Sitting close to the shores of Morecambe Bay and within hailing distance of Lake Windermere, lies the small village of Cartmel. Home to one of the finest sticky toffee puddings that money can buy, this Cumbrian gem boasts many attractions – perhaps the most famous of which is its unique and welcoming racecourse.
One of only two tracks in the county, Cartmel’s small course can be found nestled cosily within a wooded valley on the cusp of the Lake District and offers one of British racing’s must charming experiences.
Next Race Days
- Saturday 25th May 2024
- Monday 27th May 2024
- Wednesday 29th May 2024
- more fixtures...
Located in prime holiday making territory, Cartmel operates solely during the summer months – making the most of its location and the season to draw in the tourist crowds. Whilst a visit to this singular track is a fine enough reason to drop by, there’s plenty more to see, and certainly more than enough to warrant sticking around for a day or two. And, thankfully, for those looking to extend their visit with an overnight stay, accommodation options are plentiful, both in Cartmel and in the surrounding area.
Closest to the Course
With its cobbled roads, small bridges, and streams weaving their way between the streets, there aren’t too many villages quite like Cartmel. Throw in a couple of welcoming local pubs, an array of traditional shops, and plenty of options to keep foodies satisfied, and those seeking to stay in the area may wish to look no further than the village from which the track takes its name.
One option is to stay at the course itself, with Cartmel offering a reasonably priced campsite just off the track for racegoers planning on bringing their tents and sleeping bags along. For those who prefer more solid surroundings, there are numerous choices within half a mile of the track, including a couple of pub hotels, which are super close to the track, as well as a few B&Bs.
The Priory Hotel is a pub hotel just 100 yards from the entrance of Cartmel Racecourse, which is a one-minute walk, with the pub decorated with racing memorabilia to get you in the spirit. The restaurant and bar offers pub classics, as well as a three-course Sunday Lunch. Breakfast is available all day!
The Cavendish Arms is a 500-year-old pub hotel just 120 yards from Cartmel Racecourse, which equates to a two-minute stroll. The bar and restaurant has an upmarket gastro-pub menu with a small beer garden out front. Guests have the option of a continental or full English breakfast.
The Lure of the Lakes
Whilst Cartmel itself offers a relatively calm atmosphere, for those looking to move their levels of relaxation up a notch, the delights of one of Britain’s finest national parks is only just on the doorstep. Newby Bridge in Ulverston, for example, is on the south end of Lake Windermere, which is situated in the beautiful countryside of the Lake District, but still within a 15-minute drive of the course.
The Lakeside Hotel and Spa is slightly further to Cartmel Racecourse at 17-minutes drive, however, enjoys views of the famous Lake Windermere. The hotel has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and also offers spa services. The hotel has a restaurant and bar, which uses local ingredients with a hearty English breakfast each morning.
The Swan Hotel & Spa looks over the River Leven and features two swimming pools, a hot tub, a children's play area, and a restaurant and bar. It is a great base for both exploring the Lake District and also visiting the Cartmel Racecourse being just 15-minutes by car.
The Whitewater Hotel & Spa in Newby Bridge is set on the picturesque banks of River Leven. There is a health and fitness club, including a swimming pool and squash/tennis courts, as well as two restaurants on site. The hotel is located in the heart of the Lake District with easy access to Cartmel Racecourse in under a 15-minute drive.
Kip in Kendal
In what is a real hot spot for fans of sweet treats, why not double up your Cartmel Sticky Toffee pudding with a Kendal Mint Cake. Lying only 15.5 miles to the northeast of Cartmel and so well within driving distance, Cumbria’s third-largest town boasts a host of historical attractions, including a Roman Fort and Kendal Castle, in addition to a range of traditional pubs. Accommodation options in and around the historic town are plentiful.
The Shakespeare Inn offers traditional pub accommodation with a bar and restaurant. Located in the heart of Kendal town centre, the pub has a dart board and they offer a Full English breakfast each morning.
Castle Green in Kendal is located on 14 acres of wooded gardens. The hotel includes a traditional pub, swimming pool, and spa. The restaurant offers views of Kendal Castle, as well as the lakeland countryside and is less than a 30-minutes drive to Cartmel Racecourse.
