Although the chances of ‘accidentally’ finding yourself in Lancaster are very slim, it is interesting to see in England something other than London, that usually comes to our mind when we think of England.
The reason I went there was a three-month ERASMUS+ scholarship for a study visit to the Lancaster University.
Situated in North-West England close to the coast, with a population of 50,000 (13,500 students),
Lancaster belongs to the county of Lancashire,
characterized by typical British green scenery with countless farms and beautiful nature. The closest major city is Manchester, which is an hour-long train ride away, and the popular Lake District is about half an hour away.
Today, Lancaster is known for its University, which is among the top 10 in the country, whereas in the past it was known for the infamous castle dominating the city contours, the site of the highest number of executed death penalties in the history of England. History buffs will know right away why the city’s coat of arms has both a red and a white rose. In the second half of the 15th century, war was waged here between the two royal families – Lancaster and York, resulting in the demise of both lineages.
The cause, of course, was the struggle for the throne, and the aftermath saw the rise of the Tudor dynasty to power.
At first glance, Lancaster gives off the impression of a mini San Francisco, with its interplay of planes and hills, and typical terraced houses.
The River Lune flows through the city and provides several canals for tourist boat rides. Here you can still ride double-deckers, but since there is only one entry door on the bus, public transport is extremely slow. In addition to the hill with the castle and one of the two cathedrals, the city core comprises a small shopping zone, the town hall with an interesting history museum, and the main city square.
It’s a good thing that there’s no entry fee charged for the museums, in other words they are funded by donations. Besides this one, I have also visited the Maritime Museum, and all of the above applies to that one as well.
Of course, there are the ubiquitous Starbucks, Costa Coffee, McDonald’s, KFC, etc. of the better known chains, but considering the size of the city, there is also quite a decent amount of restaurants with international cuisine, from Italian to Thai.
I believe that this is due to the exceptionally high number of students from all over the world, as the city is known among the British as a university city.
The restaurants with local specialties offer nothing special – usually just various burgers, fish & chips and the like, but the atmosphere in every restaurant or bar is typically British, and there are even a few located in luxurious stone houses.
Going to the pub in the evening for a beer and parlor games is a ritual here,
and it’s precisely why one gets the impression of peace and calm, because here people go to the pub primarily for the company.
The first time I went to a pub it was a bit strange to see men in their 40s drinking tea and playing Risk, but once you understand their mentality, it becomes normal. It’s all somehow slow and relaxed, perhaps even too slow for me, but then again, it depends on what you’re used to.
Also, the city has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, so it’s safe at any time of day or night.
To get the best view of the city and the bay
…it’s worth the effort to hike to the Williamson Park, which is an ideal spot for a day out in the open. There are several parks for children, a small duck pond, the Butterfly House, and the Ashton Memorial – a monument that a husband (a millionaire, of course) had commissioned in early 20th century as a tribute to his wife, and which is used today as an observation deck.
A 10-minute ride from the downtown is another small town, Morecambe, which used to be known as the sunny summer riviera of this part of England. Nowadays the town is dying out because a large part of the population has moved away, but the long sandy coast remains. A peculiar thing about it is the great tidal range, visible here every day.
I will not tell you to add Lancaster to your bucket list, but if you ever have an opportunity to go up north/towards Scotland, stop here at least for a short rest. The city is imbued with a kind and peaceful atmosphere, and is an excellent opportunity to meet the locals who speak in a typically British accent (although it takes a while for the ear to get used to it!).
Author of the text and photos