History of Keswick - Transport though the Decades

In 2022 Keswick Tourism Association celebrated its 100th anniversary. Keswick Tourism Association, formerly known as the Keswick Town Publicity Association and the Keswick on Derwentwater Tourism Association, was formed in 1922. In this blog we look back at tourism through the decades, how it compares with today and hope to offer a little glimpse into what's to come in the future.

Since Keswick Tourism Association was formed the number of visitors has increased  dramatically over the decades and the way visitors have travelled to Keswick and how they got around once here has changed a lot too.


Back in the 1920's there were far fewer visitors to Keswick compared with today. Those who travelled tended to arrive by train and be met there by horse drawn carriages to take them to their hotel. The first photo shows guests arriving by horse and carriage at the Skiddaw Hotel in the Market Square. The Skiddaw, minus the horses, is still recognisable though the more recent addition of the conservatory to the front of the hotel now gives visitors the opportunity to relax over a drink or a meal and look out directly onto the Market Square.


In the 1930’s transport links underwent a number of improvements. The Keswick Bus Station was developed and a small bus station remains in the same location to this day. Rail bridges between Penrith and Braithwaite were strengthened allowing larger mainline steam trains to serve Keswick. 

Many people took charabang tours of the area giving them the opportunity to explore the area more widely than ever before. Today visitors still enjoy mini bus tours around the Lake District with companies such as Mountain Goat Tours and English Lakes Tours whose expert guides offer on-board commentary to small groups enjoying full and half day tours.

In 1935 the Keswick upon Derwentwater Launch Company was formed with one boat  ‘The May Queen’. The 70 seat boat quickly became successful and the company expanded to a fleet of six boats running regular cruises around the lake. Today you can still enjoy the spectacular scenery of Derwentwater by launch. You can enjoy a 50-minute cruise around the lake or hop on and off at any of the  landing stages. Enjoy a walk and a picnic and then catch another launch at the same or different jetty. Equally, you can use the launch to access the fells on the western shore of Derwentwater. You can also take advantage of the Park and Sail from Keswick Rugby Club which allows you to park your car and purchase a discounted launch ticket across to Hawse End.

1940's and 50's

The 1940's  were dominated by the effects of the war and this decade saw little tourism particularly in the early years. Some schools, such as as Roedean,  temporarily re-located to hotels in Keswick to escape the threats of bombings. 

By the 1950's cars were starting to become more popular. In 1955 diesel units were introduced to the Keswick line in the hope of boosting falling passenger income.


The railway had been a huge influence on the development and expansion of Keswick since its completion in 1865.  By the 1960’s the railway was still important but many families now had a car and this became the preferred method to travel opening up the possibility of touring holidays. Increasing prosperity in this decade meant more and more families were taking holidays though Keswick had to start to compete with overseas destinations as holidays to such as Spain became popular.


This was the decade when Keswick finally lost its railway. The last train ran from Penrith to Keswick on 4th March 1972. In the 1970's transport links by road to Keswick though improved greatly. In 1970 the Lancaster to Penrith section of the M6 was completed followed by major improvements to the A66. The Keswick bypass was opened in 1977 as part of the A66 highway bypass. This had a major impact on Keswick as cars and lorries bound for West Cumbria no longer needed to come through making the town centre much quieter.

1980's and 90's

In the 1980's fell-walking became a major pastime with many people heading to Keswick and the Lake District seeking the benefits extolled by Alfred Wainwright's guide books. 

In the 1990's the Cumberland Bus Station was re-developed, reflecting the changing of the times, to make way for a new supermarket where Booths supermarket stands today.

2000's to Present

In 2000 the railway path was opened between Keswick and Threlkeld. The trail follows the route of the old Keswick to Penrith Railway, crossing the River Greta on some of the original Victorian railway bridges. In 2015 Storm Desmond caused extensive damage to the trail and its bridges. The Keswick to Threlkeld trail eventually fully re-opened on Saturday 5 December 2020, on the fifth anniversary of Storm Desmond. The trail has now been strengthened and made more resilient to future flooding and several bridges repaired or replaced. The Bobbin mill tunnel, which had been closed up for nearly 50 years, was re-opened with the trail now going right through it instead of along the board walk. There are now information panels and places to sit along the trail. The multi user trail is suitable for walkers, runners, wheelchairs, mobility scooters, wheelchairs and cyclists. 

In 2005 a major change took place when the Market Square was pedestrianised and subsequently linked with a traffic-free Lake Road. The Moot Hall no longer provided a back drop to a car park. You can see the change reflected in this image of the Market Square from the 1970's compared to a more recent one. Visitors to Keswick today can enjoy strolling round the shops and walk down to the lake via Lake Road and Hope Park.  Cafe society has also come to Keswick with several cafes on the Market Square now offering outdoor seating. 

Looking to the Future

Today another change looms with the increasing use of electric cars. Electric car charging points are available in Booths car park, Central car park and Skiddaw Street car park in Keswick. Accommodation providers are also starting to install their own charging points resulting in Keswick Tourism Association now planning to add another symbol for EV charging to members' entries on the Visit Keswick website.

Electric bikes are also popular giving groups of varying ages and abilities the option to cycle together. Popular off road cycling locations include the Keswick to Threlkeld trail and a choice of cycle tracks in Whinlatter forest where you can hire a bike at the Cyclewise Trail Centre.

We hope you've enjoyed this look back through the decades at changes in Keswick. To find out more about coming to Keswick, such as where to stay, visit, walk and eat and drink, look around our website.


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