Utterly Ulverston with St Mary's Mount

23 April 2019

Set in the middle of the Furness Peninsula on the edge of the Lake District, Ulverston is a thriving market town where cobbled streets thread through ancient buildings, an atmospheric base just a mile and a half from the sea - at Morecombe Bay - and at the start of the 70 mile Cumbrian Way. In four miles you've reached the Lake District National Park, but there are countless attractions in Ulverston itself. If you're staying at St Mary's Mount you may not need to get in your car at all.

The oldest building in town is St Mary's Church, with parts dating back to AD 1111. In 1280 Edward 1st granted Ulverston a Royal Charter making it a market town, and markets have continued to be held here ever since. Ulverston boomed when it was linked to the coast by the world's shortest (and deepest) canal in 1796, when it exported copper, slate and linen. In the 1860's it was home to John Barrow, a leading Quaker, and the religious tradition that lives on in Swarthmoor Hall, now open to visitors whatever their beliefs. Another spiritual retreat is at Conishead Priory, a grand Gothic revival country house saved from collapse by a Buddhist community. This is open to visitors - with guided meditation sessions twice a day - and offers study programmes and retreats. It also has 70 acres of grounds - including countless specimen trees - reaching down to the sea, much of which is open to the public in daylight. 

A lighter tone is struck by one of Ulverston's more recent residents. The actor Stan Laurel was born here and in his honour Ulverston is home to the world's only Laurel and Hardy museum, and there is a chocolate-coloured sculpture of the comic duo in County Square.

Even away from market days Ulverston is a surprisingly good place to shop, with a range of independent establishments that combine character products with a sturdy, Cumbrian determination to keep prices low. A range of specialist shops offer arts and crafts, jewellery and fashion.  

The same variety is displayed in Ulverston's choice of restaurants. The cuisines on offer include Italian, Portuguese, Mexican, Chinese and Spanish, as well as a range of pubs and restaurants serving the best of local and contemporary dishes. You could stay a week, eat twice a day and try a new establishment for every meal. This makes St Mary's Mount, set in a peaceful acre within easy walking distance of the town centre, a very good base. They offer delicious breakfasts that will set you up for each day, and advise on bracing fell walks for you to build up an appetite for your next meal.

Gerry Bobbett, St Mary's Mount