What would the modern day traveler do without TripAdvisor (or your favourite online travel guide)? It feels a little too risky to visit a new city without conferring with the opinions of countless strangers. Just wander down the street and walk into a restaurant without checking their ratings? What? Miss out on the top 5 attractions? Unthinkable! Playing the game, it was finally our time to visit the top 2 attractions of our nearest city, Lancaster.
The very impressive Lancaster Castle stands on a hill next to Lancaster Priory. We toured the castle with James, a member of the local historical society. Evidence of a Roman fort has been found on this hill dating back to the 1st Century AD. Property of the Duke of Lancaster (AKA Queen Elizabeth II), the castle has never acted as a family home, but it has been home to prisoners for centuries. The prison was only decommissioned in 2011.
The history of Lancastle Castle is as dramatic as it is long. As a prison, it housed men, women, and children, as well as those simply in debt. It was the location of hangings and, of course, there were dungeons. In addition to operating as a prison, the castle housed the region’s court. There are many notable stories associated with the castle. George Fox, founder of the Quakers, was called here several times. Five of the Pendle Witches, were held, “tried” and, ultimately, executed here. Court is still held in the castle, which accounts for very restricted access and rules against taking pictures on much of the tour.
While the limited access left us feeling a bit let down, James told many stories and spoke with such passion about the history of Lancaster, we followed his suggestion for our next stop.
Williamson Park: # 1 on Lancaster’s TripAdvisor Hit Parade! Yes, it’s January. Yes, parks and gardens are best viewed in warmer, gentler weather, but this was still well worth the visit.
This is one of 10 waymarkers as part of the Lancashire Witches Walk . It seems Pendle Witches and Lancashire Witches are both used in reference to the women and men who were imprisoned, tortured, and executed, mostly for holding beliefs other than official church doctrine, for healing with herbs and auld ways, and for… wait for it… gossiping.
A verse of poet-laureate, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The Lancashire Witches’ is inscribed on the marker.
Ashton Memorial sits on the highest point of Williamson Park and can be seen from almost any point in Lancaster. Climbing the “sweeping flight of steps” made me think of the ladies who first would have done so when the memorial was opened to the public in 1909… long skirts and high heels, oh my.
Carry on a few more floors (taking the opportunity to stop and admire the works of local artists displayed along the stairwells… and to catch your breath), and you can step out onto a deck with a fantastic panoramic view!
Among the landmarks we could see (feeling almost like locals, knowing what we were looking at), we were able to find our canal walk, the Millenium Bridge, and even the Midland Hotel on the water’s edge, all the way in Morcambe.
Lord Ashton, James Williamson Jr, had the memorial built as one of his contributions to the park which had been started by his father. In addition to many philanthropic contributions, the family also contributed a great deal to the city in terms of employment. James Jr eventually went on to become The Lino King, employing about 25%of Lancaster’s men (the company employed women, too, but why would I be able to find stats about them?).
With just these two stops, we were able to learn a great deal about this historic settlement on the hill. Lucky you, I won’t try to share all of the stories I remember from James’ tour and from the plaques I read during the day!