(This is the first post in our Beyond London Series, a collection of destination guides that encourage backpackers to get out of the capital and explore the rest of the UK.)
When you mention the UK to most travellers, they will immediately think of the capital and largest city, London. In fact, it almost seems that people around the world think that London is all there is to the United Kingdom. Although London is an amazing world class city with lots of fascinating history and things to do, if it is the only stop on your trip to the UK you are missing out on a lot.
Take a few trips beyond London to explore a different part of the country! It’s very easy to do, since the UK is a relatively small island and has a simple to use and convenient train system which can take you anywhere you need to go within a few hours.
The first stop on our tour is the beautiful county of Lancashire. From the friendly small villages surrounded by gentle countryside, to the modern, hip, and edgy metropolis of Manchester, Lancashire has everything that you could need for a great holiday. Whether you are renting a cottage for a quiet hiking holiday in the country, a hip hotel in downtown Manchester, or a bed and breakfast in the seaside resort of Blackpool, Lancashire is a great weekend away only a few hours on the train from London, and it’s historical mill towns surrounded by nature are the perfect antidote to the chaos of the big city.
The atmospheric forests and rolling hills of Lancashire are beautiful, but there were once the site of one of the most famous witch hunts in English history. In the year 1612, twelve people living around the area of Pendle Hill were accused of practicing witchcraft and ten were found guilty and hanged.
This dark period in Lancashire history is still reflected in the area, and there is even a Pendle Witch walking trail that you can take which will show you the relevant historical sites from the Pendle Heritage Centre to Lancaster Castle where the supposed “witches” were once held before they were tried. After a full day of hiking along the trail, you can relax with a specialty Pendle Witches Brew Strong Ale at Moorhouse’s Brewery in Burnley.
Blackpool is the number one holiday resort in Britain, with over 6 million visitors per year. People come from all over to enjoy the cheesy, retro charm of Pleasure Beach Blackpool and Blackpool Tower, with numerous amusement arcades, bars, shops, and restaurants. There is also a scenic seaside promenade and seven miles of beaches.
Blackpool really comes alive at night on the weekend. It is a popular destination for “Stag Nights” and “Hen Dos” (Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties) from all around the area. The popular tradition of getting dolled up in “fancy dress” for one of these weekends away is what makes a night out in Blackpool truly surreal and wonderful, because you are likely to see several groups of men and women dressed as firefighters, bunny rabbits, or Minnie Mouse as well as the occasional team of lads in drag with ridiculous lipstick and fake breasts. You’ll feel like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole into an world of pure partying and fun.
Lancashire is rich with stunning properties and historic houses which hold many centuries of history within their walls. If you are as geeky about architecture as I am, you will want to spend days visiting these stately castles, ornate mansions, and impressive old halls. For a complete list of the architectural history fan’s top sites in Lancashire, check out this great link.
Preston has always been a major port and industrial centre in Lancashire, and it is the perfect destination for a day trip with lots to offer for every type of traveller. If you are interested in history and learning more about Northern English culture, check out the stories of Preston’s history at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery. The Museum of Lancashire also has some excellent exhibits.
If football is more your thing, Preston is home to the National Football Museum where you can watch footage of Preston North End FC becoming the first ever team to win the English League. Preston is also a university town, so it has a great nightlife!
If you like shopping, head to either Fishergate shopping centre or the Mall, or you could check out the unique Victorian shopping marketplace known as The Miller Arcade which consists of a collection of several diverse shops and vendors.
In the year 2012, Preston will be celebrating the “Preston Guild” which is a historic festival that dates back to 1179. The celebration is only held once every 20 years, so don’t miss it! Visitors come from all over to enjoy art, music, performances, and other events. This year’s event will begin on the 18th of August, and unlike 800 years ago the traditional parades and processions will be broadcast on huge screens so that all can see.
Check out Lancashire!
This guide barely scratches the surface on all of the great experiences that you can have in Lancashire, and I could write for thousands more words about how much I love this part of the world. Feed the ducks along the Leeds to Liverpool canal, eat a warm and hearty Lancashire Hot Pot or a meat pie from a local pub, watch football fans stirred into fervour at a Saturday afternoon match, go for a hike through the Ribble Valley, or golf at one of the region’s excellent courses.
On your trip to the UK, go beyond London and check it out!