If you are interested in historic cities, Lancaster is a must. From our gorgeous lodgings at The Fenwick, in the rolling countryside on the outskirts of the city, we spend 48 hours exploring the city, discovering some amazing Lancaster attractions, finding out about the city's roots and sampling some of the best steak and seafood we've had the pleasure of tasting.
We were invited along to enjoy three days in the historic city of Lancaster by Visit Lancashire
Getting to Lancaster from Scotland
Lancaster is just over 2 hours away from Edinburgh and Glasgow by train so makes an ideal weekend city break. The trains are direct and leave frequently and I found tickets for as cheap as £30 per person if you book in advance! It's also just off the main M6 motorway if you fancy a road trip.
Our stay at The Fenwick began on Friday evening, the darkness had fallen on a crisp dry day and we didn't get to fully appreciate how utterly charming this country pub was until the next morning. What we had experienced though, from our drive through the picturesque landscape, with rolling green fields and chocolate box villages, was just how delightful Lancashire was.
We couldn't wait to explore this beautiful city, and we had came at the ideal time, off season is a great time to explore new cities. Attractions in cities rarely close over winter and the tourists have left so the streets are quiet and calm and you don't feel rushed or stressed.
Lancaster feels less like a city and more like a big town, it is in fact the county town of Lancaster, but its mighty cathedral gives it city status. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance of the centre and the bus and train station are located there too so you'll never need to walk far.
Lancaster is one of England's Heritage Cities and if you know me at all you'll know I love nothing more than meandering historic streets but there is something else we were looking forward to on this trip, we had heard rumours of some top class food and we were hoping they were true!
A wee bit of history
Lancaster was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 as Loncastre, Lon is thought to refer to the River Loon and castre from the latin word for a Roman Fort. The Roman Fort once stood where Lancaster Castle stands today and Roman coins found are thought to be from as far back as the AD60's. In 1812 Roman baths were also found.
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066 Lancaster fell under the control of William I and became a borough in 1193 under King Richard I.
The city is well-known for the Pendle Witch Trials, when 10 people were found guilty of witchcraft at Lancaster Castle and sentenced to death much like the Pittenweem Witch Trails.
The traditional emblem for Lancaster is the red rose, with nearby York having the emblem of a white rose. The War of the Roses were a series of English civil wars, where the supporters of both regions fought for control of the English throne. Now the term is used in sporting events featuring the rivals.
Lancaster Castle is almost 1000 years ago and sits proudly atop a hill in the city centre. It is one of the top Lancaster attractions. It has spent most of its life as prison and court, indeed it was an HM prison until 2011. The castle is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, the Duke of Lancaster being Her Majesty the Queen. You can find out more about life in the prison, the court and royal visits during the fascinating tours. As the castle is still used as a crown court you can only explore as part of a guided tour, and if the court is in session some rooms may be inaccessible but the tour is great fun and we really enjoyed it. We visited the oak panelled Crown Court, which was designed by Thomas Harrison, sat in the public gallery and saw where the prisoners were taken down, we sat in the magnificent Shire Hall, a ten-sided room with gothic architecture and a huge range of chivalric heraldy, we squashed into a medieval cell and even explored the male penitentiary.
Nothing beats a stroll in a park to break up the day and Williamson Park was exactly what we needed after a spot of retail therapy. There is over 54 acres of lush parkland with hidden trials, ponds and beautiful panoramic views. As we ambled slowly up the hill we spotted, through the trees, the mighty Ashton Memorial. Commissioned by Lord Ashton, a Lancaster Industrialist, for his late wife, Jessy, it was designed by John Belcher and completed in 1909. It's 150 feet tall and you can spot it across Lancaster so you can imagine how stunning the views as you climb the Cornish granite stairs to the viewing gallery on the first floor. Next to this magnificent building is the butterfly house, an Edwardian Palm House filled with exotic butterflies, Koi carp and tortoises. Outside there is a small animal farm with Meercats and Marmosets.
