A crisp winter’s day lends itself perfectly to visiting farm shops before returning home to make a hearty soup with the spoils – and there are few better places to do that than in West Lancashire. The region’s farmland provides more than 90% of Lancashire’s fruit and vegetable production, so that’s just one reason to pay this green and pleasant area a visit but there are many more.

Although the region contains no cities, it does have bustling towns such as Burscough, Skelmersdale and Ormskirk, as well as many picturesque villages. There has been a market in Ormskirk since 1286 and it’s still thriving, with over 100 stalls, every Thursday and Saturday.It’s not quite against local law to leave without some of the town’s legendary gingerbread, but who would want to? You could perhaps eat it while following the quirky Gingerbread Trail.

Artists and craftspeople abound in places such as Cedar Farm near Mawdesley. This is where Naomi Clift, a trained clinical aromatherapist, owns and runs Apothecary Oils, a place of beautiful scents where she handmakes skin and bath products, as well as oils and candles for the home. in small batches and with as many natural ingredients as possible. Each new product can take up to 100 hours to perfect, ensuring their scent is long lasting.

Great British Life: Aromatherapist, Naomi Clift. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonAromatherapist, Naomi Clift. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

‘January is a time when many of us feel the blues or feel that our skin might be suffering post-Christmas stress so it is a perfect time to come along and find something made with love, effective and beautifully presented. Use beautiful things and give your home a gorgeous smell,’ says Naomi who has a loyal army of fans from across the county and whose signature scent is a blend of pepper, mandarin, lavender and patchouli, perfect for winter nights.

There are plenty of independent shops across West Lancashire, from Italian childrenswear and books to hand painted scarves and bespoke jewellery, as well as an array of foodie shops and eating destinations. Many of the remarkably pretty and historic villages have their own country pubs.In winter, it’s nice to settle by the fire with a newspaper and the dog, although the hardy might prefer to sit outside and watch the wildlife and boats on the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

If festivals are your thing, then check for events like the Ormskirk Vegan Fest in April and the Green Fayre, celebrating all things countryside – complete with the occasional Viking – that takes place in Upholland.

Great British Life: Chris Kellett, trainer at Blythe Stables. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonChris Kellett, trainer at Blythe Stables. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

On track for success

Award-winning private racehorse trainer, Chris Kellet has been based at Blythe Stables in Lathom for almost eight years, one of only two private racehorse trainers in the county.

‘I love it here,’ he says. ‘We have top class facilities and although we have to be out on the gallops training at 6.30,I couldn’t envisage another life.’

January is a busy time in the racing world as Flat Racehorses resume training after their autumn rest, re-joining the National Hunt racers who train all the year around.

‘Racehorse training isn’t just for the rich. Sometimes it is possible to join a syndicate, owning eight per cent of a horse and I can help people with that. You shouldn’t expect to get rich, but you can expect the social side to be great on race days.’

People come along to Blythe Stables from all over the country to have their horses trained by Chris and he is also happy to help people buy a horse at the sales. ‘People buy for all types of reasons, from loving the world of racing to taking up a new hobby. The former Liverpool footballer Stephen Darby had to retire from football when he contracted motor neurone disease, so decided to buy a racehorse.I helped him choose Darbucks and he’s done well, coming second eight times out of 20 runs, so we’re going in the right direction. It’s that waiting for the win that keeps everyone in the race world going: that and a love of these beautiful animals,’ says Chris

Great British Life: Ian Unsworth, founder of Pangea Sculptures. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonIan Unsworth, founder of Pangea Sculptures. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

A wild way to make a difference

When Ian Unsworth, founder of Pangea Sculptures, decided to sell his food business and visit an elderly uncle in Kenya, he didn’t realise that instead of bringing back the usual holiday snaps, he would be hiring a shipping container and filling it with lifesized elephants, gorillas, rhinos and giraffes.

‘I know it sounds a bit crazy but I was at a stage where I wanted to do some good and when I saw rural African craftspeople making these pieces, I saw the opportunity to do just that. Now, they make them for me, I finish them off here in Ormskirk and every penny made is sent straight back to the community,’ says Ian, who has raised over a million pounds, enabling communities to have sanitation, clean water and schools.

