Cartmel in Bloom adds to the village's growing attraction

It's one of north Lancashire's most picturesque villages and it just gets better, writes Mike Glover Photography by Kirsty Thompson and John Cocks

Cartmel has never been a village to hide its light under a bushel. Ever since the Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael was built on a slate outcrop in the middle of a post-glacial lake 800 years ago, visitors have been pouring into the village.

Holker Hall and its festivals, Cartmel Racecourse, Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding Company and its shop, Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume restaurant and others have kept high the profile of this destination North of the Sands.But however many iconic attractions it has, the village keeps coming up with more to keep it on the map. And as Cartmel gears up for Easter, 2012 promises to be one of its most successful years ever with several initiatives in the pipeline.

For the first time, Cartmel has been selected from more than 1,000 entries to take part in the 2012 Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Britain in Bloom UK Finals. The winner of Cumbria in Bloom 2011 is one of only 73 finalists in the country.

In typical Cartmel fashion, the whole village with its 400 or so permanent residents is getting behind the bid. The main sponsors are the Cartmel Village Society, whose chairman Tiffany Hunt is well known throughout Lancashire as retired north west director of the National Trust. She has lived in the shadow of Cartmel Priory for ten years.

‘Cartmel in Bloom did a fantastic job winning several awards in Cumbria in Bloom, but we realise the national competition would involve even more work, so we are drawing on more people to help.

‘This is what it is all about, really, not just a prize, nice as that would be, but drawing the community together, making links among people who might not otherwise meet each other,’ she said.

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The village is certainly putting all hands to the pumps. There’s a team of volunteers doing regular litter picks, the local scouts are involved, the allotment holders are donating plants and Cartmel community lifegarden group is planting up the grass verges.

Cartmel in Bloom stalwart Sandra Pascall is involved in planting a neglected area called Townend Meadow, with residents donating plants, with a view to attracting bees and butterflies.

The priory grounds are getting attention with the help of the new vicar, Reverend Nick Devenish. And Priory flower arranger supremo Joan Bentley is linking her annual programme of displays to the bid.

The Church of England primary school is leading the way, having won the young people’s award in the Cumbria in Bloom contest. With the help of a group of enthusiastic parents, the grounds and a school garden have been developed.

The children have a bug house to encourage insects, made of recycled materials, a greenhouse and a fenced off vegetable patch which the pupils tend themselves.

‘It helps develop their responsibility and independence, enhancing the wider curriculum,’ said head teacher Sarah Firth, who moved to Cartmel in 2006 after 18 years teaching in Lancashire.

Cartmel Traders’ Association is also involved. The secondary school, also known as Cartmel Priory, is creating a Cartmel in Bloom website with the help of local designer Sandy Kitching.

Sandy is also involved in another major initiative of the village society: a new Cartmel heritage trail leaflet, due out for Easter.

Although tens of thousands of visitors come to the village every year, there are many who don’t get behind the icons to see other fascinating features. The man behind the map, and the one doing the legwork, is retired chemist Dai Hunt (no 151relation to Tiffany). ‘Some people who come to Cartmel see the Priory, go to the sticky toffee pudding shop and that’s it. There’s a lot more to Cartmel than that,’ he said.

The half-mile trail takes in the race-course, the square, Cavendish Street, Priest Lane, Barn Garth, and the Causeway.

Along the way visitors will find Cartmel gaol, discover how L’Enclume got its name (clue: it is French for The Anvil), why there are so many hostelries in Cartmel (it’s to do with refreshments after Morecambe Bay crossings) and other fascinating facts.

‘We want to encourage people to look at Cartmel with new eyes,’ said Tiffany Hunt. And despite the village’s old world charm, there is always something new to see.

The primary school has just opened a �200,000 extension and redevelopment of the school hall, which doubles as a dining room with kitchens.

For the first time pupils will be able to have school lunches, and the hall will be used for indoor sport and offered to the community as a back-up to the village hall.

A new mini-shopping parade, Unsworth Yard, nears completion. It was built of traditional stone by the Unsworth brothers who used to run the local garage which they converted into Red Pepper, which sells everything a visitor might need.

The parade includes the Unsworths own micro-brewery, baker Liz Parkin’s The Bread Shed and a shop outlet for Martin Gott’s Cartmel Cheeses, made up the road at Holker Hall.

Martin is hoping that special cheese, beer and bread tasting evenings will start in April.

In the Square a new luxury gift shop, Perfect English, has been opened by Richard and Donna English who have run the Cavendish Arms for nine years.

One person who can’t fail to be impressed with all this activity is national chairman of Britain in Bloom, Roger Burnett, due to visit Cartmel in August.

Last year, the RHS released a report showing how the campaign is making a major difference to the social, environmental and economic health of the country.

But will there be too much going on? As if the annual horticultural show, art show and race meeting weren’t enough, August also sees the village host an array of marquees, tents, big tops and yurts, which are due to descend on Cartmel Racecourse for the UK’s first street arts festival.

Launched by Lakes Alive on Friday August 17 to Sunday 19, the Masquepony festival will be treating visitors to more than 60 shows including street theatre, comedy, circus and fireworks.

The 2012 RHS Britain in Bloom results will be announced in October at a special Awards Ceremony in St Peter Port, Guernsey. If Cartmel wins, the village will be sure to celebrate – with more than lighting a candle – and think what it can do next to keep this special place firmly on the map.

Other North West communities shortlisted for the Britain in Bloom awards, in various categories, are Windermere, Chipping, Lytham, Oldham, Seedley & Langworthy (Salford) and Wigan.

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