5 interesting things about Cartmel

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:26 08 October 2018

Alana Fowler with her Cartmel Alpacas

Alana Fowler with her Cartmel Alpacas

Sandy Kitching sandykitching.com

There is always something surprising in this old Lancashire village which attracts visitors from across the world

Bailey Alexander makes friends with an alpacaBailey Alexander makes friends with an alpaca

Relax with alpacas

It might be famous for racing but horses are not the only animals to grace the charming and entrepreneurial village of Cartmel, which nestles north of the Sands of Morecambe Bay.

For more than ten years Tracey Alexander’s stunning Black Horses have trotted the byways and bridal paths of the peninsula from their base at Greenbank Farm in Aynsome Lane.

Now they have spawned a prodigy. Alana Fowler from twin village Cark-in-Cartmel has long owned one of the Friesian horses stabled at Greenbank Farm.

Aged just 20, and still a student at Lancaster University, she has launched a business based on a different herbivore – alpacas.

‘I have always loved alpacas, all animals actually, and I had taken my Friesian horse around the byways of Cartmel, so I started talking to Tracey about renting land off her to run my own alpaca business,’ said Alana.

She acquired four of the South American pack animals and this autumn Alana, while commuting to Lancaster to study Politics and French, has launched Cartmel Alpacas.

Initially she is focusing on the alpaca experience, which lasts an hour and involves an introduction, cuddles, giving the alpacas treats and feeding them, and short walks. ‘They are such calming, quiet animals they can be good for people with learning difficulties, young children, or anyone who wants to relax,’ said Alana.

In spring she will launch Walking with Alpacas, which means exploring those byways and bridal ways again. And she sees further opportunities with weddings, events and business launches.

Stephen Cooper on top of the grandstand tower at Cartmel racecourseStephen Cooper on top of the grandstand tower at Cartmel racecourse

Old Trafford to Cartmel

It may be known as the prettiest little racecourse in Britain, but the new boss at Cartmel has no illusions that running it is a big job.

Stephen Cooper took up a new role as Managing Director of Holker Hall, ancestral home of the Cavendish family, its gardens, two caravan parks and the racecourse earlier this year.

The only advice he had from Lord Cavendish was: ‘I am not sure what creates the magic of Cartmel Races, but don’t ruin it.’

Mr Cooper, who moved from Chester with his family to live on the Holker Estate, in Cark-on-Cartmel said: ‘I have had lots of big jobs in my career, but when I stood on the tower at the first Cartmel meeting of the season and saw how this infrastructure comes together I saw just how incredible it is.

‘The interaction with the local community, the residents and the businesses shows it is a real lynch-pin. It is a real privilege to be given stewardship of it. I hope to grow the racecourse business without in anyway compromising its unique character and to enhance the reputation of Holker Hall as one of the finest historic houses in the country with an exceptional and evolving visitor experience.’

Prior to joining the Holker Group, Mr Cooper spent six years at Manchester United Football Club, initially heading their in-house catering operations and latterly as head of service delivery at Old Trafford.

He has a background in operations and events management that included several years at Jockey Club Catering and Aintree Racecourse. He needs all that experience co-ordinating traffic, catering, the amusement park and welcoming 90,000 punters on the nine Cartmel race days in the calendar. Each June, it also hosts a concert.

Simply Red were the first in 2016, Tom Jones starred in 2017 and Boyzone were the draw this year. The 2019 act is still being planned.

Gerald Fowler, David Unsworth and Ian Robinson with the world's hottest pizzaGerald Fowler, David Unsworth and Ian Robinson with the world's hottest pizza

Hot stuff in Unsworth’s Yard

It is easy to see where Alana Fowler got the entrepreneurial gene. Her dad Gerald runs the Chilli Pepper Company, based in Cark.

He set it up almost 20 years ago after his dad was given a chilli plant with a parrot called Murphy. These parrots consume the South American chillies without noticing the heat. They then excrete the seed with its ready-made compost.

Gerald gave it a go and a new business germinated. He has created award-winning sauces, chutneys and powders and made several world-records for the hottest chillies in the world.

