Arnside - where even the sheep are close-knit

Arnside Prom, is by Lancashire Life artist Nick Oliver. See more of his work at

Arnside Prom, is by Lancashire Life artist Nick Oliver. See more of his work at or contact him at 01257 427465. - Credit: Archant

Just because the coastal gem of Arnside is a popular place to retire doesn’t mean it lacks vibrancy, as Sue Riley discovers

Denise Challenor who has worked at Arnside Library for the past 12 years with regular customer Jean

Denise Challenor who has worked at Arnside Library for the past 12 years with regular customer Jean Faulkner - Credit: Archant

The tin of Werther’s Originals in the library says a lot about the people who live in Arnside. ‘They are brought in for us quite regularly,’ says Denise Challenor who has worked there for the past 12 years. The library is one of the smallest in Cumbria and next year looks to get even smaller as plans to move it into the nearby Educational Institute near completion, although as Denise points out: ‘We will open more hours which is a good thing.’

The village’s community spirit appeals to the many people who retire there and also to the 80,000 visitors who pass through the area every year. Jane Caldwell, who owns the Posh Sardine, has seen that interest in ‘localness’ and ‘community’ pay off in her business. For the past few years she’s stocked woollen garments made from a flock of rare Whitefaced Woodland sheep farmed just a few metres away from her shop on the Promenade. It’s particularly apt as they are a rare breed and the closest relation to the now extinct Limestone sheep, the last one of which was sold from Saltcotes Hall in 1914. That’s why Sandra and Alan Gardner, who now live in the Grade II listed hall which dates to 1679, decided to ‘farm’ a few of them. ‘We are only hobby farmers,’ says Sandra, talking about her flock with their unusual pink noses and horns. ‘Supposedly the Whitefaced Woodland are the last horned hill breed in the country, they are a really lovely steady sheep. It was because it was the sheep from here, we thought if we are going to keep a few we might as well have the closest to the Limestone sheep,’ she says. Knitter and spinner Kate Schofield soon heard about the flock and now regularly travels from her Cheadle Hulme home to transform the fleeces into beautiful clothing and items for the home. ‘I am quite fond of these particular sheep, nice smooth fleeces,’ she says. Jane sells the items (Posh Sardine is an anagram of Arnside Shop) where she can’t wait to wear one of Kate’s creations, a woollen cap, this winter. ‘People genuinely love the idea that the fleeces have been collected locally and that they’re spun and it’s all hand crafted. Visitors and local people are buying the items, I have several regulars, particularly for the hats. I bought this cap and one of her throws, it’s dangerous having this shop! I can’t wait until it goes colder so I can wear it,’ she says. Now Kate is hoping to work with a few Arnside knitters in 2015, so virtually every stage of the crafting will be done in the village

For many though it’s the great outdoors which is the area’s main attraction. People visit to walk up Arnside Knott, do the cross bay walk, enjoy the increasingly popular summer art trail which includes artists in nearby Silverdale, stroll along the Promenade with its distinctive 50-pier railway viaduct or simply gaze at the stunning estuary where the River Kent enters Morecambe Bay. The area’s tidal bore is another lure, although it has to be said it does not really rival the one on the Severn. Others take a walk around the limestone pavements and enjoy the wildlife, particularly the rare butterflies and spectacular flowers in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) – it may be one of the smallest in the country but it has half of all the UK’s flowering plant species.

AONB Countryside Officer Tony Riden says the work couldn’t continue without their army of volunteers, about 100 in total. ‘We have a retired demographic in Arnside and are very well supported by volunteers, they are crucial to our work,’ he says. And there are always plenty of new projects for them to get involved in; Tony is currently working with a team of volunteers at Silverdale and District Woodbank to harvest wood from a number of local sites for residents to use as fuel.

Kate Schofield

Kate Schofield - Credit: Archant

The village shopkeepers also work together to attract tourists with their range of gift shops, two pubs and award-winning guesthouse, No 43. The three gift shops, The Little Shop run by Liz McGonagle, Charlotte Muir at Arnside House and Jane Caldwell are putting together a Christmas programme to encourage people into the village, just like they did last year. Gallery H, which stocks a range of local, national and international artists together with a range of furniture and smaller gifts, often attracts art lovers from further afield. The gallery opened in the converted bank 12 years ago and has a loyal clientele. Owner Pam Houghton says it’s a family-run business and this winter they’re also exhibiting pieces by her son Steven Houghton, a furniture designer, alongside dozens of other artists including illustrator Katie Edwards, now based at Newby Bridge. The gallery also loans pieces of art to commercial premises.

Arnside has all the amenities expected with a thriving village, but one thing it lacks is a restaurant. Tim Woodburn and his wife Erin, who run a bakers on the Promenade, are planning to change all that next year when they open a Pan Asian restaurant called Gado Gado. Originally from Java, Erin is planning a fact-finding visit to Japan and Vietnam this winter to increase her already extensive knowledge of Asian food. ‘Food is my strongest passion,’ she says. ‘It’s something new, the village has got two pubs and cafes but no restaurant,’ said Tim, who was brought up in Arnside.

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Despite its beauty, or perhaps because of it, Arnside can also be a very dangerous place which HM Coastguard Nigel Capstick, 52, knows only too well. ‘The biggest thing here is the quicksand. Without doubt it’s the worst in the country. When you get stuck in it solidifies and becomes a concrete-type substance. We cover Arnside, Grange and Silverdale and we call it the danger triangle. It’s definitely one of the most dangerous parts of the coast in the country,’ he says. In 2013 they were called out more than 60 times - twice to people trapped up to their waists in quicksand – with fewer incidents this year. Most of the emergencies occur just 10 to 15 metres out from the Promenade and to combat the shallow water and fast incoming tide the coastguards use a Jet Ski for many of their rescues. ‘It’s particularly good for these conditions,’ Nigel says. The coastguards are now looking to recruit at least three more people next year; in a village as close-knit as this it surely can’t be long before he’s inundated with offers.

Sandra Gardner

Sandra Gardner - Credit: Archant

Where is it?

Arnside is just over the border where Lancashire and Westmorland meet. The village, which looks out across the Kent Estuary, should be found if you key LA5 0HA into your satnav it should take you to the Prom, where you can park.

What is there to do?

There are several small independent retailers selling art and gifts. It’s a lovely area to walk with coastal paths and a climb up to Arnside Knott.

What about food and drink?

There are two very good pubs and a couple of excellent cafes on the Prom. If you want to stop over No 43 is an award-winning guest house.

What’s on this month?

A Christmas tree lights switch-on and community carols will be held at the end of the pier on the Promenade. Festivities start at 6pm on December 14. Arnside Choral Society will be performing a Christmas concert at St James Church on December 20th.

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