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Tourist guide to Ramsbottom
MOST people understandably assume the name Ramsbottom is derived from sheep.
But actually this isn't the case at all. The name of this town set at the bottom of the Irwell Valley was originally Hramsa Bottom. Hramsa is the Saxon word for wild garlic, which still grows in the area.
Today most of the garlic-covered moorland has been replaced by a thriving market and narrow streets full of shops.
It has been said Ramsbottom or "Rammy" as it is known locally seems to almost breathe out the spirit of Lancashire.
Humour is never far from the surface and evidence of this is an annual black pudding throwing championship which is held in the village of Stubbins. This local product is so good, however, that very few people would think of chucking it away.
Although the town is steeped in history, it is also cutting edge. Anyone who insults modern art should take time to explore the town centre. Just off the main road is a large fountain fashioned in the shape of a jug with water flowing from it.
Ramsbottom has an added advantage of having a steam railway which now operates from Rawtenstall to Heywood via Ramsbottom and Bury.
In 1989 Ramsbottom Station opened and was built in the style of the 1850s. There is a ticket office, waiting room, refreshingly clean toilets and a well-stocked souvenir and book shop.
The staff of the Red Rose Line take a real pride in their (unpaid) work and the whole line has a typical Lancashire friendliness.
Close to Ramsbottom Station is the Grants Arms. Who were the Grants? Actually there were two: William and Charles.
Here were two Scots who deserved dual citizenship and are regarded as real Lancastrians. They were born in Inverness but their livelihood was destroyed by a flood.
They decided to go into business in Lancashire and are said to have picked a site for their mill by climbing Holcombe Hill and throwing a stick. They settled on a site where the sharpened end pointed.
Eventually the Grants became famous for the generous way they treated their workers. This came to the notice of Charles Dickens, who visited the Grants and immortalised them as the Cheeryble brothers in in his novel Nicholas Nickleby.
At one time there were two towers high on Holcombe Hill. The one built in memory of the Grants fell down in 1943 after years of neglect and is now only a memory in the history of the town.
However, Grants Park and St Andrew's affectionately known as the Cheeryble church are still going strong today. The second tower still stands proud and has been solidly and splendidly restored.
This is the Peel Tower, built in 1852 to celebrate the life of Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850). He became Prime Minister but is best remembered for setting up the first organised police force in London.
They were first called Peelers but soon after became known as Bobbies.
The climb up from Ramsbottom to Peel Tower is well worth the effort, especially when a steam train is winding its way along the Irwell Valley.
The Irwell was once a powerhouse of the Industrial evolution and this brought with it the horrors of pollution which Dickens described so well.
At one time the Irwell was said to be the most polluted river in Europe but this is very much a thing of the past. Trout are now common in the valley and kingfisher, dipper, grey wagtail and heron are features of the Irwell.
Ramsbottom has kept the best of its traditions, including Victorian-style shop fronts and cafes serving a "reet good brew" and a hearty breakfast, while pubs still welcome all visitors just as some of them served the 27-year-old Dickens when he visited the Grants and wrote his very first novel.
It was the Lancashire author Harrison Ainsworth who arranged for Dickens to see the Grants. Dickens is known all over the world while Ainsworth's The Lancashire Witches is now only famous in Lancashire.
We should all, however, celebrate the fact that Dickens' first novel was inspired by his visit to Ramsbottom.