The village has welcomed visitors from its early monastic days and continues the tradition today, especially during the summer racing season when the market square is the focus for lively socialising.
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There are a variety of events taking place in and around the Cartmel area. From arts and culture exhibitions to discovering the rolling hills and quiet country lanes of the Cartmel Peninsula by bike, check out what is on during your visit and browse the events of most interest to you.
Flookburgh, to the west, was once an important fishing and market garden centre. Fishermen still go out on a daily basis to fish for shrimps, cockles, mussels and flukes (flatfish); the latter earning the village its name.
Grange retains much elegance from its Edwardian heyday, with ornamental gardens, attractive shopping arcades and a sea-front promenade for relaxing walks.
Around 678 AD, the Cartmel peninsula was granted to St Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, by King Egfrith of Northumberland for the establishment of a monastery. An early church dedicated to St Cuthbert was built at Kirkhead near Allithwaite, although nothing now remains of the structure. It was not until 1189 that an enduring ecclesiastical presence was established with the founding of Cartmel Priory next to the River Eea (pronounced ‘Ay’).
Farming and fishing were the mainstays of life for the local population, ably supported by the monks of Cartmel Priory. Limestone was crushed and burned to produce quicklime for spreading on the fields to ‘sweeten’ the grass, woods provided coppice timber for agricultural implements and for charcoal burning, oats were grown, and the sea and rivers yielded good supplies of fish. The monks stored their grain at Grange (from the French word ‘graunge’ meaning ‘granary’) and may have had a small harbour here. The famous Cartmel Races are said to date back to monastic times, as part of the Whitsuntide celebrations. The priory was at the heart of community life, until it was largely destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1536. An appeal by the villagers to keep the church as a place of worship for the parish was granted, thus saving this impressive church (and the gatehouse) for posterity.
Up to the mid-19th century, the only viable link between the peninsula and the rest of the country was over the sands of Morecambe Bay at low tide. Individuals on foot or travelling by horse and cart would regularly make the perilous journey, fraught with danger from swift incoming tides, unsuspected quicksands or changing river currents. A guide appointed by the abbot of Cartmel Priory would conduct travellers from Kents Bank to Hest Bank near Bolton-le-Sands (9 miles/14.5 km).
The talented efforts of Edward Robinson have created an impressive collection of miniature buildings hand-made out of local slate and set in naturalistic surroundings. Alongside a replica of Hill Top (home of Beatrix Potter) is an assortment of typical Cumbrian cottages and barns with architectural detailing such as round Westmorland chimneys, wrestler roof slates, crow-stepped gable ends and mullioned windows.
Priory Church of St Mary & St Michael
Founded in 1189 by Augustinian canons as the priory church and threatened with destruction after the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act in 1536, the church survived to become the parish church and still serves as a place of worship. The internal soaring proportions of the church house a 14th-century tomb to Lord Harrington and intricately carved choir stalls and misericords. Look out for the nail-studded door into the south aisle, pitted with bullet holes from when villagers fired on Cromwellian troops causing havoc in the church. The tower is unusual, being set crossways to its base, and believed to be unique in England.
Famed for its Sticky Toffee Pudding, the village shop is an all-year-round destination for food-lovers from far and wide, stocking fine local produce and unusual and exquisite foods of all kinds.
Cartmel Priory Gatehouse
Built in the early 14th century as the gateway to the priory precinct, the building has been variously used as a courthouse, grammar school for 200 years and latterly, as a shop. The Great Room will be open for viewing on selected days.