Lancashire’s not one of England’s better known counties. And that’s a real shame, because it has so much going for it. If you’re tempted by a trip to this part of the north west – think between Manchester and Glasgow but closer to the former – then you’re in for a treat. I’ve found 11 lovely locations in Lancashire for your traveling pleasure.
The county was founded in the twelfth century as the lands that lay between the rivers Ribble and Mersey. It became a major commercial and industrial area during the Industrial Revolution. Lancashire’s wealth was founded on trade via Liverpool and Manchester. The county had several mill towns and the collieries of the Lancashire coalfield to generate its wealth.
I was surprised to learn that by the 1830s. around 85% of the cotton manufactured in the world was processed in Lancashire in mill towns such as Burnley, Chorley, Darwen, Preston and Wigan. Blackpool, of which more later, was the centre for tourism for the mill workers of Lancashire.
Today the conurbations of Merseyside and Greater Manchester have been administratively separated from Lancashire. In practice, many friends who live in Lancashire actually work in Manchester, and there are close transport links including a tram service. Today you have the coastline of the Irish Sea to the west, Greater Manchester and Merseyside to the south, North and West Yorkshire to the east and Cumbria to the north.
The House of Lancaster – symbolised by a red rose – was the opponent to the House of York – the white rose – in the Wars of the Roses. Henry Tudor combined both roses into a single emblem, called the Tudor Rose, in 1485. Rosa Gallica Officialis, the Apothecary’s Rose, is the Red Rose of Lancaster.
Lancaster: County Town of Lancashire
Lancaster is a small city situated on the banks of the River Lune. Many of the lands here are held by the Duchy of Lancaster, with the Queen herself being Duke of Lancaster in her role as monarch. The historic Port of Lancaster and the canal accounted for much of the city’s early trade. It’s now a university city, with a campus just out of the town at Bailrigg. As such it has plenty of arty amenities and entertainment.
Lancaster Castle, which you can see above, is thought to have been founded in the eleventh century, then rebuilt in medieval times. Its last military action was during the English Civil War, when repairs to the keep cost £235. The trial of the notorious Pendle Witches took place here. The building served as a prison until 2011. Lancaster has the reputation as the court that sentenced more people to death than any other in England, probably because it was the only county court in the area and covered Liverpool and Manchester’s populations too. The castle courtyard is open to the public, and has a cafe.
Now you can walk some of beautiful Lancaster via the Lancashire Witches Walk, which runs for 51 miles from Barrowford to Lancaster Castle. While you’re in Lancaster, don’t forget to see the beautiful Ashton Memorial (also known as the jelly mould) from which you can get great views of the city.
Morecambe is the quintessential seaside resort, based around a broad, sandy and shallow bay, making it great for families. Here you can enjoy fish and chips, fritter away small amounts of cash in amusement arcades and then stop off at legendary Brucciani’s parlour for an ice cream sundae or two.
It’s an easy spot to while away a summer day, and there’s usually plenty of entertainment to be found in the pubs, bars, clubs and theatre too. Pictured is the tribute to Eric Morecambe, comic entertainer and half of Morecambe and Wise. He loved his birthplace so much that it became his stage name. Alan Bennett, the playwright and author, was another famous resident, with the town influencing many of his works.
Morecambe hosts plenty of festivals throughout the year including the Kite Festival, the Morecambe Jazz Festival, the 1950s Tutti Frutti Festival, punk and ska showcase Nice N Sleazy and the biannual steampunk festival A Splendid Day Out.
Morecambe Bay is the largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand in the United Kingdom, covering more than 300 square kilometers. Five rivers drain into the bay, with their various estuaries acting as peninsulas. Much of the land has been reclaimed as salt marshes. This is an important wildlife site, with bird life and varied marine habitats. You’ll find a bird observatory at Walney Island.
