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Cartmel is one of Cumbria's most unique villages. Set on the Cartmel Peninsular, surrounded by rolling hills that tumble down to the coast, it is situated seven miles south of Lake Windermere.
Picture perfect, Cartmel has grown into a chic destination characterised by the most delightful architecture of traditional lime washed and stone-built houses, shops and pubs. It has a growing reputation for its inns and restaurants, notably Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, voted the UK’s top dining experience which has almost single-handedly transformed the village into a pilgrimage destination for foodies and celebrities.
The Norman Priory
Centred around a delightful square and overlooked by a huge Norman priory, Cartmel is a maze of lanes and bridges crossing a sweet little river, patrolled by fleets of ducks and swans. The Priory, a magnificent building, rises up above the village like a great ship and is well worth a visit to savour its architecture.
Cartmel Priory has an 800 year old history and the ancient chapel has wonderful carvings, beautiful stained glass windows, grand arches and fine renaissance screens. The bells of Cartmel Priory can also still be heard each Sunday as they welcome worshippers to the weekly morning service. Guided tours are available on Wednesday afternoon when you can learn more about the priory’s fascinating history.
There are several good local walks, lanes to cycle and plenty more to explore. Most notable is Hampsfell and Eggerslack Wood, a limestone fell and ancient woodland where the summit gives way to panoramic views of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District Mountains. Coincide your visit with the coming of spring when the woodland is carpeted in bluebells.
Other walks to try include:
- If there isn’t a race meeting on, you can walk through Cartmel Racecourse to reach the woodland beyond which makes a good choice for an afternoon stroll.
- Take a 2-mile walk to nearby Holker Hall where there is a selection of routes to try through the stately home’s beautiful gardens
- Walk the couple of miles to Grange-over-Sands and then take a wander along the wonderful promenade and explore the town’s Ornamental Gardens
- Simply go for a mooch around Cartmel's pretty streets and walk along the bridges that cross the River Eea
There are plenty of shops, both in Cartmel and in nearby Grange-over-Sands. The Cartmel Village Store is one-part deli, one-part grocer with an excellent café that is famous for producing the Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding - a local ‘must-try!’, this is the home of sticky toffee in case you didn’t know.
In Unsworth Yard, you will find Cartmel Cheeses and The Bread Shed, alongside The Red Pepper & Hot Wines shop and Cartmel’s own micro-brewery. Another foodie favourite is Hales of Cartmel, an artisan chocolatier who produce a range of delectable sweet treats. Once a month, the village also holds a food market with many local producers setting up their stalls close to Cartmel Priory. Look out for the Indian takeaway tent, a real treat if you love exotic dishes.
In addition to the foodie outlets in Cartmel, it's worth stopping by The Larch Tree, a charming independent shop selling quality toys, gifts and clothing. Other Cartmel shops include:
- Perfect English - a homeware store that sells crockery, glassware and larger furniture pieces
- The Gatehouse Bookshop which stocks a wide range of second hand books
- Cartmel Drinkshop where you can sample and buy carefully selected fine wines, spirits and liqueurs
For a slightly wider choice, head into nearby Grange-over-Sands where you'll find everything from a butchers and greengrocers to a shoe shop and vintage clothing store.
For dining, you really are spoiled for choice in Cartmel. The village has become renowned for a selection of excellent eateries that range from casual cafes and dining pubs to some seriously smart restaurants.
If you're looking for home-made cakes, hot drinks and light bites, we recommend trying the Mallard Tea Shop or Cartmel Coffee.
There are four good pubs in Cartmel where you can grab a bite to eat throughout the day:
- The Cavendish Arms is a 450 year old coaching inn that uses fresh seasonal produce in their hearty home-cooked dishes
- The Royal Oak serves pizza, pasta, burgers, and a range of sharing platters
- Pig & Whistle is a classic country pub with cosy snugs, a beer garden, and lots of local Cumbrian food in the menu
- The Kings Arms is an 18th century inn with a prime spot on the main Cartmel square and a menu full of classic pub grub
For something a little special, Simon Rogan's L'Enclume has been awarded two Michelin stars and is one of Cumbria’s (and indeed the UK’s) finest restaurants with a range of showstopping dishes on their perfectly balanced tasting menu. Another good option is Rogan and Co, which is located in a stone cottage by the river. It’s more relaxed than L’Enclume with cosy fires and characterful beams but the excellent cuisine has also earned a coveted Michelin star.
