park. Go through the gates, follow the lane to a T-junction and turn right. Go right again at the main road and then, having used the first set of traffic lights to cross the road, turn left down Gallowbarrow. Just before the roundabout at the bottom of the road, there’s a bust of Wordsworth hidden away on the left – unveiled on the 200th anniversary of his birth in 1970. Facing Wordsworth House, turn right at the roundabout. In just 35 yards, turn left down Bridge Street to recross the bridge over the River Derwent. Keep straight ahead on the north bank to return to the car park where the walk started.

Vivienne Crow is an award-winning outdoor writer who specialises in Cumbria and the Lake District.You’ll see her work in dozens of magazines – national and local – as well as on websites, leaflets and information panels. Among the guidebooks she has written are Cicerone’s ‘Lake District: High Level and Fell Walks’ and ‘Lake District: Low Level and Lake Walks’ as well as several titles in Northern Eye Books’ ‘Top 10 Walks’ series. All are available from The New Bookshop on Main Street (open Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm).

©Vivienne Crow