All the fun of the fairies at Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria

PUBLISHED: 05:29 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:26 20 February 2013

Sandra Ogden and Amanda Sedgwick at The Bath House

Sandra Ogden and Amanda Sedgwick at The Bath House

This beautiful old Cumbrian market town is busy all year not just at Christmas, reports Amanda Griffiths<br/>Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Elves, pixies and assorted helpers may be working over-time for Father Christmas this month, but in Kirkby Lonsdale theres a band of little people busy all year.

Beneath the busy streets of this lovely market town, they are hard at it in the tunnels of a chocolate mine. And before you ask, no, Im not away with the fairies.

This is the communitys latest attraction, accessed from the cellar of specialist chocolate shop, the aptly named Chocolat, on New Road. Visitors are invited to don a hard hat and make their way down the narrow steps where they can see, the chocolate keeper, guarding the door to the chocolate mine.

Its yet another reason to visit Kirkby Lonsdale which has many more established attractions such as Devils Bridge and Ruskins View across the River Lune plus some top quality independent shops.

Remarkable, then, that the town is currently managing without a Tourist Information Office. It shrank from a fully-functioning TIC to a one day a week service and then finally disappeared in September.
Its a subject of some heated debate and Gina and Bruce Woods-Jack at The Art Shop are no exception.

I think its incredible that our tourist office has closed, says Bruce. Were not unique in that though. I believe two local businessmen are trying to convince the council to get the right to go back into the building and run it as a commercial concern. Other places in the Lakes have been forced to do similar things, people in places like Grange, Coniston and Ambleside have all got together to be able to still offer a service for visitors. Hopefully well be able to do the same.

We actually ran the tourist office for eight years before the council opened the building that theyve now closed. When it shut in September we approached the council and suggested they give us their leaflets and information and we cleared some space in the shop for them so at least people have some point of reference in the meantime.

Gina and Bruce have been in the town for 38 years. Kirkby Lonsdale has changed a lot, especially in the last five years, says Gina. Of course, its more geared to tourists now than the locals. Theres a lot more lifestyle and gift shops but I think most places have had to go down that route because thats the way to keep going. People still like their days out. A prime reason for having a tourist information office.

Kirkby Lonsdale is busy all year round, but it really comes alive at Christmas when theres a host of activities for residents and visitors. Enid Harrison at Carr and Bleasdale House Furnishers on Main Street is on the towns Christmas Fair committee.

This years fair takes place on the weekend of December 5 and 6. Its been running for about 30 years and remains as popular as ever, she says.

It all started with a little pony and trap. Father Christmas used to ride into town with presents for the children on the back and make his way to his grotto at Willans. It just grew bigger and bigger.

Now we have a procession through the town with Father Christmas in a horse and carriage. The shopkeepers all decorate the front windows and all the lights on the Christmas trees magically light up. We have a pipe band and Kirkby Lonsdale Brass Band playing and the children meet Father Christmas at his grotto in the square.

Its a lovely event with a great atmosphere. Theres mulled wine and hot chestnuts so its really festive.
The event attracts people from all over the North West and many regard it as the time to start their Christmas shopping. Kirkby Lonsdale has always been busy but this is when it really begins to shine, says Enid proudly.

Theres a nice mix of shops which means were busy in winter and summer alike. Theres obviously a lot more tourists in summer but a lot of people do come for a wander round the shops somewhere different.

I think whats great is that when people come to places like Kirkby Lonsdale they dont see lots of boarded up shops and the marks of recession. Because of that the town has a better feel to it so people feel better about spending their money. In fact, we seem to have shops opening all the time. If you hadnt read about a recession I dont think youd know about it in Kirkby Lonsdale.

Fact File on Kirkby Lonsdale

Location: Kirkby Lonsdale is found off the A65 and is just 13 miles from Kendal. It can be easily from the M6 motorway by taking junction 36. LA6 2AU will take you there.

Parking: There are two well-signposted pay and display car parks in the town centre, one for short stay and one for long stay car parking.

Where to eat: Kirkby Lonsdale has plenty of eateries. There is of course the famous Sun Inn, as well as lots of cafs along with a couple of new restaurants including a new specialist fish restaurant.

Things to do: Kirkby Lonsdale is famous for its array of small independent shops. Thursday is market day and always worth a visit. Take a walk around the church yard and take in Ruskins View before heading down to the Devils Bridge.

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