I’m back in The Lake District again. Because I couldn’t leave it without telling you about the Cumberland Pencil Museum. Don’t scoff – it’s really interesting. Yes, it is.
So, on a cold and rainy afternoon in Keswick, when we don’t really feel like hiking, we decide to try out this place. It’s exterior is pretty uninspiring, just on the edge of the town centre with the actual pencil factory as its backdrop. And when we first go in, it doesn’t seem that much better, really. But we pay our entrance fees, and the kids are offered a quiz to complete as well as a sketching contest to do on the way around, and we are off and running. We go through into the first room, which turns out to be the only room, and I wonder how long we will actually be able to stay out of the rain – it doesn’t seem like it will take more than half an hour to get around everything.
I am wrong.
The kids explore the first display and learn about graphite mining and the actual process of making a pencil, spurred on to learn more by the quiz they have been given. Legend has it that after a huge storm in the area, Borrowdale farmers discovered a black material under some uprooted trees which turned out to be graphite. And the rest is history. A cottage industry materialized, and eventually led to the UKs first pencil factory in 1832. Then we look at the way coloured pencils are made, which is actually pretty fascinating. In fact, the whole place is pretty fascinating.
And because we are not in a rush to get back out into the rain, we explore it in great detail. We see the jewel encrusted pencil made for the Queen’s recent jubilee. We watch a video of how Raymond Briggs created his famous Snowman animated stories with Lakeland coloured pencils. And perhaps the most interesting of all, the WWII exhibit which tells the tale of when the craftsmen at this pencil museum were commissioned by MI 9 to create a pencil the looked at functioned like a regular pencil, but that contained a tiny compass in the eraser, which could also be unscrewed to reveal a map of Germany!
The other great thing about this museum (besides the Guiness Book’s largest pencil in the world) was the fact that little tables full of different types of coloured pencils and watercolour pencils were scattered around, and you could just sit and draw or paint, something most of us would never take the time to do. And when we had finished looking around, there was the Techniques Room, filled with even more art supplies and video tutorials so we could have a crack at some of the more impressive techniques. The kids spent at least an hour in here while we enjoyed a nice cup of tea in the cafe, which also had art supplies on the tables!
And at the end, when all that was left was the gift shop, all those fabulous art supplies were available for sale!
And yes, I do see the connection there, but surely buying fabulous art supplies is ok, right? I mean, it is educational.
We did buy, and I am happy to say, those supplies made painters of us all. Inspired by the beautiful surroundings of The Lakes, we became artists. Really. We did.