Superlative WalksUrban and rural trails, each with something very special
1. This walk, around many of the historic sites in central Lancaster, begins in Dalton Square. Dalton Square is at OS Grid Reference 478615 on the Landranger 97 (and 98) maps. There are surface, pay and display, car parks in Nelson Street and off Bulk Street.
The site of Dalton Square was formerly a Dominican friary, bought by the Dalton family during the Reformation. On its South side is the Town Hall, 1906-9, built as a gift of the first Lord Ashton at a cost of £155,000, using Longridge stone, with interior fittings and furniture by Waring and Gillow.
The gardens in the centre were laid out to accommodate the statue of Queen Victoria who, Pevsner says, looks “…a little pensively over the square.”
To the North of the square is Palatine Hall, converted into Council offices in the 1980s. In the 1930s it was the home of Buck Ruxton a popular GP. Ruxton lived with his common-law wife, Isabella (“Belle”) Kerr, and their three children. Belle enjoyed socialising with Lancaster’s elite “Town Hall Set.”
Ruxton became jealous of Kerr’s supposed infidelity and, on 15 September 1935, he strangled Isabella with his bare hands. To prevent their housemaid, Mary Jane Rogerson, from discovering his crime he strangled her too. Ruxton then dismembered and mutilated both bodies. Various body parts were found over 100 miles north of Lancaster in Dumfriesshire, wrapped in newspapers, one of which was a special edition of the Sunday Graphic sold only in the Lancaster area. When initially questioned, Ruxton denied he had ever been to Scotland. However, on his way back from Scotland disposing of the evidence, his car had knocked over a cyclist in Kendal, and he was stopped by a police officer in Milnthorpe, who noted the registration number.The bodies were identified using the fledgeling techniques of fingerprint identification, forensic anthropology and forensic entomology to identify the age of maggots and thus the approximate date of death. This was one of the first cases where such forensic evidence was successfully used to convict a criminal in the UK. Ruxton was found guilty and hanged at Strangeways Prison, Manchester in 1936.
No one would live in the building after the twin murders. Some locals and paranormal experts suggest the building is haunted.
2. Leave Dalton Square by the road to the left of the Town Hall – Nelson Street. After about 300 metres cross St Peter’s Road and continue uphill, in what is now East Road, passing the Roman Catholic St Peter’s Cathedral on the right.
St Peter’s was built, in a Gothic revival style in 1857-9 at a cost of £2000. It became a Cathedral in 1924. Pevsner describes it as “a fine aspiring building.”
3. Another 300 metres or so up East Road, on both sides of the road, are the buildings of Lancaster Royal Grammar School.
LRGS was founded between 1235–1256. In1469, the Abbess of Syon granted a lease of a water-mill on the River Lune and some land nearby for two hundred years to maintain a chaplain and to instruct boys in grammar freely, “unless perchance something shall be voluntarily offered by their friends”. In 1852 the school was removed from the old site on the slopes by the priory to its present site.
4. Cross Wyresdale Road and continue uphill, past further LRGS buildings on what is now called Quernmore Road (pronounced Kwoor Muh.) About 600 metres beyond Wyresdale Road, on the right is fine entrance to Williamson Park, with stone arches either side of grand wrought iron gates. Enter the Park here.
The site of the park was formerly a group of quarries, the main source of stone for Lancaster’s buildings. By 1840, the quarries were disused. A gravel drive was built as a job-creation scheme during the cotton famine of 1862-5 and in the 1870s the site was laid out as a public park for James Williamson Senior(1842 – 1930) who became the first Lord Ashton. His family business in Lancaster produced oilcloth and linoleum which was exported around the world.
5. Follow the paved road and ignore a road to the right. After about 150 metres, by a 10 mph sign, turn right down a winding path, leading through a landscaped garden within one of the former quarries. The path goes past a shelter on the right, swings left down into a garden surrounded by rocks and tall trees, swings right and left again and turns left at a junction, into the Dell, a deep amphitheatre with rock walls and bench seating.
