In 2009, the small historic town of Cockermouth was decimated by flooding that swept through West Cumbria. Businesses were inundated, residents lost their homes, and a few miles down the road in Workington, hero and police officer, Bill Barker, tragically lost his life trying to rescue others on a collapsed bridge. In 2010, after months of building works in the independent shops that dominated the town’s Main Street, businesses and community groups in Cockermouth came together to try and declare the town open for business once more. They decided to hold a food festival to celebrate everything that Cumbrian producers had to offer, and Taste Cumbria was formed.

The success of that first festival has been echoed in towns around the county in the last eight years, whilst the Cockermouth Festival has grown in size to become the largest of its kind in the county, attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the town. This year, in 2017, the festival takes place from Friday the 22nd to Sunday the 24th of September, and it’s definitely one that should not be missed.

1. The Market

Taste Cockermouth 2016

Taste Cockermouth Food Market 2016

No food festival would be complete without a market, and the market at the Cockermouth Food Festival is one of the largest, and it’s where the largest crowds accumulate during the event. Traders from across the county, and some from slightly further afield, set up their stands along the wide Georgian high street. You will find everything here, including freshly baked bread, cakes and other sweet treats, deli meats, farm fresh meat, chutneys, cheeses, and a plethora of beverages. Entry to the market is free and there is a park and ride service in operation from Mitchell’s Livestock Centre just off the A66 outside of Cockermouth.

2. The Masterclasses

Cooking masterclass

The festival is known for its masterclasses, hosted by a mixture of celebrity chefs and local producers with specialist knowledge. This year, the classes are a diverse mix that includes nutritionist, Sarah Kekus, also known as 'the Health Architect', providing information on her unique approach to healthy living. You'll also encounter Maria Benjamin, a farmer who has created a soap from Jersey milk that she claims is so good, users will never need to moisturise again.

3. The Secret Gin Garden

Gin & Tonic

Gin has certainly seen a revival in recent years, and in Cumbria, we have several gin producers making waves in a competitive market. As part of the festival, a secret gin garden can be found at the Castlegate House Gallery. The event is hosted by Shed 1 Gin, a small-scale distillery in Ulverston, Tipsy Filly, a mobile gin bar, and Shills of Cockermouth, a specialist deli and fine wine shop in Cockermouth. Attendees will receive a masterclass in gin cocktails, as well as gifts to take home.

4. Taste Comedy

Microphone over a Brick Wall

On Friday evening, three comics take over a marquee in the grounds of the Jennings Brewery for an evening of laughter. Freddy Quinne, David Hadingham, and Eddy Brimson will all be performing their popular routines. Of course, being held in the grounds of the brewery means that attendees will have easy access to the ‘festival in a festival’ taking place at Jennings, which brings us to…

5. Jennings Mini Beer Festival

Cold Beers Cask

The Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth is known for getting involved in local events, so it’s no surprise to the town’s residents that they will be hosting their own “mini beer festival” as part of Taste Cumbria. Entry to the festival is completely free (yes, free!) and there will be over 30 ales, ciders and lagers to try, plus live music and a pub quiz evening. The brewery will also be launching its brand new ale that has been created in collaboration with Cumbria’s newest brewer, Tractor Shed Brewing, especially for the festival.

6. The Lakes Distillery Tour Specials

The Lakes Distillery Bistro

The Lakes Distillery Bistro (Photo thanks to the the Lakes Distillery)

If beer isn’t your thing, then check out the Lakes Distillery, a few miles outside of Cockermouth on the shore of Bassenthwaite. For the food festival, special tours are being put on that will include additional tastings of their brand new liqueur range and discounted rates in the shop. This being a food festival, do take time to try out some of the delicious food available in the distillery’s bistro whilst you are there.

7. The Children’s Activities

Kids Cooking

Alongside all the sweet treats you will find in the market, there are lots of children’s activities to keep little ones amused. On the Saturday and Sunday at 3pm in the Coffee Kitchen on Market Place, children can attend a free masterclass where they can bake something delicious to take home. Throughout the weekend a children’s area will be located next to Sainsburys, where there will be free crafts, children’s rides, and even a replica beach!

8. The Pop Up Restaurants

Luxury Restaurant

This year, a very special pop-up restaurant will appear in Wordsworth House – William Wordsworth’s childhood home and now a National Trust property. Here, Michelin-starred chef, Kevin Tickle, of the Forest Side in Grasmere, will cook up an amazing feast for an exclusive number of guests. Elsewhere, the town’s wonderful restaurants till be joining in the celebrations with special dishes and other activities.

9. The Hot Food Stands

Gourmet Burger

If you don’t have time to visit one of the restaurants, then you can still enjoy some delicious hot grub during the food festival with numerous hot food traders in attendance, serving various dishes, including burgers and Cumberland sausages.

10. The Samples

Cheese selection

Of course, you might not have any room for a burger or a meal in a restaurant once you have strolled through the market, since most traders provide the opportunity to try before you buy. Sample cheeses, breads, cakes and more. Yum!