17. Grange & Cartmel - Lake District Photoguide Plus

Grange & Cartmel

South of Windermere is the attractive little seaside town of Grange-over-Sands. Originally this was a small fishing village, but following the arrival of the railway in 1857, the town grew rapidly, and with its promenade and ornamental garden, Grange has many of the hallmarks of a Victorian seaside resort. Unfortunately, the sea itself can often be a long way away as Grange stands on the estuary of Morecambe Bay, the largest area of intertidal sand and mudflats in the UK. The bay covers an area of 120 square miles, stretching along most of Cumbria’s south coast, but with its wide horizons and vast skies, the views make a wonderful contrast with the scenery of mountains and lakes in central Lakeland.

Just 1½ miles from Grange and perfectly positioned to make the most of the views is the delightful little hill of Hampsfell (height 220m). The full scale of Morecambe Bay is clearly seen from here, and to the north there is a magnificent panorama of the mountains of the Lake District. The rocks of the summit are limestone, with a lovely area of limestone ‘pavement’ just to the north. But the summit’s most striking feature is the small, square building which marks the very top of the fell. This is The Hospice which dates back to Victorian times; the interior is open and provides shelter, while on good days a narrow, stone staircase gives access to a viewing-platform on the roof.

Looking south across The Sands, the town of Morecambe can be seen nine miles away, with the city of Lancaster just beyond. From here it is perhaps easy to see why Grange and a substantial area of what is now south Cumbria used to be in the county of Lancashire; this included the western side of Windermere, Hawkshead, Coniston, and all of the Furness Peninsula. The change occurred in 1974 when the old counties of Cumberland and Westmorland were merged with “Lancashire North of the Sands” to form the present county of Cumbria.

Before the arrival of the railways, routes into south Cumbria were difficult and often involved long detours to cross the many rivers coming down from the Lake District. One short-cut favoured by many was to actually cross the sands at low tide; paintings from that time by artists including J.M.W. Turner show people crossing on foot and on horse, and even in carts and carriages. This apparently dangerous operation was assisted by guides who were originally appointed by the Duchy of Lancaster, and held the title of Queen’s Guide to the Sands. The guides marked out safe routes, avoiding deep channels and areas of quicksand, and advised on safe times to cross. It should be mentioned that the same is true today and it is not advised to venture out onto the sands without a guide.

Nestling under the western side of Hampsfell is the pretty village of Cartmel. It is hard not to like Cartmel, where the boutique shops and cafes sit comfortably alongside its more ancient buildings. Historically, Cartmel was more important than Grange, having a Priory. This was founded in the late 12th Century for the Augustinian order of monks. The Priory once covered a large area in and around the present village, but just two parts of it survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The most obvious of these is the priory church, which was spared as it also served as the church for the parish. The other survivor is the Priory Gatehouse which overlooks the village square; this was also spared demolition as it was being used as the manorial courthouse.

Besides the Priory, Cartmel is unique amongst Lakeland villages by having a racecourse, just to the west of the village. This is a small but very popular national hunt racecourse which holds nine racedays each year.