The Dell is one of the sites in the Park used each Summer since 1986 by Lancaster’s Duke’s Playhouse to stage open-air promenade theatre performances, the largest outdoor theatre event of its kind in the UK.
6. Leave the Dell by the path to the left of the base of the tower, containing theatrical lights and sound equipment. Turn left towards the huge domed Ashton Memorial then very soon left again to walk around a circular structure, a former bandstand, on the top of a small hill. Climb on to the structure on the far side to see that it is a sundial.
7. Leave the sundial and walk up the path towards the Ashton Memorial. Before visiting the building, to the left is a small ornate white building, like an elaborate greenhouse, which contains a cafe, shop and toilets. The cafe welcomes walkers and their dogs.
8. To enter the Memorial, walk across the large stone mosaic of the red rose of Lancashire.
The Ashton Memorial was built of Portland Stone and Cornish granite, in 1907-9 at a cost of over £80,000, damaged by fire in 1962 and restored in 1985-7. Pevsner says that it is “the grandest monument in England” with “no utilitarian purpose whatever.” Its style is “Italian-cum-English High Baroque.”
9. Leave the Memorial, recross the mosaic and pass to the right of the building opposite – The Orangery – and walk right along a path which swings down and gives fine views up to the Memorial on your right. At the foot of the slope turn left along a broad path passing, on your left, a lake surrounded by rocks and low cliffs. Continue along this path to exit the park on to Wyresdale Road.
10. Almost opposite the park gate is the entrance to the St Martins campus of the University of Cumbria. WARNING – the next two directions, 11 and 12, lead through the campus. However, out of University term time the exit from the campus at the end of direction 12 may be locked. As an alternative route, instead of entering the campus at point 10, cross the road from the Williamson Park gates then turn left following the road as it bends to the right and becomes Coulson Road. This will lead to direction 13.
St Martins College opened in 1964, as a Church of England College to train teachers, one of only two Church Colleges to be established in the 20th Century. The College is named after St Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who tore his cloak in two to clothe a naked beggar and later had a vision of Christ wearing the cloak. Just as St Martin renounced his life as a soldier after this to take on a life of caring and teaching, the site, formerly Bowerham Barracks, left behind its military past to become a Church College.
11. Near to the entrance of the campus is a map of the campus, on the outside wall of the Sports Centre. Study the map.
12. Walk straight ahead with an all-weather sports pitch on your left and a sports centre on your right. Then stay close to the buildings on the left with a large car park on the right. At the end of the main buildings turn left to follow the internal road. Turn right as the road bends right to pass St Martin’s Chapel on your left and then left as it bends left after the Chapel. Pass the Hornby Building on your left and find the campus exit, through a narrow gate with yellow railings to Golgotha.
13. Turn right on to Coulston Road and follow it to the junction with Bowerham Road. Cross Bowerham Road and turn right then left into Newsham Road, by the Bowerham Hotel. After about 100 metres Newsham Road bears diagonally left. Follow the Road and after a further 100 metres turn right at the end. The road rises slightly then dips sharply down hill to Scotforth Road.
14. Cross Scotforth Road and turn left for a short distance then right into Hastings Road. At the end of Hastings Road is a T junction with Dorrington Road.
On the far side of Dorrington Road is a single terrace of about 100 small stone houses, which is the longest continuous terrace of houses in Europe.
15. Turn right along Dorrington Road and then left into Bridge Road, passing under, of all things, a bridge, which caries the West Coast main line. At the end of Bridge Road, cross Ashton Road and turn right. On the left is Nazareth House.
Nazareth House was built in 1898-1902 for the Poor Sisters of Nazareth as a home for “waifs and strays.” It is now a nursing home.
16. Where Ashton Road rises to cross the railway line turn left down a narrow path. This drops then rises past an estate of large houses on the left and Ripley St Thomas School on the right.
Ripley St Thomas School was founded in 1864, designated to educate an equal number of boys and girls – 300 in total – providing they lived within either 15 miles (24 km) of Lancaster Priory or 7 miles (11 km) of Liverpool Cathedral. Today it has over 1600 pupils. The school has its own farm. Many pupils study “rural science” reflecting the agricultural traditions of North Lancashire. The farm supplies food for the school’s kitchens.
17. Beyond the school, the land to the right opens out to give fine views over the City to the hills beyond. Continue along this path down the hill to a footbridge over the Lancaster Canal.
Built between 1792 and 1799, the Lancaster Canal ran from Preston, via an aqueduct over the River Lune North of Lancaster, to Tewitfield. It was extended to Kendal in 1819 and, via a short arm, to Glasson Dock, on Morecambe Bay, in 1826. In 1968 the canal north of Tewitfield was closed by the building of the M6 motorway. In 2002, the Ribble Link at last connected the Lancaster Canal to the national canal network, albeit via a rather dicey dash across the fast-flowing Ribble Estuary.
18. Cross the footbridge and turn right down the steps then walk straight along the canal for about 400 metres. Walk along the narrow path beside some student accommodation built to the left of the Aldcliffe Canal Basin. Leave the canal side at a small car park between buildings to turn right along Aldcliffe Road.
19. Turn left into Queen Street. Walk the length of Queen Street to Queen Square, where it joins King Street.
On the left of Queen Street is Gillison’s Hospital, a group of small almshouses built in 1937. Queen Square has several fine houses, built in the 1770s.
20. Turn left along King Street.
On the right of King Street is a modern retail development including a two-storey market hall built in 1992 to replace a Victorian Market Hall destroyed by fire in the 1980s. At the time of writing this is undergoing redevelopment and conversion. On the left of King Street is Penny’s Hospital built in 1718-22 as 12 apartments with “garden plats (sic), or places for herbs and roots.” At the far end of the courtyard is a small chapel with a bellcote. Over the door a sign says “forget not the congregation of thy poor.”
21. Turn left up Meeting House Lane just beyond Waterstones bookshop,. Cross Meeting House Lane. At the first junction is the imposing Storey Institute.
The Storey Institute was built in 1887-91 as a school of art, library and gallery. In 1998 the walled gardens behind the institute were laid out as an art work,The Tasting Garden.In the early 21st century the institute was converted into a multi-use building, providing accommodation for small businesses, a café, galleries and exhibitions areas, workshops, and an information centre.
22. Turn right at the Storey and walk into Castle Hill. Ahead is Lancaster Castle. Enter through the main gate at the front.
It is generally thought that Lancaster Castle was founded in the 1090s on the site of a Roman fort. The history of the structure is uncertain. This is partly due to its use as a prison since 1196, which prevented extensive archaeological investigation[. The notorious Pendle witches trial took place at Lancaster Castle in 1612. Lancaster has a reputation as the court that sentenced more people to death than any other in England. The prison closed in 2011. The Castle is now being progressively opened-up to visitors.
23. Leave the Castle via the main gate and turn right walking through the gardens, with the fine 18th century houses in Castle Park to the left. Turn right at the end of the Castle passing on your right the adjoining Shire Hall.
24. Beyond the Castle and Shire Hall enter the churchyard of the Church of St Mary, otherwise known as Lancaster Priory.
There has been a church on this site since the 6th century. The current building is of late 14th and 15th century with later additions. In 1743 it was decided to raise the steeple 10 yards higher so that the bells could be heard better. In 1753, the tower was in danger of falling down, so the bells were removed. In 1759 a new tower was erected, which still stands.
25. Unless visiting the Priory, pass to the left and follow a path downhill and then down some steps. Then down more narrow steps through group of small houses to emerge on St George’s Quay. Turn left to walk along St Georges Quay to the Custom House,
Many buildings along St. George’s Quay date from the 18th and 19th century, a period when the port became one of the busiest in the UK; the fourth most important in the UK’s slave trade. However, Lancaster’s role as a major port was short-lived, as the river began to silt up. The Custom House was designed in 1764 for the Port Commissioners, and used for its original purpose until 1882 when the Customs were transferred to Barrow-in-Furness. It was converted to Lancaster’s Maritime Museum in 1985. At the time of writing, the Museum’s future is uncertain. Look out for the crooked building next to the George and Dragon pub.
