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Lancaster city lies on the River Lune and is close to Morecambe Bay and also the lake District. There are a great many historic buildings such as the Lancaster Castle which was once a prison and is open to the public and has a nice cafe in the courtyard although I still have to try this out it is on my list to visit.
The City does not have as many high street shops as most cities but the two covered shopping areas, St. Nicholas Arcade and CornMarket does have a selection of well know shops such as Next, New Look, Waterstones and a new Primark which is due to open this year.
The street market is held twice weekly and has a wide range of stalls which offer vibrancy to the newly refurbished Market Square. The square is also used for musical events and buskers are welcome to perform there and a long with the student population this offers a great vibe to the city.
The Ashton Memorial overlooks the city and is situated in Williamsons Park which offers a great attraction for visitors and locals alike. Also there are many historical buildings and places to visit. There is a museum and also The Storey which holds art festival etc and has a nice bar and restaurant.
There are many friendly pubs in the city with great food on offer and live music playing in most of them.
The city has a lively feel to it and has many things to do and see and holds music events several times a year which are always well received.
I would recommend a visit to this city, if not for the choice of big high street shops or the dreadful one way system which means queuing in traffic for ages just to reach one of the many carparks, but for the wonderful history and diversity which Lancaster has to offer.
Let me begin by stating that I have no sense of direction and cannot drive so you will have to look up the exact locations of points of interest on Google maps or something similar! Fortunately, the centre of Lancaster is pretty easy to find your way around so I've managed not to get lost too much in the 5 years I have lived here.
I am lucky enough to work in Lancaster's most interesting tourist attractions, Lancaster Castle. Building began on the castle in the 11th century and the Norman Keep still remains to this day. It is a fascinating building which comprises a castle, a crown court and a Category C men's prison which makes it truly unique! Tours are available around parts of the castle such as the old courtrooms and the dungeons which give visitors a flavour of the past. The tours are excellent and really informative and there is a castle gift shop from which you can buy souvenirs. The parts of the castle which are open to the public are also occasionally used as a backdrop for plays by theatre companies specialising in using unusual settings for theatre. I have seen a production of Hamlet at the castle which took the audience from the courts, around the ramparts and culminated with the final scene taking place in a dungeon which the audience standing in a gallery above. If you get the chance to see such a production I can assure you, you won't be disappointed!
THE ASHTON MEMORIAL:
Another place to visit is the Ashton Memorial which is an Edwardian folly perched on top of a hill. It offers spectacular views of the city and surrounding areas. There is a butterfly house and an aviary nearby as well as a small playground for children and a large expanse of grass perfect for summer picnics. Within the park surrounding the memorial there are clearings amongst the trees which have been designed for outdoor theatre.
Speaking of theatre, Lancaster boasts two main theatres: The Grand and The Dukes. The Grand is a beautiful proscenium arch theatre which was rebuilt after being gutted by fire in 1908. It is currently owned and maintained by a drama society called Lancaster Footlights who put on regular shows as well as inviting touring companies and comedians to perform. The Dukes is much more modern and has a traditional rake theatre as well as a round theatre, which accommodate some excellent productions and dance groups. The rake theatre is also used as a cinema showing arthouse and foreign language films as well as recent blockbusters.
FOOD AND DRINK:
There are many good restaurants, cafes and coffee shops in Lancaster. My favourite restaurant is The Gatehouse which you can find by the canal. It offers contemporary English and Mediterranean cuisine in a very relaxed atmosphere and has an excellent wine list. As for cafes, The Sultan of Lancaster has a café/gallery below its main restaurant which offers a range of Asian dishes in a really beautiful setting. The Sun Hotel is one of Lancaster's nicest bars and offers excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. If you are looking for some entertainment whilst you have a drink, there are many open mic nights in places like The Golden Lion (Tuesdays) and The Stonewell Tavern (Wednesdays). The Yorkshire House offers regular rock gigs as well as improvised comedy theatre (Improv Xpress, third Sunday of every month).
