Yesterday morning was one of those fresh breezy April starts to the day, but still lovely and sunny after the recent good weather we’ve been having. What better way to spend the day then, than to go to the annual Damson Day celebrations in the beautiful Lyth Valley?
I had been looking forward to this weekend’s Damson Day, as it isn’t something I’ve been to previously. Hosted by Low Farm, Lyth, which is not far off the A590 near Levens, the event apparently attracts well over 3000 visitors each year. I actually decided to drive in on another route by heading south out of Bowness-on-Windermere on the A5074, which takes you on a winding but pretty journey through the Lyth Valley, and makes for a more leisurely start to the day than taking the dual carriageway.
Damson Day, as the name suggests, is a celebration of all things damson, but with much more besides. On the damson theme, there were organised walks to some of Lyth’s nearby orchards (sadly, the blossom is a little on the shy side this year, and so wasn’t out in time for the festival), damson recipe competitions, and stalls bearing a tasty range of damson produce, from chutney and marmalades to ice cream and gin. Damson Day is about celebrating the Springtime damson blossom, with the damson fruit itself being harvested in September.
My favourite damson taste discovery of the day was a stand by Bonningate Cottage, a relatively new local producer, whose delightful and appetising display included jars of damson ketchup, marmalade, chutney, jams and coulis, as well as salted caramel and an outstanding rose petal jelly. As someone who can’t eat tomatoes, and therefore a whole host of sauces and condiments such as tomato ketchup, I was absolutely thrilled to come across this damson alternative. I have seen damson ketchups before and never tried them, but this one is packed with flavour. I also can’t wait to try the coulis again, which I can imagine is ideal for serving over ice cream, and the flavour and texture of the rose petal jelly is indescribable – if you enjoy the rose flavour of turkish delight, this is definitely the thing for you. Bonningate’s distinctive purple bags could be seen all around the show, and I will certainly be looking out for more of Gill’s tasty creations at future events.
There were a host of other local food producers, and loving food as I do, I spent a good amount of time looking round. Nearby Savin Hill Farm‘s stand really stood out for its choice of meat, sausages and cooked pies. I tasted the farm’s pork sausage with ginger and apricot, a combination I haven’t seen before, and which has a fiery, moreish aftertaste. I also sampled a deliciously rich damson cheese made by Elliott’s, and which apparently has uses as diverse as the filling for a victoria sandwich!
As well as the food, there were plenty of other things to see, including a range of cookery demonstrations by local producers, musical entertainment, a fun fair for the children, tents of local arts and crafts, weaving and coppice craft demonstrations, plant stalls, a blacksmith demonstration, dog agility trials, animals and archery.
The event, although not as big as some of the other local shows, had plenty to occupy every member of the family and had a genuinely warm and festival atmosphere about it.
Damson Day is organised by The Westmorland Damson Association, which itself was formed in 1996 to restore local orchards and encourage the creation of damson products, following a period of decline in damson production. According to the association, damsons have been grown in the Lyth and Winster Valleys for many years, and until the Second World War, on Damson Saturday in October, Kendal would be full of carts selling damsons in the streets. Apparently, up to 80 cartloads at a time would be taken to the railway station at Sandside or the Lancaster Canal at Hincaster, to be transported to Lancashire’s jam factories. In 1938, the quantity of damsons sold in Westmorland was around 200 tons, whereas now it is approximately 10.
On reflection, what I enjoyed so much about Damson Day is that it is one of those events that makes you feel completely in tune with the time of year it celebrates. In a period where we have become so disconnected from the roots of our food, it is a small and timely reminder of where we are in nature’s calendar (even if the blossom is a little late!).
I also love that distinctive tiredness that I find you only ever experience after a day ambling around a windswept country show – there’s nothing like it to induce a good night’s sleep! I’d definitely like to go back to a future show, and hope to experience others like it later in the year.
Did you go to the Damson Day celebrations? What did you enjoy most? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.