Mills and Hills in Central Lancashire
If someone mentions English villages or market towns the first image may be the Cotswolds, say, or North Norfolk. Few but locals would think about Central Lancashire’s smaller settlements, meaning they’re missing out on some fascinating and lovely spots framed in turns by rugged hill country and rolling farmland.
There are of course some remnants of Blake ’s dark satanic mills, indeed that is one of the reasons to take a break here: the village of Helmshore at the southern end of the Rossendale Valley has one of the country’s best museums of the textile industry, housed in buildings fine enough to have featured more than once on screen in historical dramas. Helmshore itself is a pretty stone village on the edge of majestic moorland, the huge reservoirs at Haslingden Grane to the west offering great walking.
Just a few miles south stands a market town whose name – Ramsbottom - has long been the but(t) of musical hall jokes, but whose centre since the 1980s has been transformed into a little shopping and tourist paradise. The East Lancs Railway that runs between Bury and Rawtenstall has a station here straight out of the Railway Children. Alongside the traditional butcher’s and greengrocers there are art galleries, high end clothes shops and delicatessens. And perhaps the spark for the resurgence, the restaurant now named Ramsons but formerly The Village Restaurant, is still serving some of the best food in the Northwest, thus in Britain! You can walk off your lunch there, or one of the traditional chippies, with a hike up Holcombe Hill to the looming Peel Tower .
Ah! Lancashire food. Rawtenstall has Fitzpatrick’s, the country’s last temperance bar – fancy a sarsaparilla or proper dandelion and burdock? You should, they are delicious. Chorley is rightly famous for its cakes, made with unsweetened shortcrust pastry sandwiching currants, with no sugar topping either (perhaps much to the annoyance of the town’s most famous son, sugar-baron Henry Tate). Eccles not so far away has its own confection, made with flaky pastry and plenty of Mr Tate’s crystals – don’t confuse the two, it’s just not done.
And as you sit down to breakfast in your country house hotel or old coaching inn take the opportunity to eat real Lancashire black pudding – Andrew Holt, the uncrowned king of that delicacy, is based in Haslingden. Bury market where you can buy them piping hot and smeared with mustard is an alternative if your accommodation thinks blood pudding beyond the pale.
But what about those hills? The finest and highest in the area is Winter Hill, soaring to nearly 1500 feet, though the most scenic part of that peak is Rivington Pike, 300 feet lower but with spectacular views, and plenty to see on your way up too, including Lever Park, once home to the Lord Leverhulme , he of Lux and Lifeboy wealth. The moorland here stretches eastward from roughly the M61 – which indicates the ease with which the area is accessed – across to Littleborough. Buy an OS map, don your walking boots, and take to the hills – though even if it is sunny take your wet weather gear, the skies can change in minutes. The land around Anglezarke reservoir is a bit more tamed, but still offering great walking .
Plenty of Lord Leverhulme’s forerunners, industrialists and aristocrats alike, left a legacy of elegant buildings in the area. One of the homeliest stately homes, Astley Park , is to be found tucked in a corner of bustling market town Chorley (there’s a market of some sort every day here bar Wednesday and Sunday). This amalgam of Tudor, Jacobean and Georgian styles feels like a home not a hall. Sadly it is not open until Easter, though the park around it is. Bolton has Smithill’s hall and Hall i’th’Wood (Google for opening times); and at the edge of our range the National trust property at Rufford Old Hall – open from February 16th - is exceptional.
Golfers by the way should bring their clubs, this is the land of the municipal course, that between Horwich and Bolton particularly fine. And skiers may wish to pack their gear – Rawtenstall has one of the finest dry slopes in the country.
And back to those villages. To the west of Chorley is Eccleston, the golden post-box proclaiming it as home to Bradley Wiggins . St Mary’s church will appeal to lovers of Norman architecture, an original Norman door one highlight, and the vast antiques centre to the bargain hunter. On the other side of Chorley are picturesque White Coppice, Brinscall and Abbey Village, and further east still Chapeltown, all of them rich in old stone cottages. It may not be the Cotswolds, but then the Cotswolds isn’t Lancashire .
Information Britain has a huge selection of accommodation options in and around this area, and plenty of more detailed material on it has to offer.
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