THOSE who wish to see Rawtenstall at its best should arrive by steam train, which gives real insight into the history of the settlement.

Rawtenstall is the terminus for the East Lancashire Steam Railway which runs on to Bury and then on to Heywood and is the easiest way to explore this region of the Irwell Valley. The railway opened in 1846, providing a linking via Bacup to Manchester for the men who were busy making their fortunes from cotton but closed in 1972.

Then a Preservation Society began a restoration but received little or no help from the British Rail. It took until 1991 before the final route came on line.

The operators have done a wonderful job in restoring not only the line, but also the stations.

The station isn't too far from the heart of the town, which should be regarded as a tourist town because there are such varied attractions on offer.

Nearby in Whitaker Park is the Rossendale Museum. The building began as the home of a 19th century mill owner and was completed in 1840.

This splendid little museum deals with the social history of the area and covers road transport, clog making, furniture, art and even one skilful display on the art of taxidermy.

The building dates from 1840 and was built for the Hardman family who made their substantial fortune from cotton.

In 1902 the family had left and the house had opened as a museum.

The grounds are delightfully landscaped and provide fascinating walking.

On Bacup Road is a weavers' cottage said to be one of the last of its type and dated to around 1780.

Before the coming of cotton, many farmers and cottagers were skilful handloom weavers and the cottage as been restored and can be visited.

It is quite large and there are displays on each of the three floors so what you have is a mini-factory.

The town will not disappoint for food, drink and shopping either.

The small market has a delightful mix of traditional and modern cuisine, while there is a good selection of cafes and pubs.

One unique feature here is the last Temperance Bar remaining in England, which is situated on Bank Street.

What a delight it is to sit down and enjoy a glass of sarsapirilla.

It also makes sense to take a bottle home to drink with a locally-made meat pie and a portion of mushy peas.

Signed from Rawtenstall town centre is Ski Rossendale, which is a dry slope set on Cribden Hill.

It offers lessons for beginners, while experienced sports people are not disappointed with the facilities.

Another excellent stroll is along the bank of the River Irwell.

The very name Rawtenstall is old English and simply means "a roaring pool."

This is accurate because the Irwell in this section flows quickly and on its banks is the Hardman Mill, now the base for the Rossendale Groundwork Trust.

This point marks the start of the Irwell Way Sculpture Trail.

Among the exhibits are the Bocholt Metal Tree, named after the German town which is twinned with Rawtenstall.

At nearby Cloughfold is a sculpture called Logarythms, which is a pile of carved logs.

The Hardman family rebuilt their old mill in 1862 and its impressive architecture is still in evidence today and helps to set the town in context.

Those who love walking and birdwatching, whatever the weather, should follow the A56 towards Burnley and explore the circular route around Dunnockshaw Reservoir.

This trail has been developed by United Utilities and the word Dunnockshaw is interesting.

Dunnock is the old name for the hedge sparrow and shaw means a wood.

The forest of Rossendale was once a prime area for hunting.

It is said that England's last wild boar was killed in this area in the 15th century and there does seem to be some truth in the legend.

Until the era of the cotton industry brought great prosperity, Rawtenstall earned its keep from farming and to create fields for pasture most of the trees which made up the forest of Rossendale were felled.