Lancaster, England: 10 Reasons to visit

Lancaster, UK
photo by Terran Brown via Flickr 

Paul Miles, The Daily Telegraph, May 29, 2015

The Queen visits Lancaster today. Here are 10 reasons to head to a city once associated with hangings and lunatics.

Lancaster was once known as the ‘hanging town’ and later earned a reputation for ‘lunatics and linoleum’. All that has changed. The ‘lunatic asylum’ of Moor Hospital, where Alan Bennett’s mother was treated, is now luxury flats. The lino industry is no more. It’s still a great place to ‘hang’ but not literally, thankfully. Now the city of just 46,000 has a more tourist-friendly strapline: ‘Small city big story.’

Lancaster Castle

Dating back 1,000 years, this hilltop grade I-listed fortress was a prison for centuries. Outside London, more people were hanged here than anywhere else in England, earning Lancaster the sobriquet of ‘the hanging town’. You no longer need to be a criminal to visit. Since 2013, it’s been open to tourists. The Georgian courtrooms are impressive.

Coffee quarter

J.Atkinson & Co coffee roasters, established in 1837, claims to be the city’s oldest business. New owners are injecting the city with a caffeine buzz. Their two cafes, The Hall and The Music Room are especially popular. Upcycled, vintage and ‘hipster’ - but without silly beards. The Hall won ‘best flat white in the UK’ in 2013.

Lancaster Canal

43 miles of lock-free canal winds its way through Lancaster and the surrounding farmland. In the 19th century a horse-drawn passenger boat, Waterwitch, made the 30-mile journey from Lancaster to Preston in a speedy three hours. Today visitors can take a diesel-powered pleasure cruise across an impressive Georgian aqueduct over the River Lune. A return trip of 4.2 miles takes nearly two hours.


There are some 50 miles of traffic-free cycleways in and around Lancaster. Lancaster to Morecambe promenade is just three miles or follow the River Lune on a tarmac, car-free cycle path from Glasson Dock to the Forest of Bowland AONB and the Crook O' Lune, a bend in the river, painted by JMW Turner.

Midland Hotel, Morecambe

This 1930s art deco hotel was party venue of choice for the likes of Coco Chanel and Noel Coward but by the late 1990s it was empty and derelict. Newly renovated by über developers Urban Splash, the hotel, with famous bas reliefs by sculptor Eric Gill, sparkles once more. Morecombe is just a 15-minute train ride away.

Ashton Memorial, Williamson Park

This Edwardian Baroque memorial, like a mini St Paul’s high on a hill, dominates Lancaster’s skyline. 150ft tall, the ‘jelly mould’ was commissioned by Lancaster’s ‘Lino King’, Lord Ashton. Tradition has it that he commissioned the memorial to honour his late wife but before it was completed he’d remarried. Awkward. There are fine views to the coast.

Maritime Museum

Lancaster was once among the five busiest ports in Britain. Tall ships carrying sugar, spices, tea and coffee sailed up the River Lune into the city. The colonnaded customs house, a fine Georgian building, is now a maritime museum that also tells of the slave trade.

Forest of Bowland

In medieval times a ‘forest’ was a royal hunting ground. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is often overlooked as visitors flock to the nearby Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. This means the country lanes that wind through its stone villages and moorland hills are free of traffic. Perfect for cycling (you could always tackle the hills with electric bikes...).

Judge’s Lodgings

Originally home to a keeper of Lancaster Castle who was a notorious witch hunter, this grand house is the oldest in Lancaster, with parts dating to 1550. Between 1776 and 1975 judges visiting the court at nearby Lancaster Castle lodged here. Now it’s a museum with a renowned collection of Gillow furniture.

Lancaster Market

Potted shrimps from Morecambe Bay, Lancashire cheese, Lancashire sauce, smoked fish… Lancashire’s got more just hot pot. There are many stalls of locally produced food at the outdoor Charter market on Wednesday and Saturday as well as a hog roast and more exotic fare, such as falafels and, erm, Cornish pasties.

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This article was written by Paul Miles from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.