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Lancaster~A Small English Town Bringing Together the Past and the Present

March 24, 2015

I think it a good idea to have occasional guest blogs on Over the Hills. This first one is by Basak Tanulku from Istanbul, who writes:

I am an independent scholar from Istanbul, Turkey, who is curious about anything related to cities. My general research interests are urban studies; neighbourhoods and communities; gated communities; socio-spatial segregation and housing; urban heritage and preservation; the relation between space and people; urban transformation and the formation of new inequalities and resistances.

I lived in Lancaster for almost seven years, between the years 2004 and 2011. I came to Lancaster to conduct my PhD studies in Sociology on the gated communities in Istanbul (Lancaster University).  I have a particular interest in the Lake District and Cumbria, which I became familiar with as the result of my daily trips to the Lakes and Cumbria region. I like walking and hiking in the countryside, local history, and arts.

Lancaster: A Small English Town Bringing together the Past and the Present

In this short piece I would like to give information on Lancaster and the surrounding area for visitors from abroad as well as different parts of England. I find myself lucky to have lived in Lancaster for almost seven years while conducting my PhD studies in the University of Lancaster. For me Lancaster is a town overlooked by many, something which I also felt when I firstly came there in 2004. For most students who came to the university from large cities, Lancaster was not an attractive town, since it was found small and claustrophobic. However, Lancaster contained the three most desirable features to be considered “attractive” for me: it was small, green and old. Lancaster and the surrounding area still kept some of the rural features that shaped the English countryside something which I became fascinated with from my first day there.

Of course Lancaster does not offer a seven-star luxury or a picturesque view full of manicured streets and renovated English cottages. However, it has something more than these: first, it allows visitors travelling in time while walking in streets which still attain the old built environment, characterised by mainly Georgian and Victorian architecture. The old town area is an almost untouched site which contains the Lancaster Castle, famous for the trail of Lancaster witches during the first decade of the 1600s and the Lancaster Priory. At the other end of the town, up the hills there is the Taj Mahal of Lancaster, the Ashton Memorial, erected to commemorate the wife of Lord Ashton during the early 20th century. The site is covered with well-preserved woodland, offering good walking opportunities and views of the spectacular Lake District. Behind it, there is GB Antiques Market, a large bazaar offering both luxurious and cheap furniture, jewellery, paintings, pottery and collectables.

In addition, Lancaster can also be considered as a creative town due to several galleries addressing particularly contemporary art, such as the Storey, a hub for contemporary arts, the Dukes Theatre and Cinema, a centre for independent movies and live theatre performances and the Gregson Community Centre, alongside with the University of Lancaster’s Peter Scott Gallery, Nuffield Theatre and concert hall. The town’s richness in cultural activities is due to the existence of two higher education institutions which host a diverse student, academic and visitor population. The first is the University of Lancaster, a research-driven university of 50 years and the second is the University of Cumbria, a much recently established university. In addition, Lancaster also hosts Lancaster Music Festival since 2009 each October, and has good food and drinks options of both international and local English cuisine, which can be enjoyed in various pubs, restaurants and independent cafes. For me Lancaster was a relatively cheaper town, if compared with large cities in terms of accommodation and daily expenses while it offered various leisure activities at budget. In addition, it was easier for me to travel to Manchester, the capital of the Industrial North, a metropolitan centre which I found too tough and masculine characterised by old mills and Victorian architecture symbolising its industrial heritage as well as a diverse night life, and artistic hubs such as the Lowry, the Corner House symbolising its present post-industrial legacy.

However, for me Lancaster’s most important advantage was its proximity to the Lake District, the largest national park of England and Wales established in 1951, with which I fell in love at first sight. There is nothing I would add to such a place – in my opinion, it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen which inspired poets and painters since the Romantic Era. The Lake District has a diverse and picturesque landscape which has more than just one layer like a stage: At first, you can see a small lake and a river which intermingle, and then behind them, there is a wooded area decorated with cottages and cotton ball-like sheep. Behind this lie fells not nearly as high as real mountains, but which still allow you to feel scale and grandeur. It is both English and Celtic, with stone circles and castles, thought to be of King Arthur and his father, Pendragon and names which reflect English and Celtic languages. It is both made by man and nature over thousands of years, resulting in a beauty natural and manufactured at the same time. It is both dependent on farming, as it has been for thousands of years, and on tourism, carrying thousands of people to experience its beauty and tradition.

When I was travelling within the Lake District I did not take a train to Windermere or car as a person without a driving licence. Instead, I always preferred the bus number 555, which connected Lancaster and Keswick across a beautiful route. By doing this, I was able to see beautiful villages, pathways, green fields, lakes, hills and many more interesting details, which I would never been able to see if I had taken a car or train. My last visit to Lancaster was on September 2014 when I found the opportunity to stroll around Lancaster’s streets, and the university campus. During the same visit, I again took the bus number 555 to Keswick as I did in the past.

I do not know when I will visit again the area, but I recommend all people to enjoy Lancaster, either for short-term visits or for longer periods of time. For me, Lancaster was and still is a beautiful town at the crossroads between the urban and rural realms bringing together the medieval, industrial and post-industrial heritage within walking distance.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 24, 2015 10:09 pm

    Great post 🙂

    I too prefer to travel to the Lake District (definitely Britain’s most beautiful area and National Park) via public transport and have used both the Windermere train and the 555. The 555 does take a superb route but it’s a long, slow journey, that’s for sure!

    I’d best not let Richard read this as he’s wanting me to move to Lancaster rather than North-West Cumbria 😉

    A schoolfriend and I used to be driven regularly to Morecambe via Lancaster and we always used to look at the Ashton Memorial and thought it looked very Eastern. We even gave it the stupid nickname of ‘The Nairobi Nitwit’ – not sure what the nitwit bit was but obviously we thought it looked exotically ‘eastern’ (and we were only about 11 years old and our geography obviously wasn’t great). The Lancaster Taj Mahal is a much more mature and better-fitting name for it though. I believe it used to have a butterfly house or room – not sure if it still does.

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