LIVING IN LANCASTER:
Lancaster is by far the nicest place I have ever lived. The people of Lancaster are very friendly and although it is a city there is a strong sense of community. The Gregson Centre is a community driven, co-operatively owned pub and restaurant which caters for everyone in the community with a number of regular classes including Salsa, choirs and kids group. This type of thing typifies Lancaster really. There are a lot of arty types as well as a large student community. I have not encountered any crime whilst living here and it is one of those places where you can go to the shops without having to worry about locking your door and hiding your valuables. You can find something to do on every night of the week and it's not too far away from Preston and Manchester if you fancy something a bit more lively.
Lancaster is a historic city in the North West of England, only an hour from Manchester, 40 minutes from the Lake District and on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. It's mainly known for it's university and isn't a very touristy place, but it should be though. One of England's best kept secrets.
- What's so great about Lancaster -
Lancaster is a historic city dating back at least as far as the Romans. If you know where to look there's still Roman remains to be seen, notably the ruins of a Roman Bathhouse just behind the Priory church. There's a 900 year old Priory Church and an 800 year old castle (the last remaining working castle in England). There's lots of museums and things to do, lots of places to eat out and a wide choice of pubs, both historic and modern. There's lots of shops in the pedestrianised city centre, some chain stores but also many local, independant shops too. The town has a river and a canal running through it, and the countryside is all around.
- How to get there -
By car Lancaster is just off the M6. If coming from the north, take junction 34, or from the south exit at junction 33.
Lancaster is on the West Coast main line from London to Scotland. Journey time from London is about 2hrs 30 minutes direct, Manchester 1 hour, Edinburgh 2 hours. National Express buses also come to Lancaster.
- Where to stay -
As it's not very touristy there aren't many big hotels to choose from. The best hotel is probably the Lancaster House Hotel, a couple of miles south of the city centre. Then there's the Premier Inn and Holiday Inn. A travel lodge is about 6 miles away. In the centre, there are a selection of good B&B's, the best of which are probably the Sun Inn and the Shakespeare B&B.
- What to do -
Tour Lancaster Castle - the Castle is a working prison and crown court, and the tours vary depending on whether the court is in session. You should get to see at least one of the two ancient court rooms, the dungeons, and a few other places within the Castle. An excellent tour.
Maritime Museum - Down on the Quayside in the old Custom House, this charts Lancaster's maritime history, focusing especially on the 18th century, when it was one of the biggest ports in the country and a key player in the slave trade.
Lancaster City Museum - A good museum with changing displays all about the history of Lancaster.
Cottage Museum - A small museum, detailing life in an early 19th century cottage.
Williamson Park & Ashton Memorial - Williamson Park is a large public park, and the Ashton Memorial is a large monument building built by the Victorian millionaire Lord Ashton in memory of his wife. Britain's answer to the Taj Mahal. There is a butterfly house, animals, cafe and art displays in and around the memorial too. Good for an afternoon out in nice weather.
- Entertainment & Night Life -
There are two theatres in Lancaster City Centre, the Dukes Theatre and The Lancaster Grand. There's also the Nuffield Theatre at the university, and all three have a wide variety of shows and concerts throughout the year. The Dukes theatre sometimes has performances in Lancaster Castle and also in the summer has a season of outdoor plays ('Theatre in the Park') in Williamson Park.
There is also a multiplex Vue cinema in the centre of Lancaster, and the Dukes Theatre has a cinema which has more arthouse films showing most days.
Being a student town there are a small number of good nightclubs in the town, as well as lots of pubs.
- Where to eat and drink -
There are lots of good restaurants in Lancaster, ranging from Indian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Italian, French etc. I would particularly recommend Crows for Mexican, Imrans for a lovely cheap Indian buffet, and the Gatehouse for Mediteranean and English food.
There are many great pubs in Lancaster, including quite a few historic ones dating back several hundred years. I would recommend The Merchants and The Sun Inn, both over three hundred years old, and also the Water Witch. All three do nice food and the Sun and Water Witch have a fantastic selection of wines, ales and whiskeys (the Sun Inn has a 16 page beer menu!).