At the Chilli Festival at Holker in September he was launching the hottest Pizza in the World, jointly with Cartmel Cheeses in Unsworth Yard. The yard was developed by Peter and David Unsworth on the site of the family garage back in 2010. Peter has a brewery on the site and David has just rebranded his corner as Cartmel Drinkshop and Wine Snug. Their first tenants were Martin Gott and his father-in-law Ian Robinson, who set up the cheese shop.

All are involved in some way in the hottest pizza project. The baker is Ian’s younger daughter Stephanie, who creates genuine Italian pizzas on Friday and Saturday to be consumed with beer from the brewery or wine from the snug.

Gerald Fowler’s addition of 20-minute burn sauce – banned by most chilli festivals – and naga viper chillis means Stephanie has to wear a mask and surgical gloves while preparing the chilli.

The team carried out a test run for Lancashire Life and passing Kuwaiti chef Danna Altourah pronounced it as the hottest thing she had ever tasted, while dabbing watering eyes. Respite is at hand for anyone brave enough to sample the pizza: an antidote created by David Unsworth, comprising Cringle Cream (a liquid Danish pastry) and Wonder Mint schnapps from the appropriately-named Death’s Door distillery on Washington Island, USA.

The milky, almost medicinal, flavour is supposed to clear the palate, although the guinea pigs at our taste test didn’t seem so sure.

Jaap Klijn, of Cartmel Joinery, and Charlotte Mitchell, of Ford Barn guest house, with the prototype Priory
AngelJaap Klijn, of Cartmel Joinery, and Charlotte Mitchell, of Ford Barn guest house, with the prototype Priory Angel

Wing your way to Cartmel

It is the willingness of businesses in Cartmel to support each other which explains why new ones keep popping up, refreshing the experience for the visitor.

And at the centre of it all, as it has been for more than 800 years, is Cartmel Priory. Even the medieval former monastery, founded by William Marshal, England’s greatest knight, doesn’t stand still.

This year it introduced a virtual reality experience for visitors and next month it is holding its first ever festival of angels. A host of more than 40 two-metre high angels, decorated by individuals and groups from Cartmel, will be gathered together in a feel-good festive flock.

The project is the brainchild of Ford Barn guest house owner Charlotte Mitchell, who persuaded a fellow member of the congregation, Jaap Klijn of Cartmel Joinery, to make the blank three-dimensional MDF angel-shapes.

They are being handed out for community groups to decorate from October 1. Among the participants are the village primary school, the secondary and Montessori schools, traders, organisations such as Cartmel in Bloom and Cartmel racecourse.

The racecourse already has a strong link with the Priory as the vicar, Reverend Nick Devenish, is the course pastor and annually blesses a race horse in a special ceremony in the church.

The angels will be on display in the Priory from November 30, coinciding with the switching on of Cartmel Traders’ Christmas Lights and late night opening evening, which runs until December 9.

Among the guests at the switch-on will be Alana Fowler’s alpacas. So it may be blessed with magic, but the real secrets that keep Cartmel thriving are its community spirit and commitment to co-operation.


A thimble full of diamonds

Food is a major attraction with Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume restaurant holding two Michelin stars and Rogan & Co, a more laid back neighbourhood eaterie but there are also good quality inns and teashops to explore.

A note for your diary - there’s a food market in the village on October 19.

Several of the area’s top food producers and retailers are based in Unsworth’s Yard, founded by Peter and David Unsworth. It houses a brewery of the same name.

Comedian and actor Steve Coogan and radio presenter Chris Evans have both heaped praise on the old Lancashire village of Cartmel with Evans describing it on air as a ‘thimble full of diamonds’.

Its reputation has spread across the Atlantic with the New York Times naming it as one of 52 places to visit around the world.

There is inevitably some debate over who invented sticky toffee pudding and where it first saw the light of custard. We are happy to quote chef Jean Christophe Novelli’s verdict on the pud from The Village Shop in Cartmel as ‘the best in the world.’


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