To my shame, this was my first visit to Carlisle, having dismissed it on many previous trips to the Lakes as a dull border town basking in the glory of the appeal of the National Park. However, I'm pleased to say that Carlisle is actually a very pleasant and interesting city and the local museum tells the narrative of its past admirably.
Initial impressions vary depending on how you approach the museum. We had to navigate the nearby dual carriageway via a dimly lit underpass, decorated with what appeared to be the stock from a local scrap metal dealers, but I think was supposed to be a piece of public art reflecting Carlisle's recent industrial heritage. If you arrive at the museum from the drection of the City centre, you enter via a pleasant courtyard to the adjoinng Jacobean mansion.
Staff at the Museum are really friendly and enthusiastic about the collections on offer and the admission price is reasonable considering the number of galleries to see and the fact that with Gift Aid you can come back again within 12 months.
Basement gallery is devoted to the city's Roman past and is told really well, in the context of the larger Roman empire. If visiting with children the gallery has a good interactive element to it, with various computer base stations dotted aroud where you can find out what your role would have been in Roman Britain, alongside the usual dress-up section to allow you to try on various items of period costume. At the end of your visit, staff can print out your Roman Citizen
profile as a memento of your visit.
Ground floor hosts a Contemporary art gallery that was sadly closed on the day of of our visit, whilst the changed exhibitions over. Upper floor is the largest of the galleries and covers a variety of subjects from an impressive recreation of Hadrian Wall, through to the Civil War siege of Carlisle and everything in between. Including the obligatory collection of taxidermy, which appears to be de rigueur for every provincial musem I have visited in Britain.
The Jacobean house also forms part of the visit and is acccessed via a courtyard to the rear of the property. Organised over three floors, this building hosts a variety of Pre-Raphaelite works of art alongside works of art from the Arts and Crafts movement. The paintings are a little over dramatic for my taste, but there's enough here to hold the attention.
The Museum is just the right size and combination of art and history, to provide a diverting couple of hours and really set the scene for further exploration of Carlisle and its Castle, or setting the scene for further travels into Hadrian's Wall country.