- Shopping -
The city centre is pedestrianised, making it easy to shop at leisure. Compared to most cities, Lancaster never gets too busy, and despite being quite small, has most of the major high street stores like M&S, Next, HMV etc. There are also a selection of traditional local shops the best of which are probably Humbugs, a lovely old fashioned sweet shop and Atkinson's Coffee Shop which has been in continous operation for over 170 years and sells a wide variety of coffees and teas for purchase and also consuming on their own premises. They even roast their own coffee, and the smell of roasting coffee often wafts around the streets surrounding the shop.
- Exploring further afield -
Closest to Lancaster is Morecambe, only 3 miles away. Morecambe is an old fashioned seaside resort, faded from it's former glory but enjoying something of a resurgence of late.
The Lake District is close by, with Kendal 30 minutes away, Windermere 40 minutes away and Ambleside and Grasmere around an hour away.
The Yorkshire Dales are only a few minutes away and the market towns of Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale are well worth exploring. There's also Sedbergh, England's book town, only 30 minutes away, with beautiful scenery, lots of second hand bookshops to explore and quaint cafes to a while away some time in.
Walking in the area is a popular pursuit, in the Lune Valley around Lancaster, in the Lake District and in the Yorkshire Dales. There is also lots of good dedicated cycle routes around Lancaster.
- Summary -
Lancaster is one of Britain's hidden gems. It's off the tourist track so not too busy but has lots of things to do, lovely places to eat and drink in and great walks all around. Think Chester or Bath but without the crowds.
As a Lancastrian I probably am a bit biased but I haven't lived there for six years now. It is well worth a visit as there are a number of things to see whilst you are there.
It is a great historic city dating back to Roman Britain and part of a Roman bath house was excavated behind the Priory Church on Castle hill some years ago. However as you get close to Lancaster the thing which dominates the sky line is the Ashton Memorial. The Ashton Memorial was commissioned by Lord Ashton as a tribute to his late wife. Lord Ashton became a millionaire producing oil cloth and linoleum which was exported from the port all over the world. The memorial, which is open to the public, is inside Williamson's park. On the balconies about half way up the monument you get some beautiful panoramic views of the area.
Lancaster Castle occupies a city centre hilltop location on the site of three successive Roman forts. It consists of a group of historic structures, including the 12th century Keep, the 14th century Witches' Tower, the 15th century Gatehouse. It is a Grade I Listed Building. The castle is one of Lancaster's biggest tourist attractions. However, you may have to plan a visit in advance as the castle is the location of Lancaster crown court which is still used to this day. It is the oldest functioning court in the UK. The court has been used for some high profile cases eg the Birmingham six.
It is also a fully functioning prison and so visits are by guided tour only. On the tour you see the crown court and some of the dungeon areas. Apart form the famous 'Pendle Witches Trial' Lancaster crown court holds the distinction (if you can call it that) of being the court which passed the most death sentences in the UK. Lancaster castle is also the site of the most public executions in the UK outside London.
An interesting relic of the early days of the court is the branding iron in the dock, which consists of a metal holdfast designed to immobilise the wrist and fingers, whilst a red hot branding iron embossed with the letter M was applied where the thumb joins the rest of the hand. This identified the convicted person as a 'malefactor' or 'evil-doer.' Both these items are still in the court-house but are now purely for show. If you do take the tour you may be the one who gets 'volunteered' to put your hand into the holdfast. Don't worry, the branding iron isn't demonstrated, honest.
The Branding Iron was last used in 1811. Up until this point it became the rule that before a prisoner was tried he was asked to raise his hand so that it could be seen whether he bore the brand mark and was therefore a previous offender. An easy way of keeping records and in a way that couldn't be lost.
(yes I had 3 school trips there and 2 projects on Lancaster Castle to do in my time at school)
The Judges lodgings is a little way from the castle and makes up one of Lancaster's 4 museums.
Lancaster was also an important port in the heyday of the cotton trade in Lancashire but as the river Lune silted up it fell into disuse. The old customs house is still standing and is now Lancaster Maritime Museum.
Other places to visit include the city museum located in the city centre and the cottage museum which is a short walk from the castle. There are also guided tours round the city and 'ghost walks' on some evenings.
Lancaster canal is also worth having a bit of a walk along. This crosses the river lune via the original stone aqueduct bridge.
