Survival of the fittest in Cartmel, Cumbria
Evolution is the key to a thriving Cumbria village, as Mike Glover reports from Cartmel
Cartmel is one of those villages that may seem charmed as well as charming. It is a place where time appears to stand still - but keeps changing with the times. And that is due to some very enterprising people.
Of course it has a bit of a head start, in the shape of Cartmel Priory Church, or to give it its Sunday name, The Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael, Cartmel.
Founded as a priory for the regular canons of St Augustine, this church has been a focus for Christian worship for more than 800 years. It continues to serve as a centre for the local community and for the 60,000 pilgrims and tourists who visit it each year.
But the current vicar, Father Robert Bailey, also plays a leading part in keeping the village vibrant. He is chairman of the Cartmel Traders’ Association and says: ‘There has always been inter-dependence between the businesses that surround the church and the attraction of the Priory. That continues today.’
Father Robert is also chaplain to Cartmel racecourse, which keeps winning awards for its beauty, and attracts an extra 20,000 visitors on the six days of the year meetings are held.
And the racecourse is owned by Lord Cavendish, whose home up the road in Cark-in-Cartmel, Holker Hall, has also become one of the country’s most successful and busy stately homes and gardens, attracting tens of thousands to its annual festival.
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There are those who fear the crowds who come to the unique mixof funfair and thoroughbreds on race days swamp the village. But there is no getting away from the boost race days bring to the economy.
Take the Cavendish Arms, a 450-year-old coaching inn, with beamed ceilings, a wealth of antique furniture and a blazing log fire. The inn is typical of the way that Cartmel keeps refreshing its attractions.
Since Richard English and his accountant wife Donna moved in seven years ago they have transformed the fortunes of the business. The inn had for many years been successfully run by local legend Tom Murray. But in a move that is all too familiar to the licensing trade, it was boughtby a big brewery which put in a succession of managers and it went into apparent terminal decline.
The brewery still owns the building but sensibly leaves the business to Richard. If you ask him nicely he will show you his first day’s takings which he has framed and keeps to show just how far they have come. The cash displayed amounts to just �8.63. If you ask him even more nicely what his average daily takings are now, he might tell you to times that by 200.
He has changed the emphasis from drink to food and accommodation, creating a 25-seat restaurant and opening up 10 rooms for bed and breakfast. He is fully booked for race weekends throughout 2010, and could be for 2011 if he would take them.
‘If we hadn’t changed it from a pure drinking environment then the Cavendish Arms wouldn’t be here,’ he said. It is a measure of how the inn has recovered that Mr Murray’s former chefs Tim Smith and Peter Atkinson have returned to head up the kitchen staff.
About a year ago Richard joined forces with another new iconic Cartmel attraction, The Black Horses, whose owners Tracey and Rynardt Venter regularly used the Cavendish Arms as customers and now use the old coaching inn as their main pick up point for the village rides they run.Their two-seat antique continental phaeton, pulled by one of their beloved Freisian horses, will take passengers on a 40-minute ride from around the village and back to the Cavendish Arms.
And to prove that a horse and carriage really does go together with love and marriage, the most frequent customers are men hiring them to propose. ‘It is nice that there is still some romance left in the world,’ said Rynardt, who can claim a 100 per cent success rate.
Tracey’s family roots in Cartmel, and the link with matters equestrian, go way back. Her great grandfather, Tom Dixon, bred racehorses at Greenbank Farm, which the couple have now inherited as a base for their business and which occupies 120 acres a mile out of the village.
Another Cartmel icon linking with the Black Horses is the famous Sticky Toffee Pudding company. Although there have been sticky toffee puddings before, notably at Ullswater’s Sharrow Bay and Windermere’s Miller Howe hotels, it is the Cartmel variety which has conquered the world.
Howard and Jean Johns who had a restaurant in nearby Grange moved to Cartmel Village Shop 20 years ago and started making puddings to take away, in a kitchen on the premises.
In winter when the number of visitors declined, they started exporting them by piggy-backing on the distribution network of Woodalls of Waberthwaite, of Cumberland sausage fame.
Soon the likes of Booths, Selfridges, Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason stocked the puddings. Now 35 people are employed in a converted warehouse down the coast at Flookburgh, making more than one million puddings a year.
But in true Cartmel fashion the pudding people know they need to keep moving forward and it was re-branded with new packaging and a new web-site in September. Rest assured the recipe remains unchanged.The re-launch included a re-attachment of apron strings to the village shop, with links to other businesses.
Sticky Toffee Pudding leading light Charlotte White is also treasurer of Cartmel Traders’ Association, chaired by Father Robert. They too have a new web-site, www.cartmelvillage.com, designed by local resident Sandy Kitching, who also designed the web-site for Holker Estates, including Holker Hall and Cartmel Racecourse.
Up-to-date, mutually supportive, hard-working, enterprising Cartmel businesses promise to be exceeding the expectations of visitors for the foreseeable future. Surely those are attributes of which St Augustine would have approved.
Cartmel fact file
Location: Within easy reach of the M6, a couple of miles off the A590. Key LA11 6QD into your SatNav and you should be in the village centre
Parking: There is on-street parking near the Priory and a car park beside the racecourse but it can get very congested during the season and on race daysWhat to do: The racecourse is one of England’s loveliest. The prior is well worth a visit and Holker Hall is nearby.Where to eat: Lots of good pubs, tea rooms and restaurants plus Rogan and Co and its big brother, Michelin-starred L’Enclume.