En route home from our day in Kirkby Lonsdale, we stopped off overnight for one day in Lancaster. FYI to Google, that’s the historic city of Lancaster in Lancashire, UK and not another Lancaster somewhere in the USA. That would have been a rather long bus journey.
Chris had only ever been to Lancaster briefly before, but it is a city very close to my heart, having been my home for three years while at university. That’s a (horribly) long time ago now. So a lot has changed.
Disclaimer: This blog post 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. You need 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 bloody tourist attraction, oops. The poor old Pendle witches had their trials there. All of that dark history! Also, there’s the judge’s lodgings – a beautiful Georgian townhouse. The canal nearby is lined with lovely pubs – perfect for a summer walk. What I’m trying to say is I probably shouldn’t have written this post given we had such a short amount of time but I love Lancaster and did get some nice pictures so it’s happening. Just don’t judge it based on this meagre offering. It’s an amazing, underrated city.
Williamson Park: The Ashton Memorial
Williamson Park is, unsurprisingly, a park. It’s the biggest green space in Lancaster and definitely worth going to. 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 copper dome is a lovely green colour. It 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.
They’ve got an exhibition centre inside, with local art, and it’s also a wedding venue on the ground floor. The inside isn’t really the point though, it’s more about the viewing platform. But there’s some nice stained glass windows if you like that kind of thing.
Williamson Park: the butterfly house
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.
Williamson Park: animals, birds and mini beasts
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 best animals in the world: guinea pigs.
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.
Where to eat and drink in Lancaster
One evening meal, several drinks, lunch and a cake isn’t really enough to some up all the lovely places you can forage through in Lancaster. But I tried to whiz round some of my favourites in the short space of time we had.
Where to get a good scone
On the amazingly named Bashful Alley, you’ll find 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 I 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. Depressing #everydaysexism through the ages.
Where to find good pub food and craft ales
One thing that hadn’t changed since I lived in Lancaster 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 went for a 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.
The Sun (different to the Sun Inn we’d been to in Kirkby Lonsdale) was another port of call. This was always an excellent pub when I lived in Lancaster, but seemed to have got even better, with a little outside area at the back lit up with fairy lights.
Another good place for a drink (or indeed food) is Merchants 1688. It’s a wine cellar with a lovely atmosphere. It was always too posh for me as a student but as a haggard 30something, I loved it this time round. One of the cellars has an amazing wall decorated with Penguin Classics book covers.
The market 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.
All the best food and drink on Sun Street
A typical Lancastrian street (called Sun Street) is where it all seems to be happening. The friends we met up with live in Lancaster so we were reliably informed 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.
For next time…
So that was it – until next time, because we’ll inevitably return to lovely Lancaster. We have to do the castle. We had a lovely little trip though. Next time, we’ll also venture 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.
One day in Lancaster: useful information
How to get there (and away)
The train station is very central and quite well connected. You can get there in an hour and a half from central Manchester.
Where to stay
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. There seem to be some gorgeous holiday lets around, so next time we’ll try not to be basic.
How to get around
Buses are everywhere if you want to get out of the walkable city centre.
When to go
We went in August, when the weather was typically Lancastrian: grey. It suits a brooding sky though. Honestly, there’s loads to do indoors like the castle if the weather is bad, so it’s fine any time of year.
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