A life in the lakes - Ryan Blackburn
I’m Ryan Blackburn and I own the Old Stamp House Restaurant in Ambleside. I grew up, not far away in Great Langdale and was educated at the local primary school, then at the Lakes School in Troutbeck.
I’m the third generation of my family working in hospitality in Cumbria, following my grandparents and parents before me. My restaurant specializes in Cumbrian food, and is based in the former office of William Wordsworth. I love nothing better than attending one of the great Cumbrian events such as Holker Garden Festival, Lowther Fair or Langdale Gala. It’s a great day out for all the family, with plenty to do, showing off Cumbrian community and culture at its best.
The best end to such a day is to finish off at a traditional Cumbrian pub of which there are many – a favourite of mine is the Blacksmiths Arms at Broughton Mills.
Cumbria has the most fascinating food heritage thanks to its people and its landscape. In particular, Whitehaven opened up the world for Cumbria, and the spice trade, giving Cumbria its own unique style of food: hence things like Grasmere Gingerbread, Cumberland Rum Nicky and Westmorland Pepper Bread.
The tough local landscape dictates which animals are farmed here and provides sanctuary for an abundance of wild game. We have an amazing coastline that includes the Solway Firth and Morecambe Bay supplying an array of amazing fish and shellfish. The wild flora is rich providing wild herbs, fruits and berries which regularly feature on our menu. The people who work with this local produce have made the county what it is, and give chefs like me the inspiration to produce local creative menus using the best of our local produce.
You’ll find me on the coast on a sunny day; there’s a sense of peace and quiet here, and the history and vistas here are so inspiring. As a family we’ll be wandering around Piel Island, North Walney, St Bees and Ravenglass, and I’ll be mooching about collecting wild herbs from these sea-swept landscapes, which I take back and use in the restaurant.
I grew up in the heart-stopping Langdale Valley, and got married there – to me a very special place indeed. It’s got everything, that drive passed Old Dungeon Ghyll, passed Blea Tarn and down to Little Langdale finishing at the Britannia is one of the most dramatic mountain views, crystal-clear streams and working landscapes in the land. It encompasses Cumbria’s heritage and history in one small area.
And its local inhabitant – the Herdwick Sheep sums up the Lakes for me – a hardy creature thriving in a beautiful but harsh place. They also taste really good! Whilst I feel the landscape, history and heritage must be protected and conserved for future generations; the Lake District must be a place where people can live, grow and expand – a working landscape where local people can exist and find opportunities.
I want my business to be part of the community using local suppliers and craftsmen, retaining spend within the local economy. This place is a special and unique, moulded over thousands of years by the earth and by people. Our history and industry, including the quarries, farms and ports deserve to be recognized, preserved and protected, whilst allowing for continued, sustainable growth.
The World Heritage status should provide a framework and opportunities for this sort of protection; whilst also ensuring educational opportunities and enjoyment for the tourists who come to visit.
Ryan Blackburn, Owner, The Old Stamp House
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