There are a number of islands within the bay, and they make a stunning trip at low tide. If you walk to Chapel or Piel islands you should take local advice, as fast tides and quicksands are treacherous. Crossing the Bay is a big deal here, and it can be a brilliant walk with appropriate safety precautions. There has been a royally appointed local guide – the Queen’s Guide to the Sands – for centuries. It has been said that the tide can come in “as fast as a horse can run” making safety and local knowledge the key to a great visit. You can find out more about the Cross Bay Walk here. There are more walks in the area for which you don’t need a guide.
Forest of Bowland
I’ve written about the Forest of Bowland before as one of England’s hidden treasures, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s been designated as an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but that doesn’t even come close to expressing just how spectacular the landscape is. This is an area of heather moorland, blanket bogs and rare birds.
You’ll see the road to Bowland marked south of Lancaster after you pass the university campus at Bailrigg and then drive through the village of Galgate. Stock yourself up with provisions because this is isolated countryside with few facilites. Down in the valley, you’ll see beautiful wooded river banks populated by curious sheep.
After the river valley, you’ll start to climb through the gritstone fells. There are tiny villages, probably more like hamlets, rocky rivers and small roads clinging to the sides of steep drops. At one point we had to wait for a group of cows to let us past. There are a few places to leave the car and go for a proper walk. The views are spectacular, and you’d swear that the very air is doing your soul good. At times our satnav showed only the road we were on – an absolute rarity in England.
This is a great place to spot wildlife. There were lots of rabbits gallivanting away at the edge of the road, more birds than I could identify, grouse on the moorland and plenty of butterflies. This is also farming country; roads have frequent cattle grids, but be prepared to find stock – whether sheep or cows – in your path from time to time. Breathe deep, and walk happy in this beautiful place.
If you like your coast untamed and ready for exploring, this could be your spot. This is the kind of place populated by dog walkers and horse riders, and where people bring small children to be entertained by the inhabitants of rock pools at low tide.
You’ll find a single campside and cafe just behind the spot where this photo was taken. We stopped for lunch at Archers Cafe at Red Bank Farm, where they had plenty of local potted shrimps. The tidal flats here are amazing. The picture above is at high tide, and at low tide, not a single bit of that water you can see was present. So this is another place to check the tide times, be very aware of your surroundings, and take care when walking out a long way onto the tidal flats.
Carnforth is just a few miles north from Lancaster. It might seem vaguely familiar. Think moral dilemmas, disappointment in marriage, and the start of an affair. We’re talking the film Brief Encounter, which was filmed here. You can read about the choice of location here. The plot needed a busy station, and also one far enough away from the south east that the blackout over London would not be broken by filming.
Next door to the station is a friendly micropub called The Snug. It was warm, welcoming, and full of chatty locals when we visited. There’s a pretty little town to explore too, which is a popular base for walkers and cyclists.
Glasson Dock is a tiny village of less than 1000 people. The dock was originally built because of the difficulty in navigating up the River Lune to Lancaster. It can only be entered for an hour either side of high tide. There’s a marina here with mooring facilities for over two hundred boats, suggesting that rush hour could be quite busy.
Glasson Dock is a lovely foodie spot. It’s home to the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse, full of everything from kippers to chorizo and sausage. You’ll also find the lovely Lantern O’er Lune Cafe Bistro. It’s a spot to enjoy modestly priced and delicious home cooking. If you have food allergies, you can most definitely trust both their food knowledge and their understanding of how dishes are prepared. The location means that fish specials change daily depending on the catch; mussels there were gorgeous. The bistro opens on Friday evenings, and I’d suggest you book if you are interested.
Heysham and the Isle of Man
Heysham itself is a large village on the coast, full of colourful cottages. There are sites of historic interest such as the stone graves in the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel (featured as a Black Sabbath album cover). Don’t forget to check out the Heritage Centre, housed in a longhouse. It also has a large nature reserve.