Stonecross Manor Hotel has an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room and is located in the picturesque town of Kendal, only a 21-minute drive to Cartmel Racecourse. There is a restaurant and bar on site and Kendal town centre is just a 15-minute walk away.
About the Racecourse
One of Britain’s lesser-used racing venues, Cartmel’s National Hunt-only track plays host to just nine race days per season, all of which take place between the end of May and the end of August. By limiting its activities to the warmer months of the year the track operates outside of the core National Hunt season, but nevertheless regularly lies behind only the giants of Aintree and Cheltenham when it comes to average attendance figures.
Despite its distinctly rural location, Cartmel lies on the doorstep of one of the UK’s premier tourist destinations and is much easier to reach than many may assume. The nearest train station of Cark-in-Cartmel is only 2.5 miles from the track, and together with the station at Grange-over-Sands is served by a free shuttle bus to and from the course on race days. Each of the above stations lies on the Furness line between Barrow-in-Furness and Lancaster, with Lancaster station enjoying strong links with both the north and the south.
Those travelling by car are advised to approach via the M6, turn onto the A591 at Junction 36 before following the A590 towards Barrow-in-Furness. The track will then be well signposted from this point, but do note that the last few miles are along narrow country lanes, which can slow the pace considerably. For satnav users, the postcode is LA11 6QF, but once on the A590 it is advisable to follow the signage – rather than the satnav instructions – due to the one-way system in operation on race days.
Once at the track, car parking spaces are available in both the paddock and course enclosures, being issued on a first come first saved basis at a cost of £10. Alternatively, free parking sites are located at the nearby Seven Acres and at the overflow car park just on the edge of the course. One other option for motorists is to drive the car into the course itself, with spots against the inside rail available at a cost of £20 per vehicle.
Around 1m1f in circumference and close to an oval in shape, the Cartmel circuit features tight turns and undulating sections throughout. The most unique aspect of the track comes in the shape of the finishing straight, which cuts across the centre of the course, giving the track a figure-of-eight appearance when viewed from above. Runners stick to the outer oval for all circuits other than the last, at which point they turn left-handed into this finishing section.
Whilst being stiff for a smaller track, the fences at Cartmel aren’t overly demanding and tend to result in few errors. However, if there is to be a mistake it is most likely to come at one of the final three obstacles which do come up relatively quickly after one another. Having safely negotiated the final fence, the field then faces a run-in of fully four furlongs – the longest of any track in Britain. Given this extensive section prior to the winning line, it is by no means unusual to see the lead change hands in the closing stages. Over hurdles, the final obstacle comes around one furlong before the turn into the home straight, leaving a shorter run-in of around two furlongs.
Frontrunners fare well overall at Cartmel, especially those nimble and adaptable enough to handle the bends and undulations. Any runner with solid previous form at the track is well worth considering – a comment which also applies to the riders, with a good judgment of pace being essential to success, particularly on the chase course.
An informal countryside venue that prides itself on its relaxed holiday atmosphere, Cartmel has a dress code to match. Smart casual attire is advised in the Paddock Enclosure and the restaurant areas but – other than a stipulation against arriving topless, wearing flip-flops, or both – racegoers are free to dress as they please elsewhere, whilst obviously steering clear of anything likely to be offensive in nature. Shorts and T-shirts are fine in warmer weather, whilst wellies and macs are recommended in the rain, as much of the course is open-plan and uncovered.
Unusually at Cartmel, racegoers gather within the centre of the course itself, with the Paddock and Course Enclosures lying on opposite sides of the home straight which bisects the oval. Priced at £24 for the majority of fixtures, the Paddock Enclosure provides access to the Grandstand, Parade Ring, Restaurant and Party Tents.
Course Enclosure tickets come in at between £13 and £15 and offer a more family-focused experience with an on-site fun fair in addition to a range of food, beverage and trade stands. Children go free with a paying adult in both enclosures, whilst discounts are available for Senior Citizens. Note that the above prices refer to tickets purchased in advance, with a £4 premium applying to those bought on the gate.
