Kirkby Lonsdale - pretty stone buildings and views that inspired renowned artists

There is history, pretty stone buildings and views that inspired artists Ruskin and Turner. But Kirkby Lonsdale is also a real shopping gem. Emma Mayoh reports

It would be easy for the people of Kirkby Lonsdale to rest on their laurels. This lovely place, nestled on the edge of Lancashire, the Lake District and Yorkshire, has attracted day trippers and home buyers for years. But the people in this thriving community are determined to constantly re-invent their home town to keep people coming back.

This includes work done by Kirkby Lonsdale Town Council which has helped save vital resources. When funding for the Tourist Information dried up, it was this group that decided to form the Kirkby Lonsdale and Lune Valley Community Interest Company to keep the service going. The new Visitor Information Shop was set up and it not only provides information for people visiting the area, but it also sells the work of local artists and craftspeople and is supported by a strong network of volunteers. Any profits made are reinvested into the town.

Allan Muirhead, chairman of the town council and director of the community interest company, said: ‘There was a lot of work done before the company was set up - this is a tourist town so we need to support facilities that promote it.

‘It also means the money made can be used to provide a real benefit to community projects. We have just finished our first full year of trading and are looking forward to seeing what things we can help with in the future.’

Since April last year the company has also been running the weekly market, held every Thursday. In the past inhospitable and unpredictable weather conditions meant there were often just two or three traders present. But now, it is becoming more popular and has between ten and 12 stall every week.

Judith Manifold, chairman, said: ‘Kirkby Lonsdale is a very special place with lots of many fine shops and independent businesses. People come here because there is such a unique offer. But the market was letting us down.

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‘We thought we could do a bit more, especially if we were managing it locally. It has made a big difference. We have plans for more themed markets and we are sending information to coach companies to attract more people. Kirkby Lonsdale is a fantastic place but it is important we promote it to help keep the economy thriving.’

Local businesses are also working hard to keep the town bustling. Kirkby Lonsdale’s shops have for some time been the major draw for visitors. It is a dangerous place for a person who covets the contents of their purse.Shops selling expensive lingerie and designer clothes share the same streets as chic interior stores, jewellers, delis and there is a particularly tempting traditional sweet shop. There is also a plethora of outstanding places to eat – The Sun Inn, Plato’s, the Snooty Fox and Royal Hotel all attract discerning diners.

Another is Avanti, a stylish caf� and restaurant. It was current owners Belinda and Andy Wilkinson – Yorkshire folk who first moved to the area 30 years ago when they took on the running of the Lunesdale Arms in nearby Tunstall - who decided to renovate a once derelict building and open Avanti 11 years ago.

They are one of many specialist food and drink outlets that have blossomed over the past decade. A real success story is Churchmouse Cheeses in Market Street, run by John and Jules Natlacen. The couple first moved to Kirkby Lonsdale from Manchester with a dream to open their own cheese shop. Ten years on and with a raft of awards on the mantlepiece, including Best Independent Cheese Shop of the Year, they now sell to the many locals and tourists in the town as well as shipping their cheese to several places around the country and internationally.

John, 43, said: ‘Kirkby Lonsdale has certainly grown in the last ten years and has become a real food destination and, hopefully, we have played a part in that. From the moment we came here we both just fell in love with it.

‘Now, we feel like we have been really welcomed into the community and we are proud to be a part of it. We could not have made a better  decision.’

There are many businesses that take a pride in the area. Just a few doors down from Churchmouse Cheeses is Dale’s Butchers, first set up in 1905. Following the retirement of the Dale family, current owner Mark Duckworth took on the business in 1999.

The 41-year-old loves experimenting with new flavours and his caramel, beef and marmite sausages have attracted quite a following. Mark, who has also won a haul of awards, started out 25 years ago in Langho, Blackburn. He is now the only surviving butcher of seven that used to be in Kirkby Lonsdale.

It was art that brought William and Bernadette Jones here. The couple,originally from Bolton, set up Finestra Gallery in 2003 with the idea of onlyexhibiting original paintings.

Artist William produces everything from family portraits to stunning locals scenes in oils. As well as providing a platform for his work, Finestra is also a place that showcases the talents of budding and established artists and craft makers from the local area as well as further afield.

Lawrie Baines, set up traditional gentleman’s outfitters Lawrence BarrieMenswear in 1973. Originally from Chorley, the 66-year-old has customerscoming from around the country to buy the designs he stocks. It is much the same for Lesley Irwin and Joanna Ireland who run luxury boutique The Hen House. They set up the business four years ago and alsohave a shop in Bowness.

For Julie Evans, who runs Parma Violet with husband Lewis, she was able to finally make her dream a reality when she set up the giftware, clothing and interiors shop in 2005. Since she was 17, she had longed to run a quirky shop in Kirkby Lonsdale. The 44-year-old and Lewis, who have also recently opened The Wolfhouse gallery in Silverdale, are yet another of the fantastic independent businesses that make the town so special.

She said: ‘I’d always wanted an interesting shop set in a prime position inthis beautiful Victorian market town. It had to be Kirkby or nothing. I had always loved it from the days of coming to the monthly Thompson’s antique fairs with my parents as a child. I have always felt it to be a very special place.

‘I hope the town continues to see customers choosing to shop, eat and stay in this unique and special place ensuring its economic survival.’

Worth the journeyWhere is it? Kirkby Lonsdale is found off the A65 and is just 13 miles from Kendal. Takejunction 36 of the M6 motorway and follow the signs. Programme LA6 2HG into your satnav and you should get there.

Where to park? There are two well signposted pay and display car parks in the town centre, one for short stay and one for long stay. You can also park by the Devil’s Bridge, a favourite stopping point for bikers.

Where to eat? Great choice. The famous Sun Inn, a past winner in the Lancashire LifeFood & Drink Awards, Plato’s is an up-market restaurant, and there are some excellent cafesand tearooms. The newly restored Royal Hotel is in the town centre while the award-winningHipping Hotel is just outside at Cowan Bridge. The Orange Tree has great pub grub.

Things to do? Kirkby Lonsdale is famous for its small independent shops and Thursday is agood day to visit for the market. Don’t miss the ancient St Mary’s and walk around thechurchyard, taking in Ruskin’s View before heading down to the Devil’s Bridge.

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