Country Houses - Gardens & Historic Buildings
Holker Hall and Gardens is a short drive from Cartmel and well worth visiting during your short break or holiday. The house, grounds and a deer park are all open to the public and a complete delight to lose yourself in - the estate arranges an annual programme of events.
Levens Hall is a fine example of the archetypal English grand country house. Make sure you spend time enjoying the box and yew sculpted topiary gardens. Let yourself be beguiled by the succession of secret 'garden rooms', wooded walkways and the fine ornamental pond used recently in the BBC series Henry VIII.
Finally, a trip to the National Trust managed Sizergh Castle is a real treat. It is a beautiful medieval house with wonderful gardens and estate grounds. An imposing building, it stands sentinel-like at the gateway to the Lake District.
A day at the races
Racecourses don’t get much lovelier than the one at Cartmel, which is surrounded by beautiful woodland and Lakeland fell on the edge of the ancient village. There’s a long history of racing in Carmel; the monks of Cartmel Priory introduced the sport back in the 12th century and the Whit Holiday Races have been a fixture of village life since 1856.
There are typically nine days of racing to enjoy each year with a selection of local food stalls, picnic areas and family-friendly entertainment. Bars at the course serve everything from real ale to champagne and you can feast on some famous Carmel Sticky Toffee Pudding as you watch the horses tackle the jumps as they race around the 4 furlong course.
Things to do
A great day out is to take a Segway off-road tour around Cartmel with Lakeland Segway. It’s a fun-filled way to travel around some pretty woodland paths and you can hire the curious vehicles from a hire shop located in Cartmel’s main car park.
Alternatively, you could enjoy a romantic horse and carriage ride around Cartmel Village from Black Horses, who specialise in breeding Friesian horses. Experienced riders can take the beautiful Fresians on a hack around the country lanes and you can learn more about the horses from the farm’s experienced trainers.
A favourite pursuit with active visitors is to climb high up onto Hampsfell with its panoramic views across the Morecambe Bay - the trail descends to Grange-over-Sands. At the summit, look out for an ornate, stone hut/bothy, built to shelter travellers. There is also a huge compass showing the fells that form your view and it is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Not far from Cartmel is the dog-friendly Lakeland Miniature Village which contains more than 100 little versions of Lake District landmarks that have been painstakingly recreated by husband and wife team, Edward and Kathleen Robinson. Highlights include Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top and Yew Tree Farm, which is part of Monk Coniston and one of the Lake District’s most photographed buildings.
A little further afield you have the coast where you can explore the fringes of the bay. One of the finest walks in the Lake District is along the shore at Arnside, on the south side of the bay. Ahead of it is a stretch of silver sand, and as the tide comes in the view is spectacular. Make a bee-line to Humphrey Head, a huge limestone ridge that juts out into the bay – here you can explore the rock pools for shrimp and crabs.
Full steam ahead
From Lakeside Pier near Newby Bridge, you can hop on a steamer for a trip on the lake, which winds its way ten miles into the central fells passing Bowness and Sawrey before terminating at the Waterhead terminus near Ambleside.
- Hop-off at Bowness-on-Windermere where you'll find a bustling marina and a range of waterside bars, cafes, and restaurants
- Add the Aquarium of the Lakes at nearby Backbarrow to your itinerary to see a fine collection of creatures from the deep from domestic and international waters.
- If you are a petrol head, stop in at the Lakeland Motor Museum, a vast collection of vintage and specialist cars including a replica of Donald Campbell’s awesome Bluebird K7.
Stay in Cartmel
Explore Cartmel for yourself with our selection of holiday cottages in Cartmel. Further afield we have a whole host of Lake District cottages to choose from.