Staveley - business is booming in this South Lakeland village

The River Gowan and Staveley Village Hall.

The River Gowan and Staveley Village Hall. - Credit: Archant

The south Lakeland village is in rude health with a host of thriving businesses, as Mike Glover reports

Main Street and the hills beyond.

Main Street and the hills beyond. - Credit: Archant

It is around a quarter of a century since Staveley was written off as a likely backwater when the A591 bypass was built. It was feared that the village four miles north of Kendal would be missed by the 17 million visitors who stream into the Lake District every year.

How wrong the pessimists have proved to be. Not only is the village thriving, but its main businesses keep expanding and winning awards for excellence. Better still, more than 400 jobs are now provided by the locally run enterprises. You could say the village is doing just champion.

Many, but not all of the success stories, are based in the Mill Yard, the traditional home of wood turning. Timber has been at the heart of Staveley’s economy for centuries. Its name means field of staffs.

But before we get to the Mill Yard, like most visitors turning off the A591 and crossing the Lakes railway line, we come to the first of the prize-winners, the Eagle and Child Inn which dominates the first bend in the main street as it crosses the River Kent.

Staveley born and bred Richard Coleman bought the pub 15 years ago and established it one of the first to combine local ales with hearty food.

Like the rest of the village it benefits from being ideally placed for exploring the rest of the Lake District and is only a few minutes away from the beautiful Kentmere valley.

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According to manager Tom Ridding, another Staveley native, its success is down to hard work, combined with friendly, welcoming service.

It has won awards from the Campaign for Real Ale, Automobile Association and The Guardian, among others.

Certainly the two open wood fires help the down-to-earth atmosphere. The decorations are meant to reflect all aspects of the local community, including its walking, fishing and cycling attractions.

All food is sourced locally, with three chefs led by Lorna James, specialising in Sunday roasts and lunch-specials during the week. The six rooms are fully occupied most weekends. A lot of trade comes from walkers and cyclists heading to the Lakes.

And a hint to Staveley’s formula is on the pub’s website: it openly promotes other attractions in the village. Tom says it is a totally informal arrangement, designed to keep the local economy vibrant.

Taking the pub’s advice, we carried on down the main street, past a busy Spar and Post Office, until reaching the tiny, but influential Hayton’s the butcher. We turned right and immediately right again into the Mill Yard. There, the first business and one of the three original tenants of the yard is Wheelbase, the UK’s largest cycle shop.

The 14,000 square foot store has 22 staff and 750 bikes in stock, ranging in price from £300 to £10,000 each. Then there are the accessories and clothing, and a repairs shop. Cycling ‘bling’ has become as important a part of pedal-power as having the right two-wheels.

Wheelbase started as a mail order firm but, in a move that runs contrary to perceived modern wisdom, its expansion during the recent boom years for cycling has been based on the retail experience.

‘People like to be sized and measured up properly for their bikes. It is all very touchy, feely,’ said Chris Herd, managing director, who runs the business with brothers Toby and James Dalton. ‘The face of cycling has changed over the last 25 years, starting with the invention of the mountain bike, and then the road bike on the back of Olympic heroes like Sir Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.

No visit to Staveley mill yard would be complete without calling into Wilf’s Café, another of the founders. The business started as an event caterer, before opening the café back in 1997. Owner Wilf Williamson is full of praise for the way different businesses support each other. Some of his best weekends are during festivals like Wheelbase’s Tour de Staveley.

And even occasionally he shares customers with the ever-expanding Hawkshead Brewery, next door.

Hawkshead only started in 2002 and moved from its eponymous home to Staveley Mill Yard in 2006. The brewery expanded for the second time, in 2010, and can now brew enough beer for almost 1.6 million pints a year.

It is current holder of the titles for best draught ale and best bottled beer in the North West, a remarkable double.

Cumbrian Five Hop won Gold in its category and was judged alongside nine other category winners to be declared Supreme Winner at the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) competition in January.

And in November ‘Windermere Pale’ beat 84 other bottled beers in the Society of Independent Brewers North West beer competition, to be declared overall champion bottled beer.

Hawkshead owner, Rochdale-born Alex Brodie, has been on a mission to make modern ales that appeal to younger and female drinkers as well as the traditional male. ‘It is all about taste. We don’t make bland beers, never have, never will,’ said the former BBC foreign correspondent and radio presenter. Hawkshead is the largest of the 30 small breweries that have sprung up in the region, and sees his market as the whole of Lancashire, although you can find his products as far away as London.

He and his 19 staff have a passion for beer but the 2012 opening of The Beer Hall has led them to be equally keen to add food to the mix. ‘We are on a mission to challenge the lamentable English tradition of drinking beer without food and eating without beer,’ said Alex. With the help of Chef’s Chef Steven Doherty as consultant they have developed a range of regional food to compliments their beers.

‘This is undoubtedly a cut above the average pub food,’ added Alex who is trying to convince us the right beer with the right food is the key to the future.

Next door is the award winning More? The Artisan Bakery. It was set up in 2006 by Patrick More, who had spent 20 years in country house kitchens. He says: ‘If you’re a foodie, a bread connoisseur, or if you just love to wake up to locally-produced bread, we’re baking for you.’

The bakery is the holder of national, regional and local speciality bread and taste awards, keeping up the Staveley champion tradition.

A few days before Lakeland Life visited Staveley, a crash closed the A591 for four hours and traffic had to be diverted through the village. Vehicles and business came to a complete standstill, giving a scary vision of what life would have been like without that once-dreaded bypass.

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