What’s the big idea?

In a word: desirability. Lancaster is one of those sought-after places where the number of people wishing to live there far outweighs the job opportunities available. And a quick glance at a map might show us why. It not only nestles on the verge of Morecombe Bay – one of the most fascinating and beautiful stretches of coastline in the country – but it is also surrounded by natural beauty: to the north east is the picturesque Lune Valley; to the north west Arnside and Silverdale; and to the south is the stunning Forest of Bowland. In fact Arnside, Silverdale and the Forest of Bowland are all official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
 
So for anyone wanting a city break in the country, and a real blend of different vistas, it’s pretty hard to top Lancaster.

A variety of views in the city and coast

Within the city is the castle, which has been a fortress since the 1stcentury. Not only is it impressive in itself, itoffersbreathtaking views over the town, the bridge, the sea, the distant mountains and the windings of the Lune Valley.

The town centre is equally stunning: you’ll come across a street layout that’s survived since the 12thcentury (quite a rare phenomenon compared with other towns of a similar age), and find traces of its Roman ancestry – again, something quite rare for towns of this size.
 
You’ll also find the North’s greatest folly, the Ashton Memorial, in the picturesque Williamson Park. Not only is the architecture impressive, it also boasts a breath-taking view over Morecambe Bay.
 
In nearby Morecambe is the refurbished 1930s Art Deco Midland Hotel, you’ll find it next to the stone jetty which houses the eye-catching artwork of the Tern Project – a reminder that Morecambe Bay is of international importance for birds.
 
But Morecambe is just one part of the impressive Morecombe Bay coastline, including the famous railway stopping at Carnforth (it featured in A Brief Encounter), and the railway crossing the estuary at Arnside. Needless to say, whichever part of the Bay you’re in, you’re almost spoiled for choice with stunning views and romantic sunsets.

Stunning sights of the countryside

Lune Valley is a place of warm stone villages, sweeping pastures and more stunning scenery. The area offers tranquil fishing opportunities on the River Lune, cycling on the quiet lanes, strolling along the Lune Valley Ramble, or simply spending time in the River Lune Millenium Park.
 
The Forest of Bowland is a renowned area for artists and poets. Quite simply, it’s mile upon mile of unspoilt countryside, dotted with great country pubs and idyllic scenery.
Sounds tough, eh?

The essence

Panoramic brilliance.

How it can make you feel

Visually fulfilled.
 
Lancaster is at the heart of the most inspiringly beautiful countryside and coast (the clue is in the name of the city website www.citycoastcountryside.co.uk), and this place is simply good for the soul.
 
It’s perfect for coast and country lovers, birdwatchers, and people wanting a romantic break; it’s ideal for artists and photographers because of the variety of landscapes. If you like river views, seaside scenery, mountain vistas and so on, it’s got the lot.

Interesting bits in the history

Although there is earlier evidence of people living by the River Lune, such as the Celtic Brigantes tribe, Lancaster originally came to prominence as a small Roman fort town. The big appeal of the area to the Romans was its location at the lowest bridging point of the river, plus the rather large hill adjacent to it. The current castle and the priory are here now, but it’s likely that there’d been a small church or monastery on the hill since the 8thor 9thcentury. Indeed, the exact origins of the castle and the priory aren’t clear, but it’s likely that they started off as a great hall (for some local chief) with a church attached, housed in the ruins of the Roman fort.
 
Throughout mediaeval times though, the priory was extended and further added to, becoming in the process a centre serving a vast parish up to 50 miles outside the town.
Likewise, the castle was built up through Norman times as a succession of owners and rulers would have admired the natural defences afforded by the location.
 
Although much of the area around would have been common fields, it was a strategically important region and prone to attack, or threat of, usually by the Scots heading south; hence the need to keep the castle maintained.
 
The castle became famous, not for the battles that raged there, but as the location of legal proceedings. In the middle ages Lancaster was given county town status and thus all the criminal and civil trials in the county were heard here twice a year in the form of the Assizes court. This was on top of the weekly borough courts and the quarterly court sessions.
 
Lancaster was also where all the public executions took place. This status – and the activity and crowds that accompanied such events – brought much wealth to the town.
But it was the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late 17thcentury – and the opening up of trade across the Atlantic, rather than with Europe – that was to herald explosive growth in Lancaster and transform it from a rather sleepy medieval town into an international trading port.
 
