Why Carnforth is perfect for a staycation
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 June 2017
Roger Borrell and photographer Kirsty Thompson sample the delights of this quiet corner of Lancashire.
It’s a corner of Lancashire that could easily get missed in the rush to join the crowds in the Lake District.
That’s a real shame. While the Lakes are outstanding, the north west of the Red Rose county is full of exceptional countryside, spectacular coastline, charming villages and relatively few people.
It is also home to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, culture, art, heritage and a great deal of wonderful wildlife.
Add some fine pubs, restaurants and cafes into the mix and you have the perfect recipe for a short break.
We decided to spend a day touring this half-forgotten corner to help you plan a visit. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Make a flying visit
If you like the great outdoors, the place for you is Leighton Moss, a world class wildlife centre visited by around 140,000 people each year. It is so good that the BBC has made it a regular location in its Autumnwatch series.
The RSPB reserve is home to the region’s biggest reed beds providing a magical habitat for anything from the elusive bittern to otters, red deer stags and marsh harriers.
It also takes in a section of Morecambe Bay – the size of 2,500 football pitches – providing a giant smorgasbord for a quarter of a million seabirds. Annabel Rushton, part of the RSPB communications team, calls it a ‘muddy canteen’ for these feathered masses.
While Leighton Moss has many strategically placed hides – with one named after twitcher and comedian Eric Morecambe – taking in the scale of the place is quite hard. It’s flat and the pathways through it are flanked by reeds making you feel you are going through a tunnel.
The RSPB has solved this problem by building the Sky Tower, designed so it doesn’t intrude on the landscape but provides a brilliant panoramic overview from ten metres above ground. It’s the only one of its kind in any RSPB reserve.
Leighton Moss has played an important role in wildlife conservation – where else can you watch otters skittering across the ice on a winter’s morning? And one of its major success stories has been the marsh harrier.
‘We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first nesting,’ said visitor experience manager, Jon Carter. ‘In the 1970s there was only one pair left in the UK. We very nearly lost them through persecution and chemicals. Now there are 300 breeding females in the country and we have three nests here. It’s a real success story – not just to see them surviving, but thriving.’
They also have multiple pairs of avocet – unheard of 20 years ago – along with a full set of egret, the cattle, the little and the great. Much work has gone into revitalising the reed beds. This requires a careful approach as some species prefer older, established reeds while others prefer new growth.
Annabel said BBC Autumnwatch caused quite a spike in visitor numbers and they are trying to build on that by making this a family friendly place to visit for the day with a sensory garden and café, special trails plus a series of regular events aimed at getting children interested in the environment and wildlife. There are also Trampers for those who find it hard to get about.
‘We want children to take the experience away with them and do something in their gardens at home that will attract wildlife,’ said Jon. ‘That makes it a real success story for us.’ To find out more go to www.rspb.org.uk/leightonmoss
Inn great shape
In an age when the country pub is almost as endangered as the marsh harrier once was, things did not look good for the historic New Inn in the pretty village of Yealand Conyers.
A chequered past had seen highs and lows and it was eventually closed much to the distress of locals who wanted to keep it as a focal point for the community.
They staged a brave attempt to raise enough money to turn it into a community enterprise but the economics defeated them until a white knight in the shape of Barry Robinson arrived on the scene.
The owner of Plato’s in Kirkby Lonsdale and the Longlands Hotel in nearby Tewitfield could see the potential and not only took over the running of the business but oversaw significant investment to turn this into a smart dining pub. Great food combines with chic décor to give the interior a lighter, more contemporary feel. However, you can’t hide the fact it is still a village pub with a great deal of history. That careful balance means the New Inn has been an almost overnight hit.
Highly experienced chef John Connor along with his Darwen-born wife Zoe are now running the inn. It wasn’t a good start - when they arrived the pub was festooned with cobwebs accumulated during the three years it was closed. While few would recognise the place today because of the fresh décor, locals will spot all the old features such as a remarkable section of ornate plasterwork above one of the fireplaces. This is thought to date back to the 1600s.
The food on offer has been receiving rave reviews, too. ‘The response has been fantastic,’ said John. He specialises in classic pub food with a modern edge and his signature dish, a flavoursome beef cheek with a suet pudding containing kidney, is much in demand.
Zoe added: ‘The locals love the fact the New Inn is alive again and word is spreading. We are getting people visiting from across Lancashire. It’s an amazing transformation – like someone has switched on a light.’
Barry Robinson has big plans for the future involving the creation of five letting bedrooms in the main building and more in the old barn next door.
