THE River Irwell originates high above Bacup, not far from the Deerