As drivers hurtle up and down the M6 to and from the Lake District and Scotland it’s easy to miss out on some of the north of England’s most interesting sights. Lancashire is an incredibly diverse county with vast areas of charming countryside, rural villages, historic towns and, in Blackpool, one of this country's most iconic beach resorts. Here are seven reasons to take a quick detour off the M6 in Lancashire and savour a few of the delights of this ancient region – you will be well-rewarded.
Leighton Hall: a short drive from Junction 35 takes you to the beautiful home of the Gillow family, one of Lancashire’s most famous names, designers and purveyors of quality furniture to the gentry and others of refined taste. This warm and welcoming house is crammed full of antiques and quirky nick-nacks. It has a charming walled garden laid out with fruit and vegetables, a little maze and a glorious hebaceous border. Set in a graceful hollow the views of the Lake District fells and Morecambe Bay are outstanding.
Carnforth Station Heritage Centre: down the road from Leighton Hall, on the A6, you are transported back to the age of steam, when smuts got in your eye and a train's whistle was the signal for a journey to unexplored areas of the country. Run by knowledgeable volunteers, the Centre traces the vital history of freight and passenger rail in the area. However, it's the connection with that classic B&W British weepie â€˜Brief Encounter' that brings visitors from all over the world. Filmed during WWII, it tells the story of ill-fated lovers kept apart by the upright morals of 1940s England. You can watch the movie, see stills from the filming and have a sandwich in the meticulously recreated â€˜Refreshment Room', where any minute Stanley Holloway might pop in for a quick cuppa â€¦
Lancaster Castle: get off at Junction 33 or 34 and take time to visit one of England’s most historic buildings. Looking down over the city and River Lune, it has a solid and authoritarian air, much as it would have done in John of Gaunt's day. Modified as a Court and Prison, there’s a fascinating tour taking in the 12th Century Keep, the Witches Tower, the old cells, the Crown Court and graceful Shire Hall. A stroll along the nearby river takes you to the excellent Maritime Museum, where Lancaster's involvement in the slave trade is told along with more gratifying stories of this old port.Glasson Dock: tootle off at Junction 33/34 and find where the Lancaster Canal makes its exit at the very quirky Glasson Dock, to the west of the Fairtrade village of Garstang. It has an elusive air of times gone by when, in the 1800s it was a lively port handling over 100,000 tons of cargo. There's a little cafÃ© overlooking the waterway where you can watch the boats pass through the lock or you can to The Stork Inn and watch the sun set over the Irish Sea. Do search out the Smokehouse for a delicious souvenir of your visit.
The Forest of Bowland: in the little maze of narrow lanes and rolling hillsides to the east of Preston (J32) it's easy to get lost awhile and forget the hectic pace of modern life. Wander along the main street of pretty Chipping or have lunch in the well-known Inn at Whitewell. Covering over 300 square miles, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has over 500 listed buildings and 18 scheduled monuments. One of its most impressive landmarks is Pendle Hill, near the home of the infamous Lancashire Witches.
More things to see and do in the Forest of Bowland in this podcast:
Rivington Pike: easily spotted from the M6 (Junction 27/28) with its Beacon, Tower and aerials, it's the summit of Winter Hill, on the Pennine Moors. On a clear day you can see Blackpool Tower, the Lake District mountains, the Welsh mountains and, across the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man. The Beacon is part of England's early warning system and the Tower was built as a hunting lodge in the 1700s. Further down are the recently restored â€˜Lost Gardens of Rivington', originally laid out for Victorian industrialist Lord Lever. At the foot of the hill you can get refreshments at enormous Rivington Hall Barn, weekend gathering place for bikers showing off their immaculately-kept shiny motorbikes.
Hopefully you’ll be tempted off the busy M6 in Lancashire and tarry awhile at one or more of these fascinating places …
A shorter version of this article originally appeared in my Visit Britain Superblog section.