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A taste of Milnthorpe

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 February 2014 | UPDATED: 15:14 31 August 2018

St. Thomas' Church.

St. Thomas' Church.

Archant

Sue Riley visits a village with hidden depths

Milnthorpe is the sort of place you might drive through unless you’re one of those in the know. Certainly, since No 17 opened in the village, which straddles the busy A6 into South Lakeland, it’s provided a big draw for people who enjoy modern, British food with a twist. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises though is that it hasn’t been included in any food guides or won any awards – yet. So it feels likes a shared secret among those foodies who have discovered it.

The restaurant/cafe was set up by friends Kate Cook and chef Graeme Shuttleworth just over two years ago when the building became vacant after Kate’s father, John Fishwick, relocated his funeral directors business nearby. ‘Because it was an unknown we never went for accolades. I wanted it to be a destination, to make people want to come to Milnthorpe and it’s amazing how far people do travel. It’s just word of mouth. I can’t ever have wished for it to have gone any better than it has,’ said Kate, who was born and brought up in the village.

Graeme and Kate met in the 1990s when they both worked at the Wheatsheaf in nearby Beetham but this is the first time they have run their own restaurant. ‘We’ve got busier and busier, we have not really had a lull. People come from Manchester and Carlisle. I think we have just got stronger, we have upped our style of food and bring new stuff in all the time,’ added Graeme.

This year they are expanding to create a lounge and function area which is due to be finished in May. ‘It’s got to be finished by the end of May as it’s my brother’s wedding!’ said Graeme, 34, who is catering the event. But that’s the only expansion they are planning at the moment. ‘The number of people who ask where No 18 is going to be and the destinations they want us to open in! But we have no plans although I’ll never say never. At the moment I just want to concentrate on No 17,’ said Kate.

Locals tend to think of Milnthorpe as a village although these days it has most of the amenities of a small town with its banks, solicitors, dance school, GPs and other health services. With just under 2,000 residents – although there are plans to build another 200 homes by 2020 – it even has its own library in what was once the school’s domestic science rooms. (At one time Catholics used to celebrate mass there before their church was built in 1970.) Ann Procter runs the library with Stephanie Nellist and they have just set up a tiny shop selling cards and puzzles and other gifts. ‘It seems to be going quite well,’ said Ann, talking about their initiatives to ensure the building is used by the whole community. That’s why it opens late twice a week. ‘We try to make it available to as many people as possible,’ she said.

The village has an interesting history and is one residents are keen to promote. It was once a Westmorland industrial port, later providing a railway link to the Furness ironfields and at one point it’s said to have had 20 public houses. The parish council has installed 24 heritage plaques in the area and this year is launching a history trail with an information board in the main square showing visitors how to find out more about the area’s industrial past.

Residents are also proud of the free parking around the village square. ‘It is one of our assets. Two hours is the time it takes to have a perm, that’s what used to be said!’ joked Alan Baverstock, chairman of the parish council.

The range of small independent shopkeepers is another attraction. Butcher Stuart Smith’s celebrates the 20th anniversary of his family-run business in Milnthorpe this June. He works alongside his three sons, Tom, Fred and Rod, and is himself the fourth generation of butchers. Family is important to him and his grandma’s black pudding recipe with its two secret ingredients recently won an award along with the shop’s sausages (the Cumberland and pork chipolata) and chicken and ham pie. ‘Over the last 10 years we have been doing more pies and more convenience foods,’ said Stuart, as well as a wide range of locally sourced meats.

One of the village’s newest ‘businesses’ is a shop to raise money for local charity, Bay Search & Rescue. It’s the Flookburgh charity’s second shop – the other is in Grange-over-Sands - to fund Bay Search’s work helping rescue people from snow drifts, flooding and a range of other emergencies.

This time last year they spent an entire night rescuing people who had got stuck in the snow on Lindale Hill. Sue Calland manages the shop and her husband, Paul is the charity’s deputy station officer. ‘When we moved into this shop in December the next door neighbour came in and he said “You pulled me out of the snow earlier this year!” We stopped counting at 150 cars that night at Lindale,’ recalled Paul. Now they are hoping to recruit a few more volunteers to man the shop on the A6.

Visitors and locals alike enjoy the beautiful countryside surrounding Milnthorpe and most people will know the Grade II-listed deer shelter perched on the hill above the River Bela which is clearly visible from the A6. The shelter forms part of the 190-acre deer park owned by Dallam Tower estate. But if you’re one of the thousands of motorists who drive past the village every week, tarry a while in 2014. If you want to see the community at its best visit on a Friday when the weekly market is held. Or even better, Good Friday. That’s the day the village prides itself on causing traffic gridlock with people attending the outdoor church service, Morris Men events, fun fair and farmers’ market. ‘It’s one of the key events of the year,’ said Mr Baverstock. And he should know; he’s lived in the village for more than 40 years and has no intention of moving.

Drawing the crowds

2014 marks the 25th anniversary of Milnthorpe Art Exhibition, one of the largest open art exhibitions in the North West. Run by Milnthorpe Men’s Forum, the exhibition raises money for the church and local charities. To date, the event has collected in excess of £120,000. The selection process is rigorous and usually only about 50 per cent of images submitted are displayed for sale. This year’s event is again being held in St Thomas’ Parish Church and runs from July 24-27th.

What can I do there?

1 Dallam Outdoors, a couple of miles north of the village, is a long established centre providing outdoor adventure courses for children and adults.

2 Not far from the village is the Lakeland Wildlife Oasis, a cross between a zoo and a museum

3 Heron Corn Mill in nearby Beetham is a rare example of a grade ll listed 18th century working watermill by the River Bela.

Places to eat?

There are several pubs and cafes. No. 17 has a growing reputation for the quality of its food and The Kingfisher at nearby Sandside gets good reviews

Where is Milnthorpe?

The village sits on the A6 about eight miles north of Carnforth.

Can I park?

Yes, and it’s free in the village square

Not a lot of people know that...

Milnthorpe continues to be a centre for the production of combs and hair brushes, an industry which started topwards the end of the Victorian era and this continues under the Duralon brand name.

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