The city also has one of the few remaining independent tea and coffee merchants, Atkinson's and Son's. Here they roast the coffee themselves and it is always fresh. Also If you can find it, the music room passage is home to Sunburrys - the best coffee shop in the city. It may be small and a bit more expensive than the rest but it is worth it. If you do go here the selection of cakes is excellent and my favorite is the rhubarb and almond slice. The tartness of the rhubarb and the sweetness of the almond topping really work well together.
For nightlife Lancaster has a number of pubs and clubs but also two theatres which are the Grand which is mainly professional performances and the Dukes Theatre which is mainly amateur dramatics. (The Grand theatre is said to be haunted) and a cinema.
There are plenty of restaurants for almost every taste and pocket. My favorite is 'etna' which is on New Street in the city centre. As you have guessed it is Italian food. It isn't overly expensive, there is nothing fancy about what is served it is just very good traditional Italian food. There is also the restaurant 'Bistro 16' (I think 16 is the number in the name) which is on Sun Street. this serves traditional British food. It is expensive but you pay for what you get. The gressingham duck is excellent. Other notable restaurants are 'The Blue Mountain' which is in the neighbouring town of Morecambe and the spaghetti house. Although the last time I went to the spaghetti house I wasn't all that happy. The food was fine but the other customers were loud and the language they used was awful. Especially as they had three young children at their table. The town centre also has the usual chains such as pizza hut etc.
Getting around isn't too bad by car, but the one way system can be a bit of a nightmare at rush hour. There is a good bus service to the town centre as well as a cycle path along the River Lune.
Lancaster university is situated near to the small village of Galgate. This is quite a distance from the city centre but it is serviced by a very good bus service. The University also owns and runs its own night club in the city centre - the sugar house.
Lancaster is also ideally placed for the lake district.
a shorter version of this review is also on ciao under the same author
Lancaster is very easy to get to its just off junction 34 on the M6 motorway, or by train the West Coast Mainline. The town centre does have one way system which is quite badly designed so at rush hour it gets very busy and you can sit in traffic for over 30 minutes getting out of the town between 4.30pm- 6pm and 8am-9am.
Simply French is one of my favourite restaurants. As the name hints, modern French cuisine. Prices are around £12-£15 for a main meal. The quality is fantastic but the portion sizes are not the largest. There are some larger chain restaurants in the centre, Pizza Hut , ASK etc but not in abundance which means there are a wide choice of unique more local restaurants. For Chinese I would recommend Fortune Star which is just off Dalton Square, its small but is very well priced and the food is top notch.
Although there isn't an abundance of attractions there are some lovely historic places such as Lancaster Castle and Williamson Park.
The town centre is small and the shops are all very close together located on cobbled streets and alleys. There are the likes of Topshop, River Island, New Look and Next in the very centre however are small branches of these larger chains. You also have some individual stores selling designer clothes around Dalton Square.
Nightlife is great. There are a lot of bars closely located in the centre. There is a lot going on but most places do not get really busy even on a weekend which means you do not wait ages getting served at a bar or get the feeling of the bars being over crowded. Prices for drinks in Lancaster are on the cheaper side in general. You can buy a bottle of wine in most bars for £8 and bottle of beer are about £2.50.
A good place to visit for a wide variety of ages.
I lived in Lancaster for 3 years, and before that I was visiting Lancaster all my life, from been very very young with family.
I love Lancaster, its the most beautiful place, even though its a city, you wouldn't think it to drive through, the buildings all fit in with the old buildings, the beauty hasn't been compromised for big high rise office buildings.
When I lived in Lancaster, I was a student in college, and so I was big on drinking!!! Lancaster has the most pubs/clubs/bars per square miles than anywhere else in the UK. Drinks are cheap because its a university town housing both Lancaster Uni and University of Cumbria, and every single night is party night. Now for people who don't like that sort of thing, you don't have to worry that if you want to go out for a quiet meal on a saturday night that you'll be bombarded with drunken students, nope. All the clubs and most of the bars are just outside the town centre, there are lots of pubs dotted around the shops and restaurants, but this is no where you spot the students, so if your going into the town for a meal, you really won't be knocked down by hoards of drunks!!!
