The delights of the Lancashire town of Ramsbottom with its historic railway and industrial history
With so much controversy surrounding the metropolitan police, it seems we’ve picked a strange time to visit Ramsbottom. This thriving Lancashire market town is crowned by Peel Tower, an unmissable tribute to the troupe’s founder, Sir Robert Peel.
We catch our first glimpse long before we reach our destination, as my husband Martin steers our car through the countryside down the M66 from Manchester.
Not just because of the tower’s elevated position at the top of Holcombe Hill in the West Pennine Moors just above Ramsbottom. But also because this monument is a whopping 128 feet tall. As such, the Peel Tower is hard to miss as it pierces the sky, breaking up an otherwise ambivalent horizon of billowing greenery and metallic clouds.
Sir Robert Peel founded the Met in 1829 and unwittingly bestowed the nicknames “Bobby” and “Peeler” on those who served in its ranks.
Born outside of Ramsbottom in the nearby, much larger town of Bury, the politician hoped the Metropolitan Force would be the blueprint for policing in other parts of the country – and it was.
Dive into the past: Angela Epstein pays a visit to the thriving market town of Ramsbottom, Lancashire (pictured).
In recognition of his work, the tower was built in 1852 from stones hewn from the hillside.
For a closer look we park near the base of Holcombe Hill and follow a path to its summit.
The hike is a lungful, but our frequent stops are rewarded with views across the Irwell Valley.
Even when it’s closed (a white flag flies at its top on days it’s open), it’s compensation enough to sit outside and take in the countryside and the blurred outline of Manchester in the distance.
The Ramsbottom Center conveys a contemporary TV feeling. It’s a mecca for quirky shops and independent retailers selling local groceries and gifts – all balanced by weaver huts and stone terraces.
We stop at the family-run Chocolate Cafe for an invigorating mug of something hot and frothy (it takes tremendous willpower to resist the World Of Crafted Chocolate tasting platter of Ecuadorian white chocolate and Colombian brownies).
Directly in front of the shop, or rather at an angle, is a large inverted bronze urn with water pouring out of it.
It was designed by sculptor Edward Allington and placed there in 1998 to symbolize Ramsbottom’s association with water as the town sits on the River Irwell.
Angela climbs to the top of Holcombe Hill to see the Peel Tower (foreground image). “The walk is a lung spasm,” she says
The Peel Tower is an unmissable tribute to the founder of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Peel
Further down the road is the East Lancashire Railway Line, a 12-mile historic route that 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 level crossing barriers swing shut and a magnificent locomotive chuffa-chuffa rumbles by, roaring steam and decanting visitors into the city.
The first trains on this line originally entered Bury Station in the 1840s, connecting mill towns and trading centers around the Irwell Valley. The development of the line and all of its stations was a key element of Lancashire’s industrial revolution.
Ramsbottom is one of the stops on the East Lancashire Railway Line (above), a historic route running between Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
A magnificent locomotive pulls by as Angela approaches the lovingly preserved Ramsbottom railway station (above).
Today, at every stop on the line you’ll find historic waiting rooms, picture-postcard platforms – and the feeling of being an extra in The Railway Children. The journey is everything you would expect – from the screech of the whistle to the soothing chug as the steam pumps out of the funnel.
The scenery, which can be felt from afar at the top of Holcombe Hill, rushes by – a canvas of gently craggy hills and fields dotted with sheep (we spot some alpacas near the base of the aforementioned hill). I’m just quite disappointed that we didn’t book any of the onboard dining experiences – including gourmet evenings and afternoon tea. It’s a throwback to a time when railroad food was more than a rippled, well-travelled cheese and pickle sandwich.
It’s hard to imagine what Sir Robert Peel would think of the country’s police force or the state of our transport infrastructure today.
But what a delight to escape to this hillside market town and step into the past.
And don’t think about the present or the future for a while.