The Storey is a very recognisable building in the centre of the city. Built with funding from local philanthropist Thomas Storey in 1887 it was originally used to offer educational opportunities to the people in the area. Nowadays, it's an exciting hub for creative businesses and offers literary performances, workshops and exhibitions. There is also the Printroom Cafe which offers casual dining and delicious coffee.
Lancaster Canal is a coastal canal linking Preston and Kendal, covering 41 miles. There are walking routes, cycling routes and opportunities to go canoeing on the water. The Lune Aquaduct Trail takes you from the old Packet Boat House just south of the Turnover Bridge to Skerton Weir on the River Lune. On route you'll discover tales of unexploded bombs, old mills, canal barges and working horses. The 3-mile long Lancaster Walk begins from the The Three Mariners Pub on Bridge Lane and ends up at the Westfield War Memorial Village Gates on West Road. The impressive Lune Aquaduct stands at 202 metres long and has 5 21-metre semi-circular arches, all of which offer amazing views across the Lune Valley. This is a popular Lancaster attraction if you want to get out in the fresh air.
This award winning regional brewery brews 4 popular beers; the Lancaster Blonde, the Lancaster Red, the Lancaster Black and the Lancaster Amber. The brewery was originally situated in an old hurricane cockpit assembly unit but a brand new brewery was built in 2011. You can find their beers in many of the major supermarkets and the brewery itself offers a range of tours, from a 45 minute tour and 5 samples to enjoy afterwards, to a 45 minute tour with up to 4 pints of your choice and a pork pie with gravy and peas! You can also splash out and experience what it's like to be a brewer for the day and have a luxury overnight stay in one of their stunning hotels. The Brewhouse and tap is also on site and it's where you can find at least 5 of their beers at any one time, as well as wines, spirits, coffees and soft drinks. The cute beer garden is perfect to relax in after a day exploring the city.
Lancaster has four museums - The City Museum, The Lancaster Maritime Museum, The Cottage Museum and the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum. The City Museum is where you can find out about Lanaster's past, from the Romans to the present day. It's housed in a wonderful Georgian building which was originally built in 1781. The museum itself was founded in 1923. The Maritime Museum can be found on St George's Quay and was opened in 1985. There are several preverved vessels and displays telling the tale of the city's fishing industry. The Cottage Museum is tiny and through the tiny front door you are transported into antisan's house from 1739. It's spread over four floors and is a fascinating glimpse into life without running water, electricity or a toilet! The King's Own Royal Regiment Museum is contained within the City Museum and tells the sotry of the King's Own regiment who took part in almost every major campaign, including both world wars.
The Assembly Rooms Emporium
For some bargains and quirky unique finds this Emporium is ideal and we loved browsing around. It's filled with vintage gems, second hand books, antique jewellery, and anything else you can dream up. It's housed in a beautiful grade II listed 18th century building right in the heart of the city.
Lancaster's Charter Market takes place every Wednesday and Saturday. Over 40 stalls take part selling everything from local and international food, clothes, fruit and veg and gifts. It's a bustling market popular with locals and people travelling from nearby towns and villages. It's situated in Market Square so within easy walking distance of everything in the city centre and is on from 9am - 4.30pm (4pm in winter).
Lancaster Grand Theatre
This theatre is traditional and has been open since 1782. Today it's a mainstay and popular with locals who enjoy touring productions, some of the best comedians, amateur productions and evenings of music and chat. There is an extensive programme of shows on all year so it's worth checking what's on when you visit. They also offer a monthly tour of the theatre, where you can see parts of the theatre not usually open to the public while hearing about its colourful history. You can find out what's on here.
Once home to Thomas Covell, the once keeper of Lancaster Castle and notorious witch hunter, this charming Grade I building is now open to the public. The rooms are beautifully period and there is an impressive collection of Gillow furniture and also a the perfect way to reminisce about your youth in the museum of childhood. Like a lot of these things to do in Lancaster this building is right in the city centre.
The Dukes Theatre
The Dukes is Lancashire's only producing theatre and also houses Lancashire's oldest cinema which opened in 1971. Situated on Moor Lane, there is an exciting programme of events in a pretty unique theatre, with the stage in the centre and the seats circled around it. There is also a cafe bar serving drinks and food.
Where to eat and drink in Lancaster
The Fenwick, where we stayed during our visit, does food like I've rarely had the pleasure of tasting. It has been here for 250 years and has everything you'd expect to find in a tradition English country pub, but with a modern twist. We loved our evening here in front of the roaring log fire, enjoying a drink and chatting to the bar staff who were extremely knowledgable about the local area. On our first evening we ate here and i was seriously blown away. We had a sharing platter to start, with Devilled Crab, Haddock Gourgons, salmon and shrimp pate, Lancashire cheese and onion croquettes, Shetland mussels, Chipolatas and warm bread. For our main course I was torn between steak and seafood, so we compromised and chose one each. I treated myself to the daily special of Sczechuan monkfish with kimchi fried rice, Shitake mushrooms and coriander and didn't regret it for a second. The fish was cooked perfectly and the flavours worked wonderfully. My partner opted for the steak, a 12oz ribeye to be exact, which was served with roasted field mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and proper chunky chips. It was so good he ordered steak again for breakfast the next day! A dessert of sticky toffee pudding and chocolate and caramel truffles ensured we could barely move for the rest of the evening but it was worth every minute, what I wouldn't give to eat it again now!
On our second evening we enjoyed another outstanding meal, this time at Quite Simply French, on the Quayside. This restaurant is stunning. Elegant yet warm, with cosy, romantic tables for two, large spacious tables if it's not date night, candles, warm low lighting and lovely relaxing music. We shared an appetiser of the famous Queennie scallop popcorn which was well worth the wait, having heard of Queennie scallops several times on our trip, and they were utterly delicious. For a starter I played it safe with a goats cheese creme brûlèe and my partner, who must have been feeling brave, decided to sample the frog's legs and was pleasantly surprised and finished the whole dish. As I had a fish dish the night before it was my turn to enjoy some steak so I opted for a 8oz pan-fried with a red wine, garlic and thyme jus, swede puree and crispy onions. My mouth is watering as I type this. The steak was cooked to perfection. My partner asked for recommendations and chose the cod bordelaise with a cream cheese and herb breadcrumb crust which he assured me was top notch.
The Fenwick, Lancaster
When we drove to the Fenwick it was dark but I knew it would be gorgeous and I was right. When I stood back to admire it the next morning, just as the sun had risen and there was droplets of morning dew on the flowers and plants hanging outside, it was everything an English country pub should be. With Tudor-style white wash outer walls with black beams, long picnic-style benches outside, hanging baskets, on a winding country lane I was thrilled. The country pub also has 9 luxury bedrooms and suites. Like the pub the furnishings in the bedroom are traditional with a modern twist, as you can see from the photos below the rooms were cosy and beautifully decorated. The freestanding roll top bath and rain shower in the luxurious bathroom were a welcome addition. The room had everything we needed, a desk and chair, kettle and tea tray with biscuits, a wall-mounted TV, fluffy towels, toiletries and brochures with information about the local area. I was seriously impressed by the attention to detail, in the rooms, the outdoor areas and the pub. The wooden tag on the keys, the glass jar with dog biscuits at the front door, the umbrellas in the basket, the Teapigs teabags, the chalkboards, handwritten with the specials, it's those little details that make a difference. Breakfasts are served in the charming dining room behind the bar area where all the usual breakfast items are served including a full Lancashire breakfast, a rump steak with grilled tomatoes or smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on a toasted English muffin, you can also help yourself to cereals, toast, fruit and fruit juices.