LADY Mary Towneley -- Burnley's "first lady" -- has died after a long battle with cancer.

Lady Towneley, 65, a tireless campaigner on equestrian, health and disabled issues, passed away in Pendleside Hospice.

The wife of former Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, Sir Simon Towneley, was applauded in recent years by the Princess Royal and Sports Minister Kate Hoey for her work.

Last year she brought new honour to the town when her efforts were recognised by the Queen when she was made an MBE in the Birthday Honours List.

The long-time campaigner for the creation of bridleways and riding for the disabled received the accolade for services to improving access to the countryside.

In April last year the Princess Royal came to Burnley to ride along the local section of the new Pennine Bridleway, created after many years of campaigning by Lady Towneley.

And at a surprise ceremony, she presented Lady Towneley with a specially-commissioned map of the 44-mile local loop in recognition of her work -- a gesture which thrilled her.

But Lady Towneley did not live to see the official opening of the first section of the Pennine Bridleway -- a ceremony which will take place in the spring.

Today a spokesman for Princess Anne's office at Buckingham Palace said she was very sorry to hear of Lady Towneley 's death, so soon after receiving her much-deserved awards.

Two weeks after the Princess's visit The Countryside Agency and Sport England Lottery announced the section of bridleway should be re-named The Mary Towneley Loop to honour her efforts.

In late 1999 Lady Towneley , who lived at the family home, Dyneley Hall, Cliviger, was presented with a special award by the British Horse Society for her work on improving access.

Minister for Culture, Media and Sport Kate Hoey MP gave Lady Towneley the accolade award for her "significant contribution to the equestrian world".

Lady Towneley, from Dyneley, Cliviger, was been a member of the British Horse Society for nearly 40 years and since 1975 worked on behalf of Riding for the Disabled.

She was the driving force behind the Bridleways Strategy for Lancashire and continued to work for its implementation.

Researching and riding the country's historic routes had long been Lady Towneley's passion and her latest achievement was to ride the Pilgrim's Way from Winchester to Canterbury.

In the 1980s, she researched and rode the length of the Pennines from Derbyshire to Northumberland and campaigned for the route to be adopted as a national equestrian trail.

The citation reads: "This award is one way in which the British Horse Society can mark her outstanding achievements but the real testament will be the many miles of routes she has secured.

"Generations to come will have cause to thank her as they ride many of her trail blazing routes, and especially for the Pennine Bridleway National Trail."

Today many local people paid tribute to Lady Towneley 's efforts in other spheres of local life -- including work to help the disabled and under-privileged.

Lady Towneley also served on the board of Burnley Health Trust from 1992 to 1998, specialising in women's health and children's issues, and, according to Trust chief executive David Chew showing real care for health services and the people of the Burnley area.

Burnley MP Peter Pike said Lady Towneley took on many other issues which went unrecognised because she never pursued publicity for her work.

Lady Towneley, formerly Miss Mary Fitzherbert, of Reading, came to Burnley following her marriage in 1955 when the then Mr Towneley resigned as a music history lecturer at Worcester College, Oxford, to take up residence at Dyneley and run the family estate.

The couple have seven children.

The funeral service will take place at St Mary's RC Church, Burnley on Monday at 12.30pm. Tributes to a tireless helper

BURNLEY MP Peter Pike said she had borne her illness with great courage over the last two years.

He said: "We all hoped she was recovering, because she remained active and she always greeted you with such a happy smile.

"She did so much work over many years and people did not know just how much work she did behind the scenes because she was not one to pursue publicity.

"She was always interested in Burnley and the people of Burnley -- she was a delightful person who always gave 100 per cent in everything she did."

Burnley's mayor, Coun Rafique Malik, said he worked with Lady Towneley on projects for the underprivileged in both Burnley and Hyndburn.

"She was a great person whose work gave a great deal of happiness to a lot of people -- she was always there to help people."

David Chew, chief executive of the Burnley Health Trust hospitals and community care group on which Lady Towneley served as a director for six years, said everyone at the Trust was saddened to hear of her death.

He said: "She was a tireless worker, very astute, who will be fondly remembered by us. She was totally committed to the work she did at the trust and well loved by everyone who worked with her.

"She threw herself into her work and was really caring about the service and the people."