His Ormskirk showroom is filled with glorious models of animals – and, by popular demand, Transformers – attracting the attention of celebrities such as Paul McCartney, James Corden and Richard Branson and television programmes like Children in Need.Amazon asked for a 19-footlong bull to place outside their office: they got it – nothing fazes Ian and his team of African craftsmen.

So, what happens when someone orders a life-sized giraffe or a Ferrari horse? ‘If it’s to be delivered in the UK, we tie it onto a truck and drive very carefully. We are used to people taking photographs of us. We’ve appeared on lots of social media, as people take photographs – after all, a rhino making its way slowly down the motorway isn’t something you see every day.’

Great British Life: Artist, James Bartholomew in his gallery. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonArtist, James Bartholomew in his gallery. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

Sea the scenes

Artist James Barthlomew is celebrating 25 years of being based in the historic Mill House Gallery in Parbold.

James specialises in marine paintings, a passion which began shortly after graduation, when Chevron Oil commissioned him to paint a North Sea oil rig for their boardroom.

‘Although I had to cope with a pretty stormy sea,Iloved it and, more importantly,they loved it too and commissioned me to paint others for their calendar. I was hooked,’ says James who decided notto follow JMW Turner’s example by tying himself to a mast, preferring to prepare by making sketches and taking photographs.

Since then, his works have been widely exhibited and are in many private collections throughout Europe and America. In the process he has been the recipient of many prestigious prizes including The Peter Scott Award and the Charles Pears Award, as well as being admitted to the Royal Society of Marine Artist and receiving many commissions from organisations like the BBC and The Times.

‘From December to April, I’ll be exhibiting a series of work centred on the Pacific around Hawaii and everyone is welcome to come and browse. We’re very relaxed here, even Jess the gallery dog is laid back.’

Dogs are another subject that James likes to paint and notjust Jess! James is the chosen artistfor various national dog food packaging companies and one of his canine portraits is the prize for winner of The Great British Dog award.

Great British Life: Rufford Old Hall. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonRufford Old Hall. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

4 places to visit in West Lancashire

Owned by the National Trust, this Tudor house is rumoured to have sheltered a teenage William Shakespeare. No-one knows for sure, but what is certain is that there is a lot for the whole family to do here from exploring armour and architecture to enjoying idyllic walks in woodland and in the Victorian and Edwardian gardens. The Victorian tearoom provides refreshments.

Located in West Lancashire’s most northerly parish,the 2ft gauge railway was founded in the 1960s by a group of schoolboys. The steam trains restfrom December to Easter but it’s well worth preparing now by checking out their Sunday rides and special days such as the Easter Egg Hunt. The trains travel a short run from Becconsall station. through woodland to Delph station.

With 600 acres and 2000 species of wildlife, January is perfect to see many over-wintering birds. There is also an eco-garden, a café and exhibition space, otter enclosures and pond dipping areas. Floodlit Swan Evenings will be held on January Tuesdays and guided walks on Tuesdays and Thursdays until March 7.

An independent arts centre, with a busy programme of art exhibitions, comedy, community classes and live music gigs. The venue’s 2024 acts include comedians Jo Caulfield, Mark Watson, Sam Avery and Emmanuel Sonubi. The licensed café is a great place to taste Ormskirk’s famous gingerbread or, on a cold day, maybe some warming Hungarian soup.

Great British Life: Central shopping area of Ormskirk. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonCentral shopping area of Ormskirk. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

3 places to stay at in West Lancashire

Great British Life: Briars Hall, LathomBriars Hall, Lathom

An elegant building, constructed in 1745 for the Ashton family and surrounded by five acres of stunning gardens and woodland, once used by Ginger McCain to graze Red Rum. It offers 25 bedrooms, a recently refurbished restaurant and ornate antique bars.

Great British Life: Birches Brow, AughtonBirches Brow, Aughton

Described as, ‘a dose of quality’ by The Daily Telegraph, this beautifully restored farmhouse offers eigh)t luxurious rooms, each individually decorated. There is a newly restored breakfast room providing locally sourced foods including continental and full Lancashire breakfasts.

Great British Life: Secret Garden, Holland MossSecret Garden, Holland Moss

An award-winning luxurious glamping site, which has appeared on several television programmes including Celebs Go Dating. All units have hot tubs and include yurts, pods, and a tree house. Surrounded by four acres of woodland, it’s suitable for families or romantic breaks.