The tip of Lancaster Cathedral sticks out behind a residence on the edge of the canal that weaves its way through Lancaster.

Last weekend we took a trip up North for some much needed rest and relaxation.  We took the train up to Preston on Friday night, and used that town as our hub for the weekend. Saturday we explored Blackpool, and on Sunday we journeyed up to Lancaster. It’s only about 15 minutes by train.  Don’t worry – Alex is writing a long blog post all about our train travels!

Those of you who know me (or have followed the blog for awhile) know that I’m a bit of history geek, and if I had lived through the War of the Roses I would have been a Yorkist, so I felt like a teensy bit of a traitor for visiting Lancaster.  🙂

Unfortunately I’m an idiot and accidentally deleted all my pictures from Lancaster!  So these pics are from Alex’s camera (note: they’re not nearly as good as mine!) or from the internet. I’m bummed about losing my pics, especially as I had some really great doors.

When we first arrived at Lancaster we were both surprised by how cute the train station is. It’s a nice grey stone, and looks quite castle-like, with crenelations along the top – sort of like a battlement.

Lancaster Castle - an intimidating facade.

We followed the signs from the station to Lancaster Castle. Luckily it was a Sunday, so we were able to tour the castle and see all the rooms.  This is an interesting castle because it’s still very much a working building, although it’s never been a royal residence. The last monarch to visit Lancaster Castle was King John, sometime in the 12th century! It is, however, a residence of another kind … a prison. It first held prisoners in 1196, but didn’t become commonly used as such until the English Civil War.  Up until this year (2011) there were about 200 prisoners kept full-time in the castle, and it’s only very recently that they’ve all been sent elsewhere.  The castle also functions as a crown court, so prisoners still come here for trial, sentencing, and transfer.

We were able to see the medieval prison cells in the basement, the base of the original keep, the modern judges robing chamber, the courtroom, and the room where the jury debates the verdict. This last room was quite intimidating, because historically is was the room where the guilty would see their coffins immediately before being executed (via a short drop), and where their bodies would be returned afterwards for preparation for burial.  Can you imagine, as a modern-day juryperson, having to debate someone’s guilt or innocence in a room of such history?

The courtroom itself was also quite cool, because hidden within the Lancaster Roses decorating the ceiling are hangman’s nooses … because this court was once called the hanging court. More people were sentenced to death in this court than any other in the region!  Our tour guide even showed us the hidden trap door that prisoners use to travel from their cells to the dock — it looks like it’s straight out of the 14th century.

I have to admit, part of me desperately wanted to commit a crime in Lancaster just so I could spend more time in the prison, and see the courtroom again!

This is the second bummer part of this post. There are no pictures of the castle, because as a working crown court it’s illegal to take photographs. So you’ll just have to imagine (or google) it.

Astrid, hoping to be let in the giant front doors to explore the prison.

After leaving the castle we walked into town and down the high street. Lancaster is much like other English market towns, and the high street was pretty average. A few more independent bakeries, but still many of the same shops you find everywhere.

We took a quick detour over to see Lancaster Cathedral, which is (I think) the first Catholic cathedral we’ve seen here in the UK.  Alex liked it because it was much smaller than many of the other churches, and you can definitely imaging a stronger community because you would know everyone – rather than the anonymity of a larger congregation. I thought it was definitely glitzier than the protestant churches, but that’s perhaps just because I keep thinking that the riches of the church were one of Henry VIIIs main motivations for the great schism (other than a new wife, of course!)

After the cathedral we walked along the canal for a bit. It was quite chilly by this point, although there was a lovely afternoon sun reflecting on the water.  We grabbed a bite to eat at the Merchant, a great pub located in the vaults below the castle, and then took the train home for an early evening.

Stay tuned!  Alex is writing a blog post all about the trams of Blackpool, and I’m going to write one with pics of my favourite cathedral ceiling of all time, in Carlisle!


Posted on 14/11/2011, in Castles & Cathedrals, Exploring the UK, travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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