Lancaster is so beautiful, the surrounding areas are fabulous, you can find something for everyone, just a couple of minutes drive for the town centre is the gorgeous little village of Glasson Dock whihc is a cute little village with a suprising amount o f tourists!! With a little port and smoke house, its a beautiful little place!!
Morecambe is only 10 minutes drive from Lancaster, where you can go bowling (both green and ten pin), and the lake district is not far either!!
Theres lots to do in Lancaster, so much to see and so much history to uncover, its a great day out or weekend trip and if your looking for somewhere new to live...Lancaster is the place!!
The people are friendly, theres a great selection of shops, the train station is right in the middle of town so its easy to find and get to. And as its such a small city, theres no problem finding your way round!!!
Whether your going for the club scene, the history, or the surroundings, you'll love Lancaster and its surroundings!! I do, and I am hoping to be moving back there as soon as possible!!!
Lancaster does have a lot to offer. Its well located near the coast, the Lake District and the Lancashire fells. Blackpool is only a short drive away, if you like that type of thing!
The town itself is a manageable size with a good selection of shops, pubs and restaurants. Morecombe is a short drive, bus or train journey away, where you can take the sea air.
In Lancaster itself there are many historic buildings, such as the castle and the Ashton Memorial, which is known as the Taj Mahal of the north.
The Ashton Memorial park is well worth a visit, well landscaped and with great views over the city and coastline. Some of my favourite pubs in the area include: The Waterwitch by the canal, The Stork and Thurnham Mill at Conder Green. Glasson Dock is also worth a visit. Further up the coast are the Lakeland villages of Arnside and Sandside.
Overall if you are passing, its worth stopping off for a day.
I live in Morecambe (as you may have guessed from one of my previous review - http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/destinations-national/morecombe-in-general/1084120/) meaning that I am a 5 to 15 minute car / train / bus ride away from the Historical City of Lancaster. Lancaster is a loverly mixture of history, contemporary culture and vibrant city. It has plenty of heritage to entertain all ages. There is everything you could want - castles, museums, shopping, entertainment and great food!
It is perfectly located between The Lakes and Manchester, meaning you can drive to either in a day and back comfortably with plenty of time to look around without feeling rushed.
Below Are just some of my favourite places to visit in Lancaster:
Williamson Park & Butterfly House
Williamson Park, Butterfly house and Ashton Memorial is 54 acres of beautiful parkland, there are wonderfully fantatic walks and play areas and breathtaking views. I love coming to Williamsons park in the summer with a blanket and picnic - I set myself up for the day and it is bliss. Take a ball to play football with my dog or my nieces if they are visiting and then spend all day there. The Tropical Butterfly House, Mini-Beasts, Bird Enclosure and Small Mammals is fascinating and all the family will love it (well mine all do). Here you walk amoung the birds and butterflies, it is extremely enchanting.
Lancaster Castle is owned by Her Majesty the Queen, who is the 'Duke of Lancaster'. It is one Europe's longest serving operational prisons, still a working prison to this day. There are tales of witches who haunt the Castle, amongst these are the famous Pendle Witches, who were tried, convicted and sentenced to death here. They offer a guided tour (it has to be guided, as there are prisoners held in the castle and so you obviously can not just wander around yourself). Even though I live here I had not been on the tour until late last year, after many of my friends recommended it to me. I have to say it was very informative and I throughly enjoyed it. They even locked us in one of the old fashioned prison with no light (well there were about 10 of us in there, it was only for about 30 seconds and we all volunteered to go in).
Dukes Theatre and Cinema
I love going to the dukes theate, there are 2 performances I never miss - 1) play in the park, which is held in Williamsons park every summer and 2) Their Christmas family production. That said I try and see performances more often then twice a year - they are extremely professional, have a wide range of different genres and they are always very enjoyable. The Dukes is a converted church that is now a theatre and cinema. As well as being a theatre the Dukes is a cinema, it tends to show the more contemporary films that Vue doesn't show. I recently saw Atonement there, and I am going to see The Orphanage next.
