Kirkby Lonsdale celebrates Christmas and a return of an old favourite
PUBLISHED: 00:16 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:18 20 February 2013
Photographer John Cocks takes a festive trip to a lovely market town where residents are over the moon the much loved Royal Hotel has re-opened. Amanda Griffiths reports
Kirkby Lonsdale has got its heart back. For the last eight Christmases, The Royal Hotel has been boarded up, never quite an eyesore but a great irritant to locals who regarded it as an iconic building in a town full of architectural gems.
Over the years it changed hands several times with townsfolk voicing their concerns about plans to turn the old coaching house into apartments. Its safe to say that when current owner James Warburton bought the premises with the sole intention of turning it back into a pub, restaurant and hotel the community gave a collective sigh of relief.
Mr Warburton bought it last December and a year later its open and seems to be thriving. The layout and dcor have changed, but locals have been heard to make approving noises and the friendly atmosphere of the place which has meant so much to so many people over the years, is well and truly restored.
We are trying to build on what it was in the past; trying to re-establish the reputation of the place, says Andrew Downs, general manager.
It was always the place everybody came to because of its location in town. In fact, the centre of town relocated here because of The Royal.
The hotel has a long history and Andrew and his team have been enjoying the tales that people have recounted while enjoying a drink
and a meal.
Just this morning we had a couple in who got married here 50 years ago and another from 54 years ago. Everybody remembers it for something.
There is one residence in the village has only been sold twice in 300 years but each time it was auctioned in the bar. It would be nice to think that if the time comes, that would happen again.
We also know that the old post office used to be run from here. Weve tracked down one of the grandchildren of the people who used to run it and are hoping to be able to borrow the old ledger to put on display here sometime in the future.
Everybody knows us as The Hotel. Thats what people have spent the last seven years fighting for, to stop the building being developed into something its not. It seems to have been well received. At least, I havent heard anyone find anything they dont like!
With 14 bedrooms and restaurant in the former ballroom (which still has the original sprung wooden dance floor) the return of the Royal is very welcome in a town noted for its hospitality.
We have four proper pubs; The Orange Tree, Kings Head, Snooty Fox and Red Lion as well as The Sun Inn and Platos, which Id describe as similar to us - restaurants with rooms as well as the Italian restaurant, Avanti, says Andrew who is looking forward to his first Christmas in Kirkby Lonsdale.
For a relatively small town I think thats a lot. We all try to work together and help each other when we can. I think most of us took part in the Fork Fest that was organised in September to replace the Victorian Festival.
The Fork Fest took place over the first weekend in September this year and was organised by a couple of local businesses including John Natlacen, of Churchmouse Cheeses.
A celebration of local produce from food to ale, it attracted a wealth of visitors to the market town whose reputation as a foodie haven has been growing. John, who moved here from Manchester eight years ago is celebrating another triumph - a national award for a new cheese that
he dreamed up - quite literally.
The more I tell the story, the more it sounds like Im making it up, laughs John at the specialist cheese shop in Market Street.
I literally dreamt of the cheese, what it would be made from, how it would taste and its name, Bright Blessed Cheese. I got talking to Maurice from the Appleby Cheese Company and we went from there.
We made one batch of 50 cheeses that were moderately successful in the shop so made another batch of 100, which I entered into the British Cheese Awards at the end of September. I just went down to see how it did really. Not only did it win a gold, but it also won its category, Best New British Cheese, which was fantastic.
When we won we only had about 12 left from that second batch. If Id have any inkling we would win the title then Id have made sure we had about 400 to meet demand.
Its made with Ulverston sheep milk so we have to wait until the new season before we can make any more. We did manage to make another batch of 256 cheeses with the last of the seasons milk but when those are gone it will probably be April before theres anymore available.
John, along with other traders in Kirkby Lonsdale, is looking forward to another busy Christmas.
Id say last year was busier than ever, he says. We sell cheese all year over the internet but whereas we normally do perhaps 12 packages on a normal day in the run up to last Christmas we were doing up to 85 a day, plus business in the shop.
The Christmas Fair is our big event. Father Christmas leads his procession through the streets; all the shops have trees outside and then as he passes he lights them up.
I think the thing that attracts people here is that its all quality owned and managed shops rather than the same old stores you get in every town.
In December Im in effect stuck here because were so busy, but the good thing is I can get all my shopping here. Theres nothing were short of, from a butchers and bakers to cheese shop and gifts.
And although the Christmas Fair is the big event of the season, John is hoping that he and some of his fellow traders in Market Street will be able to arrange some additional entertainment at their end of town in the run up to Christmas. Watch this space!
Where is it? Kirkby Lonsdale is found off the A65 and is just 13 miles from Kendal. Take junction 36 of the M6 motorway and follow the signs.
Where to park? There are two well signposted pay and display car parks in the town centre, one for short stay and one for long stay.
Where to eat? Kirkby Lonsdale has plenty of choice. There is of course the famous Sun Inn, past winner in the Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards, Platos, which staged a recent Lancashire Life lunch and The Royal Hotel.
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.