Heysham also made this list because of its ferry port, and the services it runs to the Isle of Man. Steam Packet offers a ferry service to Douglas, Isle of Man, up to 13 times a week, with a crossing time of just under 4 hours. That’s Peel Castle in the picture above. There’s also a freight service from Heysham to Belfast.
Preston, on the bank of the River Ribble, has been settled since Roman times. Textiles were produced here, and in the 13th century, most work was carried out in people’s houses. The Industrial Revolution saw boom times, with Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the Spinning Jenny, being born here. The right to have a Guild Merchant was given by King Henry II in 1179; the Preston Guild is the only one of its kind still celebrated in the UK. As the celebration’s every 20 years, you’ll have to wait until 2032 for the next one. The local expression “Once in a Preston Guild” – meaning not very often – derives from this.
St Walburge’s Church has the tallest spire of any church that’s not a cathedral in the UK. There’s lots of attractive architecture; even the Bus Station is Grade II listed. Also in Preston you’ll find eight parks, a scattering of museums and the historic Ribble Steam Railway. The city is home to the University of Central Lancashire, the sixth largest university in the country, so has plenty of associated facilities. Preston’s also the birthplace of animator Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame.
Once the holiday town of mill workers across Lancashire, Blackpool is still a thriving seaside resort. In the mid 18th century, it became fashionable to travel to the coast in summer to promote good health. The iconic Tower Ballroom has seen increased activity again as the public love affair with Strictly Come Dancing and all matters ballroom continues.
Blackpool has a sea front of seven miles of sandy beach. Along this front in the autumn, you’ll find the illuminations, colourful lighting displays that create a spectacle. Trams run the length of the front, and there are amusement arcades, cabarets, the Pleasure Beach funfair with rides, and plenty of traditional seaside shops selling rock and candyfloss. Blackpool remains the UK’s favourite seaside resort. It was also the first resort to introduce free wifi throughout. It has the reputation of being a very safe LGBT+ destination.
Lytham St Annes
To avoid any local confusion, I should tell you that Lytham St Annes is actually Lytham, and St Annes. Both are rather lovely. I’m particularly fond of the pier at St Annes, piers in general becoming less of a feature of the coast after much sea damage in recent years. St Annes is a typical Victorian seaside town, and home to ERNIE, the Premium Bonds selection machine. Maybe I should sweet talk him…
If you like golf, this is your spot, with four courses in the area. There’s also the beautiful Lytham Windmill, lots of small independent shops, the microbrewery Lytham Brewery and Lytham Hall, the grounds of which host open-air theatre.
It wouldn’t be right to leave Lancashire without a nod to its food. All those cotton workers can’t be wrong. You’ll find traditional Lancashire cheese here: salty, tangy and crumbly. Eccles cakes, made of flaky pastry layers with spices and currants are also local, as are the similar but not to be confused Chorley cakes. And Morecambe Bay potted shrimps are widely available, brilliant with toast, lemon and a bit of salad on the side.
Lancashire Cheese: Just as nice with a piece of fruit cake as with crackers
If you’ve come across the delight that is Toad in the Hole before, you’ll be happy to know that it originated in Lancashire. At that time, it had the even more descriptive name of Frog-i’-th’-‘ole. For the uninitiated, this is a savoury dish, consisting of sausages cooked inside batter, the batter being essentially a Yorkshire pudding (think popovers, if you’re reading this from across the Pond). It’s puffy, golden, will stick your ribs together, and if you add enough green vegetables, you can persuade yourself it’s a healthy little number.
Toad In The Hole: I have to tell you that the odd number of sausages makes me uneasy…someone’s going to be disappointed!
More English Exploration
If you’ve loved Lancashire, you can read more about our trip to the land of the Red Rose here. We also went across to Yorkshire, to visit the Dales and to take the Settle-Carlisle train line. Further south, we went exploring the Staffordshire Potteries and to Birmingham, England’s second city. One of these Lancashire beauties also features in our guide to England’s hidden travel treasures.
If you liked this, why not pin it for later.