Why is Kirkby Lonsdale becoming such a desirable place to live?

Main Street, Kirkby Lonsdale

Main Street, Kirkby Lonsdale - Credit: Archant

More and more people are making their home in Kirkby Lonsdale. Sue Riley met one couple who fell in love with the town

Neil and Gill Hardy the new owners of Abbots Brow House at Swine Market and their very own Ruskin's

Neil and Gill Hardy the new owners of Abbots Brow House at Swine Market and their very own Ruskin's View - Credit: Archant

MUCH as naturalised Americans have to answer questions about their newly adopted country to achieve citizenship, anyone moving to Kirkby Lonsdale should be asked to repeat Ruskin’s famous quote verbatim before being allowed to make it their home.

Gill and Neil Hardy are word perfect – but then, their new home overlooks that wonderful panorama which celebrated Victorian critic John Ruskin described as ‘one of the loveliest views in England’.

When their house, Abbots Brow, went up for sale a few years ago, the estate agents estimated the view alone was worth £500,000. Neil and Gill finally purchased it in March 2015 – they’d seen it a couple of years before – with its acre of garden running down to the River Lune complete with fishing rights.

‘The house is lovely but it was the combination of the house and the location that sold it to us. You look at that view and yet you are in the middle of town,’ says Gill. Now the couple are overseeing a year-long remodelling of the property before they move from Lancaster into their new home just before Christmas. As part of the changes, they are creating a single storey extension to make the most of that stunning view (once painted by JMW Turner) and have also restored a nearby property, The Old Weigh House in Swine Market, which they are selling.

Abbots Brow House at Swine Market

Abbots Brow House at Swine Market - Credit: Archant

‘We bought Abbots Brow and lived with it for a few months,’ says Neil, a biomedical scientist at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary. During that time they started restoring and cutting back the garden, including an ancient orchard. ‘The garden has been so well designed, planned and stocked by previous owners, we have very little to do aside from maintaining it,’ says Gill.

Abbots Brow dates to at least 1807 and backs onto St Mary’s churchyard. It had planning permission to convert it into five apartments, but Neil and Gill are restoring it as their family home. ‘With this house it’s that combination of being in the town but with a lovely open and uninterrupted view,’ says Gill, who runs her own medical education business.

The town she refers to is on the South Lakeland-Lancashire border and is a sought after place to live; regularly named as one of the best places to live in the country. The number of residents is slowly growing, at the last census it was 1,843 and there are always small planning applications in the pipeline. Its range of quirky cottages, historic alleys, choice of cafes, restaurants and independent shops – although the Fat Face clothes chain has now made an appearance on the main street – also make it a destination for visitors at the weekends who park by Devil’s Bridge and wander along the river into the town. One of the latest independents to open is Cool Crafting run by Sarah Peel, who teaches crafts across the country and is one of TV’s Kirsty Allsop’s demonstrators. The shop stocks British wools, materials and Sarah’s own design kits.

Festivals are organised throughout the year in this busy town, from music and food to seasonal celebrations. One of the biggest summer attractions is the Brass Band competition in the main square every June. Bands from across the north take part, marching down the main street, playing a programme in the main square before performing in a grand finale.

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Allan Greenwood, who conducts Kirkby Lonsdale Town Band, says membership has been an issue in recent years so they have hosted the competition but not competed, but he’s hopeful they will this month. He’s been playing in the band for many years – but then they do tend to keep their members for rather a long time. Not only was the band formed in 1821 making it one of the oldest in the country but their euphonium player is Jack Sedgwick who has been a member for the past 73 years. It was actually Jack, who has lived in Kirkby all his life and is now in his 80s, who first encouraged Allan to join. ‘He is a very good player and Jack’s son is in the band too. Jack joined the year I was born!’ said Allan. ‘At the moment we are looking for members, particularly cornet players. We are a very enthusiastic band but it has had a long and chequered history.’ Some previous members have gone on to great success – she is now principal trombonist at the Halle. ‘It’s wonderful to see that happen, and her dad Keith still plays in the band. We do not take credit for that though, she went to Chethams after us,’ he said. Not everyone has such a solid musical grounding, many members joined with no training purely because their children wanted to. ‘We are a proper community band in that way,’ he said.

Even though thousands of visitors are expected on June 19th to watch the competition, if the town never received another tourist it would continue to be a thriving place. Lunesdale Hall (formerly The Institute) is one of the locations for many of the dozens of non-sporting clubs and societies which make the town such a thriving hub. Every Thursday Joanne Tomlin attends the Knit and Natter session there.

‘Kirkby is just such a nice place to live,’ she says of the town she came to more than a decade ago. Her daughter Charlotte is a member of the brass band, having worked her way up from cornet, flugel and now euphonium. ‘The brass band here is a real family,’ she says.

The town still observes quaint retail customs – some shops still close on Wednesday afternoons. Thursdays is usually one of the busiest days of the week though, with the WI market held in Lunesdale Hall while the town market is in the square just down the hill. It’s a busy market town with local people supporting the many shops and events throughout the year supplemented by the thousands of visitors, many of whom dream of living there too. ‘We have always loved Kirkby, it’s got everything,’ says Gill Hardy, summing up her new hometown perfectly.

Pack them in

Award-winning sculptor Andrew Kay is helping wolves make a comeback to his native region.

Andrew, who sells his animal sculptures around the world, decided to stop using local wildlife as his inspiration and concentrate on his love of wolves for his new design. ‘I’ve had a long fascination with wolves and the pros and cons of the current rewilding debate so I decided to create this sculpture in my spare time. I put the initial design on Twitter and had the most amazing response,’ said the artist who works from a studio just outside Kirkby Lonsdale.

The last grey wolf in England was reputedly killed on Humphrey Head near Cartmel in the 14th Century; King Edward I ordered all wolves to be killed during his reign but it’s said the last wolf was killed on the limestone outcrop decades after his death in 1307. ‘It’s great that my sculpture has ignited interest in the story all over again - I even had The Times get in contact,”’ he said.

To see more of Andrew’s work go to www.andrewkaysculpture.com

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