Monday, 6 February 2017

Cartmel: the rebellious parish

One of the great joys of being an adopted Northerner - beside chips and gravy, not needing a mortgage to buy a beer etc. - is the proximity of the wonderful Lake District. A few weeks ago I drove up to Cartmel and Grange-over-Sands for the weekend and had the opportunity to explore the rebellious village. In 2001 Cartmel was deep in the foot-and-mouth crisis - now it is a foodie paradise - rated the 44th best place in the world ahead of the Himalayas!

Getting to Cartmel today is no real trial; you can board a bus, cross the Kent Channel on a train, drive up the M60 and down the A590 - it is two sides of a triangle but you don't feel as if you are taking your life in your hands! It has not always been like this. Before the arrival of the railways getting to Cartmel was very difficult - by land, you took your life in your hands on the trackways through the hills, and by water you faced the treacherous sands.

The Kings Arms: and chariots

Cartmel Priory

The story goes that Cartmel Priory was built on a site between 2 rivers - one flowing north, and one flowing south - at the request of William Marshall in the late twelfth century. Since that time the priory has been swapped between Dioceses, belonging at times to Lancashire, and now to Carlisle. You get the impression that perhaps no-one wanted responsibility for them, that they were troublesome, or certainly a little bit naughty. This strength of will was illustrated during the dissolution of the monasteries when the Cartmel parishioners prevented dissolution by Henry VIII's men claiming the building was the parish church - although this cost them the lives of 4 monks and 10 villagers - they won the case and were left alone.

There is little written evidence for a building that is quite so old - much of the written record was destroyed in the dissolution and is shared between 3 or 4 county libraries. This was a bit frustrating. But they've got some fifteenth century choir stalls and misericords which were pretty to look at.

The priory is well worth a look if you're in the area  - you'll know it by its distinctive twisted spire.

Twisted Spire

Priory Nave

The Gatehouse Bookshop

Cartmel is a 'chocolate-box' village it has country pubs and coffee shops, little cottages - it is picturesque. One of the first things I noticed on driving through the village was the Gatehouse built in 1330 as part of a wall to defend the village and priory from Scottish raiders. Built into this nice piece of architecture is a real wonder - if you know me at all, you will know what I saw that could invoke such awe...a bookshop! They've been selling books there since 1933 and have a stock of over 10,000 books. Did I buy a book?! Is the Pope Catholic?! It is an anthology of poetry printed in 1912 featuring illustrations by William Hyde and it has swallows on the front. That was enough to sell it to me for the princely sum of £8, but it does also contain poems by Shelley, Yeats and Shakespeare and a dedication 'To B' - as if it were meant for me. 'The Open Road' takes its rightful place in my library.

Illustrations by William Hyde
The Open Road

Sticky Toffee Pudding

It might surprise you to learn that this quintessential British pudding is not as old as the hills, it is a product of the 1970's, but it was born in Cumbria and I do believe in eating regional specialties when the occasion arises. Cartmel Sticky Toffee Puddings are sold nationwide in most supermarkets - the Rolls Royce of such puddings - but a trip to the village takes you right to the home of this delicious dessert in the village shop. Needless to say I bought some and devoured it over two evenings.