With its heritage railway, industrial history and hot chocolate, this Lancashire market town is… just the ticket!
- Angela Epstein and her husband drive to the ‘thriving’ town of Ramsbottom
- They climb Holcombe Hill before heading to the family-owned Chocolate Cafe
- More: William and Kate’s photographer snaps a very remote Scottish community
With so much controversy surrounding the Metropolitan Police, it seems we have picked a curious time to visit Ramsbottom. For this thriving Lancashire market town is crowned by Peel Tower, an unmissable tribute to the founder of the force, Sir Robert Peel.
We catch our first glimpse long before reaching our destination as my husband, Martin, steers our car through countryside down the M66 from Manchester.
Not only because of the tower’s elevated position at the top of Holcombe Hill on the West Pennine Moors just above Ramsbottom. But also because this monument stands at a whopping 128 ft. As such, Peel Tower is hard to miss as it pricks the skies, breaking up an otherwise ambivalent horizon of rolling greenery and gun-metal clouds.
Sir Robert Peel created the Met in 1829 and so unwittingly gifted the nicknames of ‘bobby’ and ‘peeler’ to those who served in its ranks.
The politician, who was born outside Ramsbottom in the nearby, much larger, town of Bury, hoped that the Metropolitan force would be the template for policing in other parts of the country — and indeed it was.
Steeped in the past: Angela Epstein pays a visit to the thriving Lancashire market town of Ramsbottom, pictured
In recognition of his work, the tower was built in 1852 out of stone hewn from the hillside.
To take a closer look at it, we park near the bottom of Holcombe Hill and follow a path to its summit.
The walk is a lung-buster, but our frequent stops are rewarded with a view across the Irwell valley.
Even though it’s closed (a white flag flutters at its head on the days it’s open), sitting outside and surveying the countryside and the hazy outline of Manchester in the distance is compensation enough.
Ramsbottom centre has a made-for-period-TV feel. It’s a mecca of quirky shops and independent retailers selling local food and gifts — all of which are offset by weavers’ cottages and stone terraces.
We stop at the family-owned Chocolate Cafe for a restorative cup of something hot and foamy (it takes huge willpower to resist trying the World Of Crafted Chocolate tasting plate, featuring Ecuadorian white chocolate and Colombian brownies).
Just outside the shop stands, or rather tilts, a large upturned bronze urn from which water flows.
Designed by sculptor Edward Allington, it was positioned there in 1998 to symbolise Ramsbottom’s association with water, as the town sits on the River Irwell.
Angela climbs to the summit of Holcombe Hill to see Peel Tower (pictured foreground). ‘The walk is a lung-buster,’ she says
Peel Tower is an unmissable tribute to the founder of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Peel
Further down the road there’s the East Lancashire railway line, a 12-mile heritage track which opened in 1987 between Heywood in Greater Manchester and Rawtenstall in Lancashire. Ramsbottom is one of the stops.
As we approach the lovingly preserved station, the gates of the level crossing swing shut and a magnificent locomotive chuffa-chuffas by, bellowing steam and decanting visitors into the town.
The first trains on this line originally steamed into Bury Station in the 1840s, connecting mill towns and trading centres around the Irwell valley. The development of the line and all of its railway stations was a key part of the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire.
Ramsbottom is one of the stops on the East Lancashire railway line (above), a heritage track that runs between Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons
A magnificent locomotive passes by as Angela approaches Ramsbottom’s lovingly preserved railway station, above
Doubles at the Eagle and Child (eagle-and-child.com) from £79. Train tickets from £17 (eastlancsrailway.org.uk). See visitlancashire.com.
Today, at any stop on the line, you’ll find historic waiting rooms, picture-perfect platforms — and a sense that you’re an extra in The Railway Children. The journey is as you’d expect it to be — from the shriek of the whistle to the comforting chug as the steam pumps out of the funnel.
The countryside, already tasted from afar at the top of Holcombe Hill, rushes by — a canvas of gently craggy hills and sheep-speckled fields (we spot some alpacas near the base of the aforementioned hill). I’m just rather disappointed that we haven’t booked one of the on-board food experiences — including fine-dining evenings and afternoon teas. It’s a throwback to when rail-travel dining amounted to more than a curling, well-travelled cheese-and-pickle sandwich.
It’s hard to imagine what Sir Robert Peel might make of either the country’s police force today, or the state of our transport infrastructure.
But what joy to escape to this hillside market town and steep ourselves in the past.
And, for a time, not think about the present or the future.
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