I’ve written about Ulverston before. This small town on the north-west reaches of Morecambe Bay, close to Barrow-in-Furness, has a special charm. It is not touristy in the normal sense of the word. It’s not even pretty, in a conventional way – but it is full of interest and charm. It helps that it sits to the immediate south of some of the most spectacular scenery in the Lakeland area, and many holidaymakers, fancying a change of scene, venture south into its fascinating streets. The town was also the birthplace of Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame.
The history of Ulverston is a working one. It used to be part of Lancashire, but boundary meddling relocated it to the newly-created Cumbria, where it now lives. Its feel is very Lancashire; and the residents pride themselves on the independence of their history – much like the boundary towns between Lancashire and Yorkshire, many of which have had their county boundaries jostled over the past fifty years, causing heartache from folks from both counties.
Ulverston also boasts a proud industrial and brewing history, much of which, sadly, is now gone. It was the centre of the Hartley’s brewing company, and the historic (and listed) brewery buildings are still there, but abandoned, awaiting the right re-development.
Once a year, at the start of the Christmas season, Ulverston celebrates in style, becoming a Victorian market town, once again. A good number of the residents dress up in authentic garb and the whole of the town centre is turned over to the Dickens Fair to mark the start of the season. The length of Market Street – the cobbled main thoroughfare, is closed to traffic, as are many of the adjoining side streets. Stalls are erected in abundance – everything from locally made food, through wood turning to pottery.
As you can see from the photo above, by lunchtime the place is so busy that it is very difficult to move around. For this reason, when we visit, we aim to be there before ten in the morning and plan on leaving – against the tide of incoming visitors on park and ride buses – before one in the afternoon.
|A handsome number of tearooms provide the perfect breakfast for the early starter|
There must be well over a hundred stalls for the event, and the mind gets numbed with the sheer variety of things to see. Here are a few of the them:
One of our favourite tearooms – Gillams, shares the festival street with a local basket maker. The top quality baskets are hand-made and quite costly, but they last a lifetime. We have one, already, and bought another this time for a close friend’s Christmas present.
Many of the shops are period-styled, anyway, so little additional decor is needed
– but a vintage Santa or two helps.
What we have dubbed, the ‘Ingenious Eggs’ lady. These wonderful pottery ‘split eggs’ divide horizontally, into salt and pepper pots, in a pattern that simulates a boiled egg cut by a spoon.
At the top of Market Street is a double marquee which functions as a concert hall. The youngsters in this brass band are from local schools.
More pottery – with a well-dressed family of stall holders.
A wood-turner demonstrates his ancient craft – devoid of power tools.
Elegance of the period – beautifully recreated.
Helpful signage. It’s very easy to get lost, if you’re a first-time visitor.
Locally made fruit juices and cordials . . .
Cakes and bread in abundance . . .
Local cheeses from Cartmel.
And, of course, beer from one of the local micro-breweries.
The attractions are not restricted to the stalls. There are musical performances through the day, and special events are put on for children. What lingers in the memory is the sheer effort that the townsfolk go to to create the atmosphere.
Some very well-dressed Ulverstonians . . .
The old faithful steam truck, originally the property of Hartley’s the local brewery, which was absorbed into Robinson’s Brewery in Stockport, who closed it down.
A bag of sweets for the journey home?
One last look at the iconic clock tower – now part of a bank.