The Lake District Guide


Ulverston, South Lakeland's historic market town, is situated between the mountains of the Lake District and Morecambe Bay.

It's a quirky little place which has tried hard to promote itself on the back of the few attractions it can offer, and over the years it's become gradually more gentrified. To be honest, apart from nearby walks, and the delights of the town centre on market day, I don't find much here that appeals to me; though you may feel differently if you're an aficionado of English market towns!

There is the rather odd attraction of the Stan Laurel museum - he was born here. The official literature says: "In the old-world town centre there is a host of charming specialist shops and pubs whose appearance has changed little over the centuries. There is always a warm welcome and a friendly smile and in some shops a seat for weary shoppers! "

Ulverston officially became a market town in 1280 when a Royal Charter was granted by Edward 1 - an event celebrated every September with the Charter Festival. In the mid 1660's it also became a centre of religious activity when George Fox, founder of the Quaker Movement, lived for a time at Swarthmoor Hall, which still exists today. A thriving maritime community soon developed when the Canal was constructed in 1796. Ships from Ulverston exported copper, slate and linens around the world. A famous son of the town, Sir John Barrow, was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society and an intrepid explorer. For forty years he was Second Secretary to the Admiralty. He died in 1848 and the town constructed its most famous landmark in his honour in 1850. The Sir John Barrow monument - or Hoad Monument as it is known - is in the style of the Eddystone lighthouse and it stands proudly on Hoad Hill overlooking the town. Other famous sons of Ulverston include Lord Birkett, who represented Britain at the Nuremberg trials. He also represented Mrs Wallis Simpson when she filed for divorce prior to marrying King Edward VIII.

Probably Ulverston's most well known son is Arthur Stanley Jefferson, better known as Stan Laurel and it is fitting that the town is home to the world's only Laurel and Hardy Museum. Down one of the ancient side streets, this unique museum contains a wealth of memorabilia and a small 1920's style cinema showing classic Laurel & Hardy films.

The Sir John Barrow Monument on Hoad Hill is often open to the public during the summer months (when the flag is flying). The walk to the top of the hill is rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District fells, which can also be viewed from nearby Birkrigg Common with its prehistoric stone circle.

The Gill in the centre of Ulverston marks the start of the Cumbria Way, a 70 mile walk through The Lake District to Carlisle. The start of the walk features the Cumbria Way marker sculpture.

The Lakes Class Centre is the home of Cumbria Crystal and Heron Glass. Both companies have workshops where visitors can watch the transformation of molten glass into spectacular works of art and hand crafted crystal. The Glass Centre also houses the Gateway to Furness exhibition and is situated at the entrance to Ulverston at the foot of Hoad Hill, next to the canal.

Ulverston boasts the widest, shortest and deepest canal in the world and its banks provide a delightful walk to Canal Foot. From here, guided walks across the sands to Chapel Island and Flookburgh are available for groups by arrangement.

Nearby is Conishead Priory, a splendid Victorian gothic Mansion, now a Buddhist Centre, which provides historical tours on Summer weekends. Historic Swarthmoor Hall on the edge of the town was the birth place of the Quaker movement.

For those who like sports, there are facilities for bowling, swimming, tennis (featuring an indoor tennis centre) and fishing as well as golf on one of Cumbria's finest courses.

And of course you can always sample the food and hospitality of one of the town's cafes or restaurants. After exploring the specialist shops and the busy outdoor Coronation Hall Market (every Thursday and Saturday), and the indoor market (every day except Wednesdays and Sundays), don't forget the traditional friendly pubs, cafes and restaurants. The Coronation Hall is an impressive 636 seat theatre which offers excellent entertainment ranging from music to theatre and opera, whilst the traditional Roxy Cinema provides a variety of art house and feature films.