St Peter's Cathedral
St Peter's Cathrdral was designed by distinguished Lancaster architect Edward Paley in the style of 1300. This is a great place of beauty and dignity, it is very peaceful and an amazing place to visit. The Cathedral was raised to Cathedral status in 1924. It is possibly the only catholic church in England to have 10 bells.
Lancaster City Museum
Lancaster City Museum is housed in the former Town Hall in Dalton Square. The museum comprises an impressive collection of history and archaeology of Lancaster and the surrounding area. The Museum of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment forms a permanent display within the Museum and there are occassionally temporary exhibitions running at different times throughout the year.
I know that I am biased but I love Lancaster and highly recommend a visit. These are just a few of the wonderful things to see and so.
English Heritage has described Lancaster Castle as not only the north-wests most important historic and archaeological monument, but also of international importance. Id say this was a pretty fair description, given that the castle is not just huge and visually impressive, but also represents a major complex of historical buildings of Grade 1 listed status, with parts dating back as far as the 11th century. Given the rich and exciting history attached to this building, though, I continue to be surprised by how low key it is as a tourist attraction. Many people will recognise the castle as a working court and prison, yet few seem to realise that there is a back door for visitors to the building as well Im not going to complain about tour groups being small, mind, I just feel there must be many people missing out on this rather hidden treat. Indeed, I hadnt realised you could visit the castle until I chanced upon a random leaflet at a local museum, nor was I aware of just how important and strategic a site it was, despite being pretty well up on the history and archaeology of northern England (after all, I have a BSc in Knowing Too Much For My Own Good). ;-)
The castle, like all good castles, occupies a hill. This is not to give tourists some much-needed exercise (although it does rather feel like that), but instead to make the site easily defendable, an important thing when you consider that in Lancaster you are not all that far away from marauding Welsh and Scots. The site had formerly been used as a fortification by both Romans and Saxons, but the earliest part of the castle complex that is still visible today is the keep, which was completed in 1090. This was built by a chap called Roger of Poitou, who was given the city and its surrounding lands by William the Conqueror, by way of thanks for his services in battle (which I suppose provides one answer to the question of what you get the man who has everything). Unfortunately, the keep is one part that cannot be visited as it forms part of the prison complex that is housed in the castle.
Following Roger of Poitou, the castle passed through a number of noble families, ending up as the seat of the Duke of Lancaster in the 14th century. When the 3rd Duke acceded to the throne as Henry IV, the Duchy of Lancaster became part of the monarchs estates, where they have remained for the past 600 years. This means that the castle is currently owned by the Queen in her role as the Duke of Lancaster. Her castle is pretty impressive, as well. To the original keep, 12th century expansions were added, then a tower in the 14th century, a gatehouse in the 15th century, the Shire Hall in the 18th century, and a penitentiary for female prisoners in the 19th century, not to mention an almost continuous programme of minor changes, repairs, replacements and extensions over the years. This has left the building as a bizarre mixture of different architectural styles, and even today nobody is quite sure of all that is in it there is a steady stream of archaeological work to try and figure out the exact components and extent of the castle. I dont know about you, but this all makes me rather glad that Lancaster is only a category C prison!
As a visitor to Lancaster Castle, you need to present yourself at a small and rather inconspicuous doorway at the back of the castle (the side facing the priory) for a guided tour. Needless to say, with the building being a working prison, self-guided tours are out of the question! The tours themselves last around an hour and leave every half hour between 10.30am and 4pm every day however, you should be aware that as the tour includes some of the working parts of the building, if courts are in session then your tour will be restricted to the rooms that are not in use (you are advised to phone ahead and check before you go on a tour, number at the end of this review). The tours cost a pretty reasonable £4 for adults and a very generous £2.50 for the young, the old and the studious. There is a small gift shop for you to browse around while you wait for your tour to start, but no other visitor facilities so my advice is to eat, drink and use the toilets in the city centre (about 5 minutes walk away) before you visit.