St George’s Quay, down from the castle on the banks of the Lune, was completed in 1759, and trade with the West Indies, America and the Baltic boomed. Like other ports such as Liverpool and Bristol, the slave trade played a part (ironically, Lancaster was also at the forefront years later in the quest to abolish it) and attracted new people to the town from the neighbouring areas such as Fylde and Furness, as well as from further afield, such as Ireland and Germany. (It’s interesting that Lancaster has always attracted a lot of incoming groups, yet they rarely have Lancaster in mind as their final destination – watch out for that when you visit, you may stay longer than you first thought...) This trade also led to a rapid building programme, the legacy of which can be seen in the beautiful Georgian city-centre houses today.
 
However, despite the numerous wood yards and ropewalks that show the importance of the maritime trade to Lancaster, the town eventually couldn’t keep pace with Liverpool and by the 1820s the port was in decline.
 
But the town did enjoy new growth from other sources: the opening of the canal in the late 18thcentury (which also led to the building of the beautiful aqueduct over the river Lune and, at the time, a remarkably fast passenger service); and the railways some forty years afterwards (in 1840 Lancaster was the end of the line in England, a position it held for six years until it was linked with Carlisle further north).
 
The Victorian era saw more terraced housing in the town, and new businesses popping up, such as the Varnish works and Lune Mills – home of the Williamson linoleum empire, another of Lancaster’s claims to fame.
 
By the end of the 19thcentury the town had swallowed the villages of Skerton and Scotforth, and virtually merged with Morecambe (it’s now difficult to see where one starts and the other ends), and because it was on the main road to the north, and a stopping-off point on the way to the Lake District, it became increasingly reliant on tourists.
 
Although Lancaster had lost its monopoly on holding the Assizes, the town was simply building on its previous status as a place to visit, with an important and intact history. A fact further recognised in 1937 when it was granted city status.

How to experience or ‘get under the skin’ of Lancaster

Start at the castle, the oldest working court in England and one of the best preserved castles in the country, where you can visit the new Creative Arts Centre and look at fragments of the Wery wall (part of the 4thcentury wall). Check out John O Gaunt tower (the John O Gaunt bowmen pride themselves on being the most ancient sporting club in the area, dating back to 1788)for some of the best views around.
 
You can also find out about some of the famous trials to take place here, including the 1612 Pendle witches trial (I’d recommend a pint of the local Pendle Witches Brew), the Lancaster Martyrs trial or the trial of Upholland Highwayman. Executions were carried out on the moor until 1800, before moving to Hanging Corner at the rear of the castle.
Finally, pop in to the Shire Hall, to see a stunning display of over 650 shields, which bear the arms of every English monarch since Richard the Lionheart – it’s a fascinating look at the art of heraldry.
 
When you’re finished with all the castle has to offer – and its stunning views (although it’s hard to see how you’d ever tire of those views) – go next door to the Priory, formally The Priory Church of St Mary, Lancaster. A significant feature from the 14thcentury is the set of flamboyant choir stalls, which are the glory of the priory today. Although the exterior has changed little since the 15thcentury, the interior has seen many changes.One of the pews was very large and occupied a prime place, known as Noah’s Ark.There’s also a magnificent heavy peal of bells.
 
Make your way down the hill to the river and head for St George’s Quay, which is home to the award-winning Maritime Museum and surrounded by friendly pubs. From here you can also take a water bus to the Lune aqueduct and simply float by the wonderful scenery.
 
Judges Lodgings, the oldest town house in Lancaster, is on Church Street and was built by the governor of the castle; it was previously where the judges lived during the trials and executions, but today it houses some attractive Gillow furniture, and houses the Childhood Museum.
 
Then go through the market square and see the City Museum, which includes a recently excavated Roman cavalry tombstone.
 
St Peter’s Cathedral is a short walk away heading east. This celebrated its 150thanniversary in 2009; make sure you see the 240ft spire (although at this height it would be hard to miss it!).
 
Just outside the town centre, to the south west of Lancaster is the Williamson Park, situated in a commanding position overlooking the city. Here you’ll find tranquil walks, an animal garden, a butterfly house and the previously mentioned Ashton Memorial, with its unbeatable views (there’s also the Williamson Art Gallery on the second floor if you fancy buying some of those views).
 
Finally, head over to Morecambe. On the front you’ll come across the Eric Morecambe statue and you can spend some time bird watching at the RSPB centre.
 
However, for a very different but unforgettable way of drinking in some of the amazing views, try the Cross Bay Walk, an ancient and potentially dangerous tidal crossing – but don’t worry, it’s led by the official Queen’s Guide to the Sands, who’ll make sure you’re safe and sound.

When to visit

City pics

Leicester
Preston
Worcester
Lichfield
Nottingham
Hull
Wakefield
Sunderland