8 reasons you should visit Lancaster
PUBLISHED: 08:42 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 23:25 23 October 2015
From an castle that thwarted invading Scots to a thriving arts scene and a calendar packed full of events, Lancaster has it all. Emma Mayoh found out more
Lancaster Castle is widely regarded as one of the most fascinating historic buildings in the country. Dating back to Roman times, it was once an effective defence point against the marauding forces of ancient Scot tribes, the site of the Pendle Witch trials, executions for everything from murder to stealing cattle and, in more recent times, a working prison. It is sometimes known as John O’Gaunt’s Castle because it was inherited by him after descendants of King Henry III died leaving no male heir.
Visit this month and you can experience An Authentic Victorian Magic Lantern Show in the Shire Hall on the 7th. Andrew Gill, a magic lantern showman will transport visitors back to Victorian England. There is also a Dark History Tour on the 18th where costumed guides take you through the dimly lit corridors and shadowy rooms.
Lancaster City Museum
Lancaster has always prided itself on its historic past – from the War of the Roses to the Pendle Witches. And there is plenty to more to discover at Lancaster City Museum. This former town hall, in Market Street, was built in the late 1700s but was not opened as a museum until 1923.
Today, you can see collections that extensively illustrate the history and archaeology of the city from the Neolithic age, Roman times through to the present day. It also houses the Museum of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and there are regular rolling exhibitions and talks about the area’s heritage.
Soak up more of the city’s history at Lancaster Maritime Museum, which puts the spotlight on the area’s Georgian trading past, or the Judges’ Lodgings, former home to 17th century witch hunter Thomas Covell, which now has a renowned collection of Gillow furniture, fine art and the Museum of Childhood.
There are 54 acres of parkland in this pretty part of the city with spectacular views as well as the beautiful Ashton Memorial folly, built by Lancaster’s linoleum industrialist Lord Ashton in 1909. Families will also enjoy exploring The Butterfly House, a tropical oasis in the recently refurbished former Palm House that now resembles a rainforest with flowers, trees, vines, foliage and colourful butterflies. There’s also a perfect pit-stop in the Pavilion Café, where you can enjoy more of those lovely views.
Light up Lancaster
This annual festival of light takes place every November. Expect music, dance, performance and art installations as well as landmarks and hidden gems that will be illuminated. There will also be tours, talks and workshops and the event culminates in the city’s famous and spectacular fireworks display. They are launched from the top of Lancaster Castle and can be seen across the whole city. A must see. Light up Lancaster takes place on November 6th and 7th.
A shopper’s paradise
Lots of independent shops await visitors and Sun Street and Gage Street are good places to start. But around the city there are lovely fashion boutiques, galleries dedicated to fine art as well as local and handmade crafts, interiors shops and there is a music shop which has its own music school. Then there’s the city’s two shopping arcades and main high streets with the usual fare of city centre stores. There’s also a busy open air market on Wednesday and Saturdays and also a small indoor market called the Assembly Rooms which has a range of quirky stalls.
Enjoy the outdoors
As well as the beautiful Williamson Park, Lancaster is also home to the River Lune Millennium Park which stretches along the banks of the Lune from Bull Beck, near Caton, to Salt Ayre in Lancaster. There are lovely strolls and cycleways and dotted along the route are various striking pieces of art work. You can also try and spot salmon in the River Lune – September and October are the best times.
If you fancy seeing more of the surrounding area too, you won’t go wrong with a boat trip down the Lancaster Canal or a canal boat ride to the Lune Aqueduct. This masterpiece of civil engineering, designed by John Rennie, carries the canal more than 600 feet across the River Lune.
A thriving arts scene
This is a city that knows how to celebrate the arts. There’s the charming Grand Theatre, built in 1782, which puts on a variety of shows with a strong emphasis on comedy. This month shows include Teechers, Fascinating Aida – Charm Offensive and Little Shop of Horrors.
You can also watch a film, catch a show or have a drink in the bar at the nearby Dukes Theatre who also organise outdoor theatre in Williamson Park in the summer. At Lancaster University, a range of theatre, dance and world class musical events are put on during term time. St John the Evangelist Church in North Road, a Georgian place of worship consecrated in 1755, is also known for its superb acoustics and is used for lunchtime and evening concerts, recitals and lectures. Access, though, is strictly by arrangement.
Ruskin Library and Research Centre
John Ruskin enthusiasts will love this gem of a place in the grounds of Lancaster University. The Ruskin Library and Research Centre houses the Whitehouse Collection of materials relating to the artist. You’ll also find manuscripts, letters, diaries, books and pictures by Ruskin as well as by his friends and associates including Samuel Prout. There are also copies of Old Master paintings and photographs from Ruskin’s personal collections.
There is a busy calendar of exhibitions alongside the permanent collections. This month and next you can catch the latest show Returned triumphant: loans to the exhibition John Ruskin, Artist and Observer. It includes drawing of the Ravine at Maglans.
Need to know
Where is it? Lancaster is a city in north Lancashire near Morecambe and Carnforth. Type LA1 1HT in your sat nav to get there.
Where can I park? There are many places to park including in Nelson Street, Edward Street and Upper St Leonardgate. Priced from £1.30 for an hour.
Where can I stay? You’re spoilt for choice for lovely places to stay here. The Borough, housed in a fine Georgian building and Penny Street Bridge, on the site of the toll house that was once the gateway to the city are good options.
Where can I eat and drink? There are lots of cafes, coffee shops and restaurants here. You’ll smell the aroma of coffee coming from J Atkinson & Co and you can sample ales from Lancaster Brewery in several places. You’ll never be short of a place to find a good cake either. The Hall Coffee Shop is a good place to start or for something a little different try The Whale Tail Café.
Why do you love Lancaster? Send us your tweets and favourite pictures to @lancashirelife.