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Time-honoured Lancaster

A castle, historic waterfront and attractive streets in Lancashire's finest town.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 262ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths City streets, paths with setts, canal tow path

Landscape Basically urban, but with good leavening of open space

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 296 Lancaster, Morecambe & Fleetwood

Start/finish SD 474619

Dog friendliness Can run free on tow path, care needed on busy roads

Parking Parksafe at Mitre House, northbound on one-way system

Public toilets At car park and in city centre

1 Exit from the car park to a cobbled haven alongside a busy road. In front is Covell Cross and above it the Judge's Lodgings. This lovely 17th-century house now houses a furniture museum and a museum of childhood. Go up, with the Judge's Lodgings on your right, on to Castle Hill.

2 Go through the gateway into the Priory churchyard. (A short detour rightwards gives a fine view over the city.) The church is among the finest in Lancashire, one of its most notable features being the superb 14th-century choir stalls. From the west front of the church, walk down a narrow path (known as Vicarage Lane). Half-way down a sign points right to the slightly disappointing Roman bathhouse remains. Return to Vicarage Lane, descend steps, cross a cycleway/footpath and continue down the last bit of Vicarage Lane to Saint George's Quay. Turn left and walk about 300yds (274m) to the Maritime Museum.

3 Return along the riverside towards the prominent Millennium Bridge (no prizes for guessing when it was constructed). Walk up the ramp on to the bridge, go right, then bear left along the old railway line. Reaching the main road, slope off right and through the underpass. Emerging on to the open grassy Green Ayre, bear left and walk up beside the river to admire Skerton Bridge. Completed in 1788, the bridge is notable as the first bridge in England with a level roadway.

4 Turn around then bear left towards the traffic-light. Cross the street on your left, turn right and cross again when lights permit. Go up steps into a car park. Leave by the vehicle exit then cross the road above and go up the street almost opposite. Turn left into De Vitre Street, second right into Shaw Street and through a gap at its end. Turn right along the canal tow path. Several cotton mills still stand, though they now serve other functions. Go under two bridges and below the grand Roman Catholic Cathedral, designed by the Lancaster firm of Paley and Austin.

5 At the third bridge the tow path changes sides, by a spiral ramp that allowed horses to cross without being unhitched. Continue past the White Cross pub. The White Cross complex originally produced oilcloth but now houses a wide variety of educational, office and light industrial activities. Continue under another bridge then cross by the new footbridge just before the Water Witch.

6 Cross the road into Queen Street - another collection of good Georgian houses - and down to Queen Square. Bear left along the main road for 100yds (91m) to a pedestrian crossing, then turn right down Common Garden Street. At Marks and Spencer turn left into pedestrianised Penny Street. At Horseshoe Corner, turn left up Market Street to Market Square, where the City Museum can be found. Continue past the entrance to New Street then look for a narrow entry (Music Room Passage) on the right, which leads into Music Room Square, named for the enigmatic building at the back. Follow Sun Street to its end and turn left up Church Street. The pedestrian crossing at the top returns you to Covell Cross.

Shakespeare's phrase 'Time-honoured Lancaster' originally described not a city but a man, John O'Gaunt, second Duke of Lancaster. The imposing gateway known as John O'Gaunt's Gate was built during the reign of his son, Henry IV. Walk up to its left, then round behind the castle to the visitor entrance.

Large parts of the castle are still in use as a prison, while the remainder also houses lawcourts. When these are not in session tours take in the courtrooms, the ancient dungeons, the magnificent Shire Hall and the Drop Room, where the condemned awaited execution - among them the Pendle Witches.

Points of interest along the walk include two museums. The Maritime Museum is housed in a lovely old building that was originally the Customs House It was built in 1764, during the relatively brief period when Lancaster was a major port. The City Museum was formerly the town hall, built in 1781 and replaced by a much more grandiose but less beautiful one (off the walk route) in 1909. There are some very good displays upstairs that tell much more about the history of the area.

While you're there

You can't miss the Ashton Memorial, crowning the ridge east of the city. (It's equally conspicuous, and often puzzling, to travellers on the M6.) Variously called 'the Taj Mahal of the North' and 'England's grandest folly', it was built between 1906 and 1908.

Where to eat and drink

Lancaster is crammed with pubs and eateries. In the city centre the Blue Anchor is probably the best of several pubs. The Sun Café (in Sun Street) has bistro food and plays great jazz.

What to look for

Half-way down Penny Street, coins are embedded in the pavement. The street is actually named for one Thomas Penny, but never mind. At Horseshoe Corner, there's still a horseshoe set into the paving. It's supposed to be where John O'Gaunt's horse cast a shoe, but it's more likely that it marks the site of ancient horse fairs.

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