The New Inn has a fascinating past and now has a bright future.
Hall in safe hands
One of the landmark buildings in this corner of Lancashire is the award-winning Leighton Hall, a striking house nestling in some of Lancashire’s loveliest countryside.
It welcomes something like 20,000 visitors across the threshold each year and has become a popular venue for outdoor events and an increasing number of weddings. Hardly suprising - it’s the sort of surroundings a couple would never forget.
Today, Leighton Hall is very much the house George Towneley rebuilt in the Adam style in the 1760s, replanting the woods and laying out the parkland. But the house is probably best known for its 200 year association with the Gillow family. Many pieces of furniture made by this famous firm can still be seen in its splendid public rooms.
Richard Gillow Reynolds, an ex-Irish Guards officer and engineer, and his energetic wife Suzie ran the estate from the mid-1970s following the death of his mother. Ill-health resulted in Richard handing over much of the running of the house and its 1,600 acre estate to Suzie and now she is passing on those duties to her equally energetic daughter, Lucy Arthurs.
‘The transition continues,’ said Lucy, who is married to Danny, who us in the financial sector. ‘Like all these estates, it’s a slow process and I suppose we are now in the final stages of handing over, but mum is still very much involved. She has quite rightly not slowed down and is still full of energy and enthusiasm even after 40 years.’
Lucy’s father, while suffering from long term illness, remains a reliable advisor and sounding board for her future plans. ‘In many respects I’m very lucky because they did the hard graft, things like rewiring the house.’
While Richard ran the estate – which has three farms - Suzie pioneered the opening of the house to help provide the finances to maintain Leighton Hall as the family home. However, Lucy will be looking after all aspects of the business although she hopes to be joined by her husband at some point. In the much longer term they have a son, Sebastian, who will no doubt be an asset to Leighton Hall.
‘The house is now much greener because we’ve installed a biomass system and it is warm all over rather than in one or two selected rooms,’ said Lucy. ‘Dad was involved in this project, which has meant we can do away with oil and be more self-sufficient.
‘This, in turn, has given me a kick to do more with our woodlands, ensuring they are better managed. The fantastic knock-on is that this has made them more butterfly-friendly. That has put a smile on everyone’s face.’
The next big move is to ensure they are getting the best value from the substantial stock of properties across the estate. One of the first projects on the drawing board is the transformation of a group of properties into accommodation for wedding parties.‘It means people will be able to stop over after the wedding and spend more time exploring this wonderful area,’ said Lucy. She has a big job ahead of her. ‘Running the estate will be scary but exciting!’ www.leightonhall.co.uk
Turn over a new leaf
Independent bookshops have had to fight for survival in the face of intense competition from voracious online companies.
Happily, there are now clear signs that these small retailers are starting to fight back and nowhere is that more evidence that at the Carnforth Bookshop.
It had a considerable reputation among bibliophiles but when it went up for sale things looked bleak. However, career changers Neil and Samantha Woodcock, pictured right, stepped in and purchased the business three years ago and later bought the building.
It still offers a huge selection of second hand books – Neil estimates there are 85,000 – over several floors. It’s an eclectic mix but its specialist section on the railways is hugely popular in a town famous for providing the stage for the landmark British film, Brief Encounter.
As well as second hand books, the shop has a lively selection of new novels and works of local history plus children’s books, gifts, toys and quality greetings cards.
It’s a far cry from their former life. Neil, who is from Chorley, was an engineer and Sam worked as a teaching assistant. ‘I’ve always been interested in books but never considered running a bookshop,’ said Neil. ‘It was something completely different and we love it.
‘I wanted a new challenge and this has certainly provided that. It has been a steep learning curve but I’ve enjoyed it. Learning something completely different has given us a fresh outlook and direction.’
While you are in the area, why not try the following?
1: Visit Carnforth Station Heritage Centre and try out the tearooms restored to their 1940s glory. There is also an excellent micro-pub there.
2: Take a walk from Silverdale to Jenny Brown’s Point. You can spot the tower where Mrs Gaskell wrote some of her novels, explore the interesting limestone geology and have tea at the Wolf House Gallery.
3: June 23-25 is when local artists open their studios for the famous Silverdale and Arnside Arts Trail. Lots of arts and crafts to admire and purchased.
4: Nip over the Westmorland border and have a stroll along the Arnside prom, with its art galleries, tea shops and pubs.
5: Visit the quaint village of Warton, the ancestral home of George Washington’s family. They fly the Stars and Stripes there on Independence Day. It’s also home to the excellent Old School Brewery.