26. Continue along St George’s Quay to the tall Carlisle Bridge. Climb the steep stairs up to the Bridge and then cross it along the pedestrian walkway with fine views back up the River Lune and across the City to the Ashton Memorial.
Carlisle Bridge carries the West Coast Main Line over three 120-foot (37 m) spans. It was built between 1844 and 1846 and opened in 1847.
27. Descend the steps at the far side of the Bridge and join the footpath walking back towards the City along the North bank of the Lune, with good views across to St George’s Quay, heading for Millennium Bridge.
Built in 2000-01, this tubular steel bridge provides a foot and cycle route across the river. The bridge forms a “Y”-shape in plan to connect one bank both to a viaduct and adjacent quay. Its double pylon seeks to act as a reminder of the masted ships which previously used the quay. The bridge is referred to by many Lancastrians as the ‘swearing bridge’ due to its two masts resembling that of ‘V sign.’
28. Cross Millennium Bridge and then continue along St Georges Quay to Cable Street. Turn left along Cable Street, passing the Bus Station on the right. Cross Cable Street and, by The Bobbin pub, walk up Chapel Street. Just past St John’s Chapel on the left, turn right up North Road and then bear left, still on North Road. Walk for about 30 metres uphill before turning right into Church Street.
Church Street features some fine Georgian buildings along with some rather less fine 20th century ones.
29. Walk up Church Street for about 200 metres and turn left into New Street.
New Street was laid out in 1745. Its West (right) side still features many 18th century houses. On the right look out for the shop with a splendid antique rocking horse above the door. The listed shop sign was the last memoir of the Lawson’s toy business, which was set up in 1837. The horse was recently restored with funding provided by Lancaster’s Business Improvement District.
30. At the end of New Street turn right into Market Street and after about 10 metres right again, through a covered alleyway “Music Room Passage, opposite the Ye Olde John O’ Gaunt pub. Follow the alley left then right where it opens out into a small square, on the left side of which is a tall elegant building, the Music Room.
The Music Room was built in 1739. At that time it is thought to have been called “The Muses Room” after the plaster decoration of muses inside. Restored in the 1970s by the Landmark Trust, the building can now be rented as a holiday home.
31. Return to Market Street via the alleyway and turn left. On the left is the small Market Square faced by the City Museum.
The City Museum occupies the building constructed in 1781-3 as Lancaster’s old town hall. Its original design was described as “inexpedient and dangerous to build.” The museum was founded in 1923 after the town hall in Dalton Square was opened. Among its highlights is the Lancaster Roman Tombstone, a memorial dating from c.100 AD, found locally in 2005. It depicts a Roman soldier on horseback with a decapitated opponent at his feet, and is described as “an iconic piece of Lancaster’s dramatic past [giving] a crucial insight into the history of the county.”
32. Walk along Market Street to the crossroads junction with Cheapside to the left and Penny Street to the right. This is Horseshoe Corner.
In the centre of Horseshoe Corner, embedded in the paving, is a horseshoe. Legend has it that this marks the site where a shoe was cast by the horse of John of Gaunt, the first Duke of Lancaster, in the 14th century, on his last visit to the City. Another story connects it with the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie who is reputed to have visited the City. A third account supposes it to have been connected with the horse fair.
33. Turn right along Penny Street. Where pedestrian only Penny Street is crossed by a busy road – Common Garden Street – turn left into what becomes Brock Street.
On the left, before the junction with Great John Street, which is the Western side of Dalton Square, is a shop whose sign says it was “GL Robertson, Photographic Dealer” “established as Vince and Co in 1796” and “the World’s oldest business serving photographers.” Sadly, it is now closed.
34. Cross Great John Street to re-enter Dalton Square.
The venue for post walk drinks and food is the Borough, formerly a townhouse built in 1824. It had various uses including as home to the Mayor of Lancaster and a working mens’ club. It became a pub in 2006. Walkers, with or without heir dogs, are welcome.