We have made our way to a north-western corner of England, to stop for a couple of nights with friends at their home in Burton-in-Lonsdale. It is a quiet village of around 600 persons. Their postal address is Lancashire, but the signpost not far out of town says they are in Yorkshire, and I always think of it as being on the doorstep of Cumbria. Whatever – this ‘pretty as a picture’ village is nestled between two national parks: the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, so if you are looking for greenery, nature, walks, and rural scenery dotted with high hedges and dry stone walls, then this is your place. The main industry of the area is farming – beef and sheep mostly -and any crops grown are for feed as much as I can make out.
I have always loved this region, starting back in 1978 when I got a job in hospitality in Grasmere, a place synonymous with the poet William Wordsworth. I came and went several times, eventually working every season except summer, a time when the area was besieged by tourists and would change its character temporarily. I used to think that I would be quite content to spend my dying days there. It was an odd sentiment for a girl who was only in her early twenties, and it was not until many, many years later that I learned my maternal grandfather was born nearby at Grange-over-Sands. So maybe it was his sentiment projecting on to me from the hereafter. Except that the poor man never returned to his homeland after being ‘banished’ to Australia in the 1880’s. I believe he was what we call a “remittance man”. A person whose family in England (the ‘old country’) sent money regularly for their child’s support in their new country, on the condition that the banished one never darken their doorstep again. Damned as the eternal black sheep.
I am not drifting entirely off topic here, even though it may seem I am having a ramble. I have discovered that his mother – my great-grandmother – was married at the nearby Cartmel Priory. For a time I also believed that to be the place of my grandfather’s baptism. It was not until arriving and re-checking my facts that I realised he was baptised at St Paul’s back in Grange. Perhaps my grandmother had a compelling reason to have the ceremonies in two different – albeit nearby – places. She married three months after his baptism. Minor detail these days. But it may have been prudent not to stand up in front of the same minister in her case.
We have come to Burton-in-Lonsdale via brief stops at Cambridge and Birmingham where we dropped in on other friends; and happily that means that our first full day in the area is Wednesday. Which just happens to be the day that Cartmel Priory offers guided tours. Finally! After the hundreds (or it seems that many anyway) of churches and cathedrals we have seen in Europe, we have found one that offers a personal link.
It would have been helpful to first remind myself exactly what a priory is/was, i.e. according to Wikipedia: a monastery of men or women under religious vows that is headed by a prior or prioress. Priories may be houses of mendicant friars or religious sisters (as the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans, and Carmelites, for instance), or monasteries of monks or nuns (as the Benedictines).
Now I will go off topic! That explanation puts me in mind of my mother. Whenever I asked her what something meant, she told me to “look it up in the dictionary”. I’d spend the next hour cross-referencing all the definitions I couldn’t understand. Every one only led me deeper into confusion. But I sure the heck learned how to spell, so there was method in her madness.
So for the record, just in case you are similarly confused – mendicant means “dependant on alms for a living”. So we are back to where this holiday started, in the spirit of the Franciscan monks of Assisi who owned nothing, not even personal belongings, and who lived off the goodwill of those to whom they preached.
Our guide, a youngish slim man in orange pants and a short-sleeved t-shirt, (because the season says it is summer, even though it was rainy and downright cold that morning), brought the stories of the priory to life in a condensed and entertaining tour around the building. Officially, it is called ‘The Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael’, and it is part of the Church of England. When it was originally established in the twelfth century it would have been Catholic, and it is remarkable that it survived the ravages of 1537 when Henry VIII dissolved monasteries in his spat with the Pope. In part, this was brought about by its founding charter allowing it to take the status of being the Parish Church. It is still very much the local church today.
There are many items worth viewing. Three (odd) things that come to mind for me are:
- The baptismal font is dated 1640. It is covered, with a lid that is extremely heavy. We were told this was to prevent witches stealing the holy water for their potions. We were inside a church, so I am going to trust that we were not fibbed to – okay?
- Books were a rare commodity even in monasteries. Stone carvings show three monks sharing one between them:
- There is a memorial plaque for William Myers who died on the 30th February 1762. (no photo, apologies).
The village of Cartmel is picturesque, even in the damp and the rain. It has recently become known as a fine food destination on account of a Michelin starred restaurant called L’Enclume. It also has a grassy racetrack, and an event is run three or four times a year. In fact, there was to be a race day on the following weekend. I think it is a steeplechase course, so perhaps just as well we were not there to see it.
Most best of all, Cartmel is the home of STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING. You can tell how much I loved that because I have reverted to the grammar of a five year old, just from the memory of it ………….. If you are in the area the place to buy it is the Cartmel Village shop.
Since we were out and about, we continued on our path down the memory lane of family history, and called into Grange-over-Sands, and Kents Bank (great grandma grew up there? Maybe?)
Here it is possible to walk across the waters of Morecambe Bay, and reach the land on the opposite shore. But you do have to negotiate the tidal waters of the salt marshes.
These are tricky things, these salt-marshes. Suck you up like quicksand if you are not too careful. It is recommended you only cross with someone who is familiar with the area. Needless to say, we simply looked from a distance.
A final word about Burton-in-Lonsdale before bidding farewell. The village has a community run shop where groceries including meats, cheeses and vegetables are available. We popped into see our host, who was doing his volunteer stint. Very professional in his long striped red grocer’s apron 🙂
I spied Eccles cakes, and bought a packet on the strength of being a Goon Show fan. I discovered that it is a small, round pastry cake filled with currants – something like a Christmas mince pie except that the pastry is flaky rather than shortbread.
So I wonder if Eccles got his name, because he was a ‘flaky’ character in the Goon Show?
And now since I really am completely off topic, let me leave you with this YouTube clip of a classic Eccles and Bluebottle radio piece “What time is it Eccles? (1957)”. If it does not run correctly, you will find the script by googling the title within the quotes.
With thanks to our Cambridge, Birmingham and Burton-in-Lonsdale hosts for a marvellous four days,
Monday 19th – Thursday 22nd August 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, on the road in England