Five reasons to visit Rawtenstall

Some quaint Lancashire towns are fashionable nowadays – Clitheroe, Lytham and Ramsbottom spring to mind. For all their attractions, I prefer discovering the hidden charms of some of the county’s less chic haunts. One of my favourites is Rawtenstall, pronounced ‘Rottenstall’ with typical lack of airs and graces. You may think it’s a typically depressed former mill town with nothing to see, but it is actually rather compelling.

Having spent another enjoyable day trip there yesterday, I’ve drawn up five reasons to visit Rawtenstall – without even mentioning its most famous attraction in the town, Ski Rossendale, the dry slope winter sports centre, or the startlingly good architecture of St Marys Chambers and the Carnegie-funded library.

Steam train at Rawtenstall1 Steam. Rawtenstall is well connected on the motorway network, and has regular bus services from Blackburn and Burnley to the north, and Manchester and Rochdale to the south. But ignore all that – you need to arrive there by steam train. The East Lancashire Railway runs to the town, through some stunning scenery, from Ramsbottom, Bury and Heywood, with beautiful heritage trains and stations to match too. Staffed by friendly volunteers, and with scores of train spotters waving as you chug past, it’s one of those gentle experiences that does your heart good. Trains run every day – check out more information on their website here.

Fitzpatricks Temperance Bar

Fitzpatricks Temperance Bar, Rawtenstall

2. Temperance drinks. The anti-alcohol temperance movement began in Preston in 1832 and was promoted by both religious and socialist groups who, for different motives, wanted the working classes to abstain from drink. Temperance bars, which only served non-alcoholic drinks, spread all over the north’s mill towns, but have gradually fallen by the wayside in the post-Victorian era. Now the last remaining temperance bar is Fitzpatricks on Bank Street in Rawtenstall and is hugely recommended for anyone who appreciates heritage that’s living and breathing rather than displayed behind glass in a museum. Despite a slight attempt at modernisation recently, there are still tons of period features to gaze at as you sup a pint of slightly fizzy sarsaparilla, blood tonic, dandelion and burdock, black beer and raisin or cream soda. For opening times and more information, check their website.

3. Stuffed stuff. The highlight of the Rossendale Museum, a beautiful converted Victorian home set in Whitaker Park right in Rawtenstall town centre, is undoubtedly the taxidermy room on the ground floor. Dark, unsettling, with beady eyes on stuffed animals following you around the room, it’s the kind of place I would have been too scared to visit as a kid. Fortunarely, there are lots of less squeamish rooms too, a proud local history section, plus a good programme of changing exhibits on the floor. The shop is also worth browsing through – I picked up some lovely art deco postcards showing scenes from Rossendale on my last visit.

4. Weaver fever. Across the road from the town’s cricket ground on Bacup Road is a building which dates from the 18th Century, but looks unassuming at first glance. However, step inside and you’ll find it brimming with significance as one of the few remaining weaver’s cottages in the county. This is where clothing would be manufactured and sold in pre-Industrial Revolution times before the big mills opened. It’s staffed by knowledgable volunteers who will be delighted to personally guide you round and let you try the looms. I recall it only being open to visitors from spring to autumn, but the lack of much web presence means I can’t confirm that. That off-the-beaten-track feel makes it all the more enticing to visit, though.

5. Shopping. There is no denying that the town centre has taken an absolute battering in recent years, firstly with the enormous Asda and Tesco supermarkets and then with the recession which has seen staple shops like Woolworths disappear. There’s a horrific shopping arcade, the Valley Centre, which is all boarded up, apart from the post office, and the streets nearby are pockmarked with more vacant units. And yet there are positives to the lack of chain stores too. On the cobbled stretch of Bank Street, between the temperance bar and the bustling market, there are several upmarket clothes and shoe stores which stock unusual, quality items and designers you often can’t find in bigger towns, and some great places to eat. Its renaissance is still in its infancy, but you feel it’s not far from establishing its own independent retail scene like Hebden Bridge or Clitheroe has.

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