En route home from our day in Kirkby Lonsdale, we stopped off overnight in the historic city of Lancaster. For search engine optimisation, that’s Lancaster in Lancashire, England and not the Lancaster somewhere in the USA. That would have been a much longer bus journey.
This blog doesn’t do Lancaster justice. We barely scratched its surface – our trip was more about meeting up with friends, eating and drinking, and having a mooch round. Lancaster needs more time to see it properly. It is steeped in history and the big thing we missed out was the fantastic Lancaster Castle, which is only the main tourist attraction, oops. It’s where the Pendle witches were tried and all of that dark history is fascinating. There’s also the judge’s lodgings in a beautiful Georgian townhouse and the canal, which is lined with lovely pubs and perfect for a crisp autumnal walk.
But we did have time for arguably Lancaster’s other big attraction, Williamson Park and the Ashton Memorial within it.
Chris had only ever been to Lancaster briefly before, but it is a city very close to Caroline’s heart, having been her home for three years while at university. That’s a (horribly) long time ago now, so a lot has changed. One thing that hadn’t changed was the great quality of the grub at The Borough. We arrived in the evening so headed straight there for our tea and it did not disappoint. We then went for a quick drink at The Tap House, a craft ale bar that used to be some terrible drinking hole called Cuba back in the day. It’s definitely improved and had a good selection of local artisan beers. We stayed at the Travelodge – less exciting than our lovely B&B in Kirkby Lonsdale, but we needed to be both cheap and central and it did the job.
In the morning, we headed off for Williamson Park. This was always one of Caroline’s favourite places in Lancaster and it was a relief that it was just as good going back. It’s awful when places change or go downhill. Or simply aren’t as nice as you remember. The main thing in Williamson Park is the Ashton Memorial, which is a folly built in the early 1900s by a local millionaire in memory of his wife. You can see it for miles around because it’s bloody massive and is on top of a great big hill. The dome is a lovely green, made of copper, and stands out against the (almost always) brooding grey skies of Lancaster.
Aside from being ‘the Taj Mahal of the north’ to look at, you can also go inside it and climb up for some incredible views of Lancaster – rolling hills, Morecambe Bay and the sea. It’s easy to climb up and has proper stairs, so you’ll be fine if you’re in impractical shoes and/or wildly unfit like us.
It felt very autumnal in the park, although the leaves weren’t all golden just yet. They were on the turn though and there was a chill in the air. Well, there’s always a chill in the air up a hill in Lancaster, but this was a particularly autumnal one.
Inside the Ashton Memorial, they’ve got an exhibition centre, with local art, and it’s also a wedding venue on the ground floor. The inside isn’t really the point, it’s more about the viewing platform, but there’s some nice stained glass windows if you like that kind of thing.
Next to the Ashton Memorial is the butterfly house. We’ve not attempted to go into a butterfly house since an incident in Vienna in 2012 when Chris was attacked by disgraceful hairy butterflies. This time, we survived with no physical interaction (but still plenty of screaming).
Aside from terrifying butterflies, also in the house were some adorable little button quails. We’d never heard of these before – well, obviously we’d heard of quails, but not these cute little button chaps.
When you’ve escaped the butterflies, there’s a mini beasts house, featuring axolotls and dormice as well as lots of other not-so-cute things. And there’s an outdoor aviary with little birds in it, which are overly friendly and will land on you. But the pièce de résistance of the whole thing is of course, the guinea pigs in the petting zoo. There’s always been a good array of guinea pigs at Williamson Park and as we all know, they are the best animals in the world. Unfortunately, they were in the same enclosure as some rabbits this time. Guinea pigs and rabbits shouldn’t live together. Hopefully it was only temporary. On the plus side, they had plenty of space and were adorable and friendly.
After we’d been prised away from the guinea pigs, we did one circuit round the Ashton Memorial. There are loads of walks you can do in Williamson Park but it was blowing a gale and we needed lunch and to meet up with friends, so we headed back into Lancaster.
Back in the city centre, we had a brief whiz round some nostalgic places from Caroline’s student days. This included Bashful Alley, home of The Old Bell Coffee House. This is where to have a decent scone with your mum! There used to be some sort of story behind the name Bashful Alley, but we can’t find anything to verify it online. It was something about women using it as a shortcut in ye olden days, to avoid being harassed by men in the market. It’s a good name anyway.
Speaking of the market, it was on when we were there (a Saturday). The atmosphere is always bustling and lively in Lancaster when it’s on. There’s cheese, meats, cakes and all sorts that you can buy, as well as an array of hot and cold food to eat then and there. We bought some lunch here to eat while walking around the shops.
After our lunch on the go, we had a quick drink at The Sun (different to the Sun Inn we’d been to in Kirkby Lonsdale). This was always an excellent pub when Caroline lived in Lancaster, but seemed to have got even better, with a little outside area at the back lit up with fairy lights.
Behind the Sun is a typical Lancastrian street (called Sun Street), which is where it all seems to be happening these days. We were reliably informed by friends we met up with that this is where all the best eateries are these days and it definitely seemed to be the most up-and-coming area. We met up with said friends on this road, at The Music Room, a quirky independent café. We had a good catch up with a brew and some cake before our train home.
So that was it – until next time, because we’ll inevitably return to lovely Lancaster. We had a lovely little trip though. Next time, we’ll have to go to the castle, as well a bit further out of the city to Gresgarth Hall Gardens and surrounding pretty towns and villages.
P.S. Here’s a photo of Caroline outside Sugarhouse for nostalgic purposes. Only relevant if you are/were a student at the university and of no interest whatsoever to anyone just visiting Lancaster for a day out. Move along.