The ancient city of Carlisle on the England/Scotland borders has much to commend it in terms of history and beautiful places to visit.
It has a 12th century castle, an outstanding medieval cathedral, the 15th century Guildhall museum amongst several others, an aviation museum and a number of wildlife sites.
An ancient market cross now lies in the pedestrianized centre and an indoor market still operates nearby. There is enough for any visitor to easily fill a day.
Possibly the best way to visit Carlisle is by taking a trip along one of the world’s finest railway journeys on the Settle to Carlisle line. In fact my wife and I began our journey in my home town of Leeds, passing through Keighley and Skipton before reaching Settle in the Yorkshire Dales.
From here the line passes through stunning countryside and over the famous 24 arch Ribblehead Viaduct, built between 1870 and 1874.
As well as passing close to the Yorkshire Three Peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, the lonely tracts of Dentdale, has England’s highest railway station at Dent, which is 1150ft above sea level.
This is a part of the world I really love. I have spent my life hiking in this area and never tire of seeing it at any time of year and in any weather. I have completed the 24 mile, 5,250ft of ascent, 12 hour, Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge walk 31 times so far and climbed the individual peaks many times more than that.
Later, the Howgills range of mountains can be seen to the right of the line and as Carlisle is approached, the mountains of the Lake District can be seen to the left.
This is a magnificent journey, made all the more spectacular on this occasion, by a covering of snow and in glorious sunshine.
Having had your fill of sightseeing, the next task will be to find somewhere good to eat.
Opening on New Year’s Eve 2012, the Shabby Scholar Tapas Bar and Restaurant in the centre of Carlisle will meet your every need.
It is family run, so avoiding the chain syndrome of ubiquitous food, decor and service.
It is situated in a fascinating old arcade and has an outdoor seating area with a patio heater on the paved floor. Old iron balustrades sit above it, making this such an attractive place to relax and spend time.
Inside, we were immediately greeted by the amiable and chatty staff and given a choice of tables. The décor is shabby-chic, with polished wooden flooring, a rough wood bar made from old crates and some tables which are in fact old trestle sewing machine bases.
New, old style filament light bulbs (if you know what I mean) gives subdued lighting which adds to the cosy atmosphere. There is an eclectic collection of knick knacks and bric a brac around the place.
There are two rooms, a larger ‘Schoolroom’ and down a couple of steps, a smaller ‘Study’.
They offer locally sourced ingredients for their Tapas, brunch and lunches and the menus themselves are mouth-wateringly good. The selection offers something different to the norm and it took some time to make a final choice.
I was torn between several options but in the end, I went for three large hunks of squeaky, chewy halloumi cheese, wrapped in pancetta and oven baked in garlic butter.
These gorgeous hunks were then set in a baguette, strewn with assorted small salad leaves and given a finish of smoked paprika.
This was one of the best sandwiches I have tasted and was complemented by a dish of piping hot, chunky, hand cut, skin-on chips which were just so good.
Across the table a halloumi tower burger looked and tasted exceptionally good, though I preferred the extra saltiness of the pancetta and the zing of the garlic butter.
All were served on wooden boards with metal dishes for the chips.
The sandwiches, wraps and hot dishes were all between £8 and £10 and at such high quality that this is indeed a bargain.
Tapas dishes are between £3.50 – £7.50, Lunches from soup at £4.50 to full meals up to £9.50 and desserts from a measly £1.50 to £5.
To top it off, the terrifically rich and smooth coffee was so much tastier than any high street offering.
The place becomes a cocktail bar in the evenings with a great selection of modern cocktails, three draught lagers on tap and a good selection of bottled drinks. It is no wonder that this place is so popular at any time of the day.
It is not only the food on offer that made this visit so special. The staff were a joy, nothing too much trouble and so very friendly, we felt right at home.
Note that there is a steep metal spiral staircase to reach the lavatories so take care.
For further details go to www.theshabbyscholar.co.uk.
If travelling by car, follow your sat-nav to CA3 8RY. It is only a few minutes walk from the railway station.