Can Kirkby Lonsdale become a gateway to the Yorkshire Dales?

PUBLISHED: 17:18 11 May 2017 | UPDATED: 17:18 11 May 2017

Market Square

Market Square

Sandy Kitching

The people of Kirkby Lonsdale are making the most of the opportunities coming their way, writes Mike Glover.

Jessica Kennon works behind the bar in The Royal BarnJessica Kennon works behind the bar in The Royal Barn

You came to see the views, now drink the beer. When one of those posh Sunday papers put Kirkby Lonsdale in its ‘best places in Britain to live’ supplement, it summarised why the old Lancashire market town is loved as ‘it’s the scenery, stupid’.

That must have been music to the ears of a brewery, which has just opened a beer hall to promote its range of 32 ales, each named after a feature of the town.

There are: Ruskins, named after the Victorian thinker’s favourite view; Radical, named after the steps that lead from the banks of the River Lune up to the view; Devil’s Bridge, the iconic crossing of the river; Jubilee, after the fields next to Devil’s Bridge; Monumental, after the Monument in the square; Tiffin Gold, after the lane to the church; and so on.

The beer hall, known as The Royal Barn, on New Road, is run by five local entrepreneurs: Richard Taylor and his son Stuart, Alan Stephenson, and David Law and his son James.

The Sun InnThe Sun Inn

The Taylor family have run the Orange Tree pub in the town for 21 years. They also own the Army Surplus Store in Main Street and nail parlour, Pretty Pinkies. In 2009, Stuart started brewing in Old Station Yard after training and getting equipment from Porter Brewing Company, in Bury.

Their beers are now available through wholesalers throughout the country, and they deliver directly to pubs and other outlets within a one-and-a-half hour drive time, many in Lancashire.

‘The brewery was flat out and we couldn’t cope with the demand,’ said Richard. ‘We wanted to grow the brand and decided to create an extension to the brewery which people could come in and see, experience the smells and hear the noises, and be totally interactive.’

So now Stuart operates most days in the hall where a second brewing kit operates. Visitors can also marvel at its unique blend of functional but wacky furnishings and decorations: like urinals made of beer kegs.

The old swine marketThe old swine market

Displayed proudly on one wall is an old town sign for Kirkby Lonsdale, taken down to confuse invading Germans during the war and stored in a Blackpool warehouse by the Kirkby Lonsdale Motoring Club, until, that is, the Taylor family brought it back.

Coffee and pies have now joined the fare. Tours and tastings will soon follow. Keeping it in the family is Stuart’s step-sister Jessica Kennon who works behind the bar.

Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery, which claims to have put the ‘ale’ in Kirkby Lonsdale is also expanding into selling 60 varieties of beers bottled by Morrow Brothers Packaging, at Walton Summit, Preston.

The brewery’s development typifies the get-up-and-go nature of this town of 3,000 residents, who might in other circumstances be feeling a crisis of identity just now.

Tourism and town manager Sarah Ross in the HSBC bankTourism and town manager Sarah Ross in the HSBC bank

Kirkby Lonsdale, originally in Lancashire, is in the administrative district of South Lakeland and the county of Cumbria, its postal address is Carnforth, Lancashire, and now it is being transformed into the gateway for the Yorkshire Dales.

Being near the conversion of the three counties has always put the charming and affluent town at the crossroads.

Tourism and town manager Sarah Ross sees nothing but positive outcomes from the creation of a new community asset in the old, disused HSBC bank in Main Street. She is employed by Kirkby Lonsdale and Lune Valley Community Interest Company, one of those arms length organisations set up by local authorities to fend off the worst of cuts in funding.

They keep the loos, market and Tourist Information Centre going, as well as promoting the town. Tourists pour into the town and the current TIC and gift shop can barely cope with demand.

The Barbon Fells, Kirkby Lonsdale by Jake ThomsonThe Barbon Fells, Kirkby Lonsdale by Jake Thomson

So when the bank closed with a few weeks’ notice, Sarah went to the top, sending an e-mail to the bank’s world-wide chairman, arguing the building should be bequeathed to the community. Within days their property supremo responded and the owner and councils were dragooned into supporting the handing the building over to the CIC.

‘In many communities the closure of banks has wreaked havoc and we didn’t want an empty building in the Main Street,’ said Sarah, who has run Holker Hall and Lowther Castle, and been a director of Cumbria Tourism, in the 12 years she and her family have lived in the South Lakeland area.

‘The putting together of a community hub has been a great collaborative effort,’ she said.

The hub opens later this month. One of the tenants is Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority which wants it as a gateway.

When the Government finally agreed to the expansion of the Lake District and Dales national parks last year, the Casterton and Barbon Fells, as well as a finger of the Lune as far as Devil’s Bridge and the river banks were included, although the town itself was not. ‘The move is fantastic from a tourism and marketing point of view,’ added Sarah.

Kirkby Lonsdale is growing, with 78 new homes planned for an area near St Mary’s primary school. Estimates are that 300-400 new residents will mean a 10-12% increase in current population.

But again, that is nothing but good news for the thriving town centre. Any shops that become vacant are filled within weeks in a way that most towns can only dream of. A good example is the old China Bull shop, which had hardly been put on the market before being snapped up by Encato design, which has moved from Preston.

Proprietor Kate Longworth, originally from the Ribble Valley, said: ‘I have loved Kirkby Lonsdale since I came as a visitor as a little girl. We had already moved the family home from Lytham to near Lancaster and my daughter was at Sedbergh prep school, at Casterton, so I was looking to move my business up here.

‘The icing on the cake was when Kirkby Lonsdale was runner up in the Best High Street in Britain competition organised by the Government. I snapped up the shop when it was put on the market.

‘The town is forever evolving. At the weekends, the hotels and b&bs are full and there is a tremendous community spirit,’ said Kate who specialises in interior designs.

The move to Kirkby Lonsdale has allowed her to expand the retail side, but shoppers are free to wander into her design studio at the rear to see the furnishings, fabrics and other materials she sources for her property make-overs.

As well as the shops, the town is blessed with many eateries, cafes and pubs.

The Snooty Fox has just had an upgrade and The Sun Inn’s sous chef, Bradley Jasper, recently returned from a kitchen stage placement at the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin starred restaurant.

Carters at the Sun Inn was recently named in The Good Food Guide 2017 for the third year running and the restaurant boasts 2AA rosettes.

Bradley, 25 from Kendal, said: ‘Working with the chefs at The Fat Duck was everything I expected and more. It’s an unmissable experience for any chef.’

So Kirkby Lonsdale grows and constantly strives to improve its offering to residents and visitors alike. We’ll all drink to that.

Visit Yorkshire Life to find out more about the Yorkshire Dales

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