Unlike some other tracks, picnics are not only permitted but are positively encouraged in all areas. Cartmel is also possibly the only course in the land to list a price for erecting your own Gazebo, with racegoers able to do so in specially designated locations at a cost of £20. And for those seeking a slightly swankier raceway experience, a range of dining and hospitality packages are available, beginning at around £89 and rising to £176 for the top-end Louis Roederer Restaurant, which offers quality dining, a private viewing balcony and a panoramic view of the course.
Upcoming Fixtures at Cartmel
|Saturday 25th May 2024
|Monday 27th May 2024
|Wednesday 29th May 2024
|Friday 28th June 2024
|Sunday 30th June 2024
|Saturday 20th July 2024
|Monday 22nd July 2024
|Saturday 24th August 2024
|Monday 26th August 2024
With just nine race days to choose from, every fixture feels like something of an event at Cartmel, and the track invariably goes the extra mile to keep the crowds entertained. From fairground attractions, to live music after the racing has finished, and even a dedicated bring your own BBQ day in July, it’s no wonder that many racegoers choose to arrive very early and leave very late. For those seeking a fun and relaxed day out, each of the nine fixtures will deliver, but as is the case with all courses, Cartmel does boast its seasonal highlights.
The Saturday of Whit Weekend at the end of May signals the start of the season at Cartmel, with a three-day festival, which actually stretches for five days – racegoers being given the day off between days in order to enjoy the delights of the region. A celebratory atmosphere is guaranteed at the course throughout, with the feature event of the Grand Veterans Chase granting an opportunity to cheer on some real old favourites over a marathon 3m6f trip.
Jumping July Meeting
A day off in between race days is a common theme running through Cartmel’s major events, meaning that this two-day July fixture actually extends for three days. As ever featuring all the fun of the fair and a host of pop-up refreshment and trade stalls, this meeting is regularly bathed in sunshine and features the track’s most valuable contest of the Cumbria Crystal Hurdle.
And a mere three months after opening its doors, the curtain comes down with this two-day late summer meeting. Yet again allocating a day off between race days to sample Cartmel Village, the Lake District, or whatever takes your fancy, when it comes to the racing action this fixture may well be the pick of the bunch. Lit up by both the track’s signature contest of the Cartmel Cup, and the Cavendish Cup – named in honour of the family who have lent such support to the track over the years – the fixture serves as a fitting finale to a short but spectacular season.
Tales of equine entertainment in this corner of Cumbria go back a very long way indeed. All the way to the 15th century in fact, when the Monks at the nearby priory are believed to have raced their mules against one another. Monks and mules are, of course, a far cry from the sport we know and love today, and it wasn’t until a little later that more conventional racing fare arrived, with the first written accounts of such activity dating from 1856.
Switch to Jumps Racing
Initially an exclusively flat racing venue – and a very low key one at that, with just the one meeting being staged on Whit Monday each year – by the start of the 20th century, Cartmel had made the switch to jumps racing. It was, however, a little while longer yet before the course began to take off in terms of popularity.
Originally backed by local landowners, the track remained a resolutely amateur concern right up until the end of the Second World War, only beginning to expand and become professionalised in the second half of the 20th century. 1947 saw the addition of an annual Saturday meeting, with the season-ending August festival becoming embedded in the fixture list during the 1960s.
Gay Future Scam of 1974
And not long after the establishment of Cartmel as a respectable and professional racing venue came the track’s most infamous incident – the Gay Future scam of 1974. The brainchild of an Irish betting syndicate, this con involved the switching of a slow horse by the name of Gay Future, with his doppelganger, Arctic Chevalier, who really wasn’t very slow at all, in fact being quick enough to storm home by 15 lengths at odds of 10/1. Even the best-laid swindles can come unstuck though, and following an investigation by Scotland Yard, the guilty parties were brought to justice at a 1976 trial.
The period following the Gay Future incident then marked a time of stagnation for the course. Fortunes were however revived in 1998 when a management buyout by Hugh Cavendish sparked a renewed period of growth. Benefitting from significant upgrades to the irrigation system and the building of a brand-new Grandstand – complete with restaurant and hospitality facilities – the course is now on the up once more, and remains one of the UK’s very best summertime holiday tracks.