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How the arts are bringing even more visitors to Cartmel

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 September 2017

David Sims, Steve Chamberlain, Jo McGrath, Gareth Chamberlain and Daniel Cooper outside Cartmel Ground

David Sims, Steve Chamberlain, Jo McGrath, Gareth Chamberlain and Daniel Cooper outside Cartmel Ground

Sandy Kitching and others

A new breed of entrepreneur is heading for Cartmel, one of old Lancashire’s loveliest villages. Mike Glover reports.

The vintage shop is packed with quirky itemsThe vintage shop is packed with quirky items

IF ever there was proof of the maxim ‘success breeds success’, then Cartmel would be it.

First came the 800-year-old Priory of stunning beauty and heritage, then it added its own racecourse, often named the most picturesque in Britain, and in the 21st century they garnished the irresistible offering with L’Enclume, judged the best restaurant in the UK four years running by the Good Food Guide.

Now, a new breed of entrepreneur is moving into the village of fewer than 5,000 residents in Lancashire North of the Sands, and September promises to be an interesting month for some of them, as well as the future of the village itself.

There is always a price to pay for success. Due to its undoubted attractions, thousands of visitors crowd into the medieval and cobbled streets on some days. When Tom Jones staged a concert at the race-course this summer it took some cars four hours to get out of the village. So, after an eight-year campaign, this is the month Cumbria County Council paints double yellow lines in a bid to clear the way through.

The vintage shop is packed with quirky itemsThe vintage shop is packed with quirky items

The village is divided on the wisdom of this move, but it hasn’t prevented existing businesses and newcomers investing in charming Cartmel. Former Morecambe retailer Steve Chamberlain first set up a gift shop in Cavendish Street 13 years ago, and now has joined forces with a co-operative of artists and suppliers to open a new gallery.

Called Cartmel Ground – a Cumbrian word for belonging to – it is an extension of a successful pilot at Yew Tree Farm near Coniston, which in 2016 gathered together those with an interest in the Lake District’s iconic Herdwick sheep during the Beatrix Potter 150th celebrations.

It was a huge success, but needed a more permanent home. Animal artist Jo McGrath, who lives at Yew Tree Farm, thought Cartmel was just the place to display the team’s wares.

As well as Jo, there are landscape artists David Sims, Tracy Levine, Joy Grindrod and Daniel Cooper; Herdwick rug maker, Mary Bell; Herdwick handbag and accessory maker Mandy Marshall; and glass-makers Diane Artigiano and Jo Vincent.

Herdwick bags in the new Cartmel Ground galleryHerdwick bags in the new Cartmel Ground gallery

The gallery, run by Steve’s nephew Gareth, ‘celebrates the unique landscape, life and labours of Cumbria – and inspired by the native Herdwick Sheep’.

It only tentatively opened in June – it’s beside L’Enclume – but already has a steady stream of visitors. ‘Sales in the first month were buoyant and it is already doing well,’ said a delighted Steve.

He has plans to open a Herdwick information centre, rooms for workshops and a coffee shop between the gallery and the River Eea which runs behind it. But those developments are some time off.

A couple of doors away is a new showroom for The Rusland Movement, bespoke furniture makers. According to director Megan Henshall, they came to Cartmel because it has a discerning, more affluent, more arts-educated customer who is willing to pay for the hand-crafted pieces made by the eight cabinet makers at the workshops.

‘Our work makes a statement about now, but is made in a way that means it will still be around for decades to come. It is made in the slow method, with the humans involved putting soul and passion into their workmanship,’ she said.

The showroom also gives a showcase for Ulverston artist Tina Balmer who constantly has to replenish the paintings which fly off the walls.

Round the corner in Devonshire Buildings, another new co-operative enterprise is thriving. Cartmel Village Vintage is a joint venture by four friends who met at country fairs and similar antique events.

Donna Dickinson, a specialist in clothes and jewellery, Helen Livesey who sells pottery and glass, Caroline Whitton, a trader in books and early English country bits and bobs, and Denise Schofield, who likes anything quirky from tools to furniture, saw that the lease had come up on the former Sweeney Bob’s hairdressers.

‘It was not something we had been looking for, but we made the decision to go for it one weekend and two weeks later we were up and running,’ said Denise. It is open seven days a week, with the four taking turns behind the counter, each bringing in their own favourite items. The result is an eclectic mix in a veritable Aladdin’s cave of vintage trinkets. ‘Cartmel has really welcomed us, saying we are providing just what the village needed,’ added Denise.

Meanwhile, Cartmel prepares for its double yellow lines. They have the backing of Cartmel Township Initiative even if some traders are less than enthusiastic.

The County Council points out there will be extra parking slots and a residential parking scheme, and promises full consultation. ‘They will be primrose yellow (it’s a conservation area so they’ll be a slightly paler yellow colour than normal) and only 50mm thick – again narrow as it’s a conservation area,’ said a spokesman.

So everything is coming up primroses in Cartmel this month, in more ways than one.

Staycation stars

With all its attractions, there is a constant demand for accommodation in Cartmel - a problem eased with the opening of two very distinctive properties.

The first is the Cartmel Old Grammar Country House, run by Shelley Taylor, who owned vintage shops in Manchester and Preston, known as Retro Rehab, before her parents Professor Eunice Taylor and Doctor Jerry Taylor moved to Cartmel from Dubai where they worked in food safety management.

The Country House they bought is part Georgian, opening as a Grammar School for the Priory in 1790, and part Victorian, with the headmaster’s house built in 1860. It has been a hotel, a vocational training centre, a scout headquarters for adventure holidays and a nursing home. The Taylors moved in 18 months ago and have turned the labyrinth of disused corridors, toilets and bedrooms into a spacious and modern guest house.

‘Despite the huge work and disruption, we are pleased to provide somewhere for visitors to Cartmel to stay,’ said Prof Taylor. The plan is to specialise in weddings, hence a large patio, balustrades and extensive formal garden - still a work in progress but they are already full on race days and with L’Enclume customers at weekends.

Meanwhile, not far away, The Old Roller Shed was once in a sad state. It originally house Cartmel’s steam roller and owner Rachel Holcroft recalls her childhood days when it held the council wagon and snow plough.

‘I returned to Cartmel with my family in 2007 and we were lucky to find a house on The Causeway which was next door to The Shed, so when it came up for sealed bids in 2010 we jumped at the chance. We still can’t believe we got it!’

It had an asbestos roof and was covered in ivy. ‘We got planning permission and set to revitalising this ugly duckling,’ she said. They worked with a local builder, electrician, joiner and architectural fabricator to create a contemporary and stylish holiday. ‘It is going from strength to strength,’ added Rachel. ‘I’ve had amazing reviews.’

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