Lancashire is an incredibly diverse county with vast areas of charming countryside, rural villages, historic towns and, in Blackpool, one of this country’s most iconic beach resorts. And yet, it so often gets by-passed as visitors hurtle up the motorway to its more famous neighbour, Cumbria and the Lake District. But I would ask drivers from the south to take some time out to savour a few of the delights of this ancient region – you will be well-rewarded. Here are five favourite places to visit just off the M6 in Lancashire.
Rivington Pike: easily spotted from the M6 with its Beacon, Tower and aerials, it’s the summit of Winter Hill, on the Pennine Moors. On a clear day you can see Blackpool Tower, the Lake District mountains, the Welsh mountains and, across the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man. The Beacon is part of England’s early warning system and the Tower was built as a hunting lodge in the 1700s. Further down are the recently restored ‘Lost Gardens of Rivington’, originally laid out for Victorian industrialist Lord Lever. At the foot of the hill you can get refreshments at enormous Rivington Hall Barn, weekend gathering place for bikers showing off their immaculately-kept shiny motorbikes.
The Forest of Bowland: in the little maze of narrow lanes and rolling hillsides to the east of Preston it’s easy to get lost awhile and forget the hectic pace of modern life. Wander along the main street of pretty Chipping or have lunch in the well-known Inn at Whitewell. Covering over 300 square miles of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of the most notorious landmarks is Pendle Hill, home of the infamous Lancashire Witches.
Glasson Dock: the Lancaster Canal makes its exit at the very quirky Glasson Dock, to the west of the Fairtrade village of Garstang. It has an elusive air of times gone by when, in the 1800s it was a lively port handling over 100,000 tons of cargo. There’s a little café overlooking the waterway where you can watch the boats pass through the lock or you can to The Stork Inn and watch the sun set over the Irish Sea. Do search out the Smokehouse for a delicious souvenir.
Lancaster Castle: looking down over the city and River Lune, it has a solid and authoritarian air, much as it would have done in John of Gaunt’s day. Modified as a Court and Prison, the fascinating tour includes the 12th Century Keep, the Witches Tower, the old cells, the Crown Court and graceful Shire Hall. A stroll along the nearby river takes you to the excellent Maritime Museum, where Lancaster’s involvement in the slave trade is told along with more gratifying stories of this old port.
Carnforth Station Heritage Centre: ten minutes off the M6 you are transported back to the age of steam, when smuts got in your eye and a train’s whistle was the signal for a journey to unexplored areas of the country. Run by knowledgeable volunteers, the Centre traces the vital history of freight and passenger rail in the area. However, it’s the connection with that classic B&W British weepie ‘Brief Encounter’ that brings visitors from all over the world. Filmed during WWII, it tells the story of ill-fated lovers kept apart by the upright morals of 1940s England. You can watch the movie, see stills from the filming and have a sandwich in the meticulously recreated ‘Refreshment Room’, where any minute Stanley Holloway might pop in for a quick cuppa …
Zoë Dawes lives in Lancashire so is totally biased but thinks you will love the area as much as she does. Follow her travels in the UK and abroad on her award-winning blog The Quirky Traveller and @quirkytraveller on Twitter.