The guide that took my group around was very friendly and knowledgeable about the castle, and managed to tell us about the building with boundless enthusiasm, despite the fact it must have been the 400th time that he was going through his material. Indeed, there were places where he was talking rather fast just to get everything across to us; I got the impression he knew so much that the tour could easily have stretched to another 30 minutes. I would have been quite happy for it to as well, especially as I was lucky enough to visit when there was no court in session to inconvenience my tour.
Our first stopping place was the Shire Hall, a huge 10-sided room that contains the biggest display of heraldry in the country. The display numbers over 600 shields, including those of the monarchs who have owned the castle, the High Sheriffs of Lancaster and the Constables of the Castle; the display grows every year with the ceremony of the hanging of the shield of the High Sheriff. The hall is also used as a civil court, although this was actually the room where the famous case of the Birmingham Six was tried, and you can still see the specially built dock that remains from this case. Moving on, you are taken through the thick Norman curtain wall into Hadrians Tower, a very early part of the castle that was built upon the original Roman fortifications. This room houses a Roman altar to the God Mars that was found during building work in the 18th century, as well as examples of shackles worn by prisoners, some of which you can pick up and handle yourself.
The most sinister part of the tour takes the visitor down into the dungeons of the castle, a section that was only rediscovered in 1931 (see what I mean about not knowing the full extent of the building?). The earliest reference to the castle being used as a prison was from 1196, which means that the building has been in continuous use as a gaol for just over 800 years, and that the castle has been the longest serving prison that is still in use in all of Europe. These particular cells date from the 17th century, when prisoners were incarcerated without light or sanitation for much of the time you can try being locked in one yourself for a couple of minutes if you want, although being somewhat claustrophobic I declined our guides polite offer to experience this first hand.
The final section of the tour takes us through the courtrooms if they are not in session, including the Crown Court, which is the oldest working courtroom in Britain. This room also holds the dubious distinction of being the place where most of Britains death sentences have been handed down over the years; 265 of them in total, of which only 43 were for murder (the others being for offences such as passing forged notes or stealing cattle). The holdfast and branding iron that was used to mark those found guilty is still to be seen in this room the convicted person would have their left hand strapped into the holdfast and be branded with an M (for malefactor or wrongdoer) as a visible sign that they had a criminal record. This practice is apparently where the tradition of raising your left hand if you appear in court comes from!
Overall, this was a thoroughly satisfying tour and a well spent hour. The tour for me could have been a little bit longer, but I think for most people it is just the right length to provide interesting information without overloading or boring you. I think it represents good value for money, and I would reckon it would be suitable for older children (say 10 and upwards) as well as adults; it might be a bit dull or too gruesome for younger ones, though. I should also mention that the age and listed status of the building means that there is no wheelchair access around the tour, so if you want to go on it make sure you can walk and stand for a hour, and cope with a lot of stairs and some uneven floors.
And Finally some interesting points I couldnt fit into my review:
- Lancashire Castle was where the infamous Pendle Witches were held, tried and convicted during the religious persecution of King James 1.
- Public hangings at the castle were a popular day out for the people of the North West, with as many as 6000 people visiting them. The last public hanging was in 1865.
- The last non-public hanging was in 1910.
- Boys as young as 9 have been held in the prison for hard labour, right until the end of the nineteenth century.
Lancaster - the city I have spent the past three years in and would be proud to call home. It's got everything - from the views of the rolling fens of the Lake District to the best night out for miles. Attractions include the Ashton Memorial - a fantastic monument set in the beautiful Williamson Gardens. From here you can see the whole of Morecambe Bay and even the Big One at Blackpool on a clear day. Lancaster also has some wonderful places to eat including the cheap and cheery Merchants, the best chinese in the Northwest (the Golden Dragon) and curries to die for at the fantastic Sultans. If its parties you're after than look no further than the town centre pubs - always a friendly welcome. My favourites include the Blue Anchor, Paddy Mulligans and Fibber McGees. For the ultimate night out try the Big Cheese or Relax, both at the Sugarhouse - one of the city's favourite nightclubs. Overall, Lancaster is my idea of the perfect place to be. It really does have something for everyone no matter waht your tastes. Butterfly watching, clubbing, hill walking, sailing, historical tours, pool, etc - they're all catered for in the wonderfully friendly manner that only Lancaster can manage.