When I tell people in New Zealand that my husband is from Lancashire I’m usually met with a polite but rather blank look. Most kiwis are familiar with London. Some have headed out of town to the Lake District to explore shops filled with Beautrix Potter souvenirs and great outdoor kit, and they’ve usually heard about the surfing in Newquay. Lancashire is unfamiliar.
There are two counties in Britain where you’ll find a Duchy in place, a medieval arrangement where the management of lands is separated from the Crown, but is still owned by Queen Elizabeth. Prince Charles has done a wonderful job of marketing the organic basket of goodness that hails from Cornwall, but the Duchy of Lancashire has a way to go to promote the gems to be found in this area. I’m going to try.
Northern Lancashire is something special. We’ve already spent a day driving through the Trough of Bowland, an area of sweeping, lush green rural farmland and rolling hills, misty grass covered moorland, and lots of stone churches. It’s different to the Lake District, which is equally beautiful in its own way. In the Lake District they have the glacial lakes. In Lancashire you’re more likely to see rivers, or the magical web of canals that weave through the rural towns and villages. The Lake area is much steeper and more jagged, the architecture characterised by dark slate stone. Lancashire was built on limestone, with ancient limestone kilns dotted around the rural landscape. The landscape is gently rolling and in the summer it’s lush and green. Curly horned white sheep are in abundance.
The pubs are wonderful too. We had lunch at the Inn at Whitewell, a whitewashed stone building made famous by the Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden satirical comedy series “The Trip”. The infamous fish pie and Lancashire hot pot did not disappoint. It was a well-dressed crowd. A casual country style of smart slacks and tweed. We were the scruffy ragamuffins in the corner tucking into our lunch.
We’ve explored Lancaster Castle, one of the most intact castles in the country. I must admit it’s a bitzer, with parts medieval and parts relatively new at 200 years old. But for a kiwi family used to calling a 50’s bungalow a “character” building it’s captivating. Until just a handful of years ago the castle was a prison, and to this day it’s a crown court. The very court used to trial the Penwick Witches from the 1600’s, still serves the same purpose as it had in medieval times.
Lancaster itself is a nice enough town, although there are plenty up north that are prettier. What makes it for me is the River Lune, running through the town, eventually meeting Morecambe Bay to the south of Lancaster. The stone heritage buildings that line the quay are a wonderful sight, as are the canal boats that sail into Lancaster. All the while the grand old castle on the hill overlooks it all.
Our village of Bolton-le-Sands is one of many that faces Morecambe Bay. The Bay, famous for its tides and quicksand, stretches from Piel Island on the outreaches of Barrow and around to beyond Heysham. It’s largest expanse of inter-tidal flats in the UK and you’ll easily spot the bay on a map of England. There’s no swimming from our shore but there’s something utterly romantic about casting your eyes over the salt marsh, watching lambs roaming freely, looking over the shallow waters and out to the fells of the Lake District in the distance. With the right tides this week we’ll be able to sneak in our first swim on the Morecambe shorefront. It’s likely to be colder than we’re accustomed too. Good thing we dragged plenty of neoprene across the globe.
The Yorkshire Dales are still calling us to another part of northern Lancashire, and the Lakes appeal for another visit. All we need now is some British sunshine. No wonder the national pastime is to talk about the weather!