A graphic day out

If you like to play around with aquarelles, colouring pencils or a dreamily soft 6B while you’re having a cuppa, there is only one place in England you need to visit.

It’s a place that may be the subject of gentle ridicule when you mention it in a mixed company of non-artists, for it seems very tempting for people to poo-poo the Pencil Museum in Keswick, Cumbria.

“Ahahahaha!” they laugh with snorts of derision that I can’t spell.

“A museum of pencils! How boring is that? Here’s a pencil and oh wait, look, there’s another one. And what’s this over here – saints preserve us, it’s yet another pencil.”

I’ve heard it all. I tell them all the same thing.

“You might like it. It’s very graphic.”

Once you have managed to get someone inside the Pencil Museum, the chances are they will like it. It’s a celebration of the pencil industry in Keswick and the fact that graphite was first discovered in mountains of Borrowdale in the 16th century.

In keeping with a place that started making pencils in 1832 (they’ve moved the factory operation to Workington) the shop is the best pencil shop in the world.  It is a showcase for the range of world-famous Cumberland pencils. It is also home to the World’s Largest Pencil, weighing 948 pounds.

The Museum of the title might be a bit off-putting to some but I like it. Marketeers might re-brand it “Pencils R Us!” “Graphite Dynamite” or perhaps “The Secret World of Pencils.” Pencils do have a secret world…. They did in World War II and they probably still do now.

In the war, staff at the Cumberland Pencil Factory in Keswick had to sign the Official Secrets Act because they were involved in making particular pencils issued to air crew and sent to POW camps in Germany.

The reason? Inside the pencil, in place of a section of lead was a tiny, rolled up piece of silk, imprinted with a map of Germany showing escape routes. The pencil would also feature a hidden compass. A code letter on the exterior of the pencil indicated which region the map covered. Clever – and undetectable.

Recovering with a cuppa after exciting discoveries and rigorous pencil inspections, you can use the sexy, high-quality pencils and aquarelles in the pot on the cafe table to try a little doodle or two.

It was remarkable on my last visit, that everyone in the cafe became absorbed in drawing or painting with the pencils. There happened to be no children there at the time – although the museum puts on lots of activities for children – so it was just adults hunched over their work, some tips of tongues protruding slightly with concentration, completing their master works while the tea got cold.

The best drawings/paintings go up on the wall. But don’t take my word for it being very enjoyable – go there yourself and draw your own conclusions.


Image via Wikipedia



  1. I like the idea. A museum with a written history

  2. I’m jealous! We went to the Lake District and to Keswick, but no-one wanted to go to the pencil museum with me….

    1. Laughing here… I had exactly the same problem the first time but went anyway!

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