THE food is glorious in Cartmel and there is plenty of it. So if you are heading there, it’s advisable to take your eating belly with you.
There are many other reasons to visit this lovely honeypot village which lies just south of Windermere and above Grange Over Sands. The village is a pretty delight, full of attractive houses, pubs, cafés and shops. There is also the racecourse. This was quiet during our visit, but on race days thousands of people flock to a village with a population of 300 or so suddenly outnumbered souls.
Then there is Cartmel Priory, the ancient church which has been at the heart of the village for 800 years. You enter the priory through the Norman arch of the south doorway and immediately discover a place of spiritual calm and great interest.
Outside the church, unusually, part of the graveyard has been fenced off and sheep roam round, hopping on and off the gravestones.
Nearby is Holker Hall, the family home of Lord and Lady Cavendish, owners of the racecourse, untold acres of farmland and a quarry, among other assets. The hall is well worth a visit on two fronts: the building itself and the surrounding gardens. The parts of the hall open to the public are not now lived in, although the atmosphere is such that you feel they have only just left the oak-panelled rooms with their floral sofas or the various bedrooms.
Outside, the gardens are glorious, with more than enough to keep a garden lover entertained for an hour or two, and were voted “among the best in the world” by the Good Gardens Guide of 1996. There are 25 acres of formal and woodland gardens. And don’t forget to stand at the mighty foot of the huge lime tree. Some 72 feet high and with an enormous squat trunk, the tree is celebrated by the Tree Council as one of 50 great British trees.
With the southern tip of Windermere only a short distance away, the great outdoors is there for the visiting. Sadly, on the day we walked in that direction, the great outdoors was full of rain. There’s a reason for all those lakes and all that verdant countryside: rain and sometimes lots of it.
We had a thorough soaking walking from our B&B, but you can’t go to the Lakes without a walk or sight of a lake. We stayed at the Old Barn Guest House at Newby Bridge, three or four miles outside Cartmel, where there is a friendly welcome and the breakfasts are awarding-winning. The Cumberland breakfast in particular is a meaty delight and there are daily specials too.
As well as the B&B, owners Kathryn and Peter Harforth have two barn-conversion apartments, a cottage and hard-standing for a few caravans too.
Peter told us that visitors come for outdoors activities and for the food in Cartmel. For this small village is foodie heaven. This is in large part, although not exclusively so, down to one man: the acclaimed chef Simon Rogan. His first restaurant in the village was L’Enclume, much praised and featured in the first series of The Trip, the comedy travelogue featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
This top-end restaurant was not included in our trip. Instead we were booked into Rogan & Company, the second of Simon’s places. And believe me, this was no hardship, being a good few degrees classier than anything we are used to.
The welcome was warm, the atmosphere relaxed and not at all off-putting and the food, most of it locally sourced and much of it grown on Rogan’s own farm, tasted lovely and looked like a work or art.
We had dishes such as cured rainbow trout with mace, soured cream, cucumber and bronze fennel, Cartmel valley venison haunch with almond crumb, beetroot and redcurrant and mead-glazed carrots with St James custard, kales and walnut dressing.
Unannounced taster plates arrived between the courses, including a mini sourdough loaf and freshly churned butter, a white crisp dusted in cheese snow and a pre-pudding of a small scoop of pineapple ice-cream and a malty toffee strip. The actual puddings were macerated strawberries with buttermilk custard and sweet cicely and gooseberry crumble ice-cream, with apple and marigold.
Every mouthful was a delight. The three courses cost £40 a head, including the added extras and mini plates.
On the second night, we ate at the third Rogan venue, the Pig & Whistle, a traditional pub that serves proper gastro food (steak burger topped with Blacksticks blue cheese for me; creamed spring greens, with Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and wood blewits in puff pastry for my veggie wife) alongside good beer.
Rogan now also has restaurants at the Midland Hotel in Manchester and at Claridge’s in London.
Cartmel has long been famous for its sticky toffee pudding, on sale at the Cartmel Village Shop. Also well worth a visit is the Unsworth’s Yard Brewery, part of a courtyard featuring a cheese shop, a bakery, a café and an upmarket food and wine shop, specialising in rare American gins among other bottled delights.
The courtyard was once a garage owned by the Unsworth family. Now Peter and his brother-in-law produce the local beer, while David runs the shop and seems to front the business generally.
Back at the guesthouse, Peter told us that foot and mouth played its part in the foodie profile too, as after that calamitous outbreak, farmers looked to diversify and the slow food movement took off in the area.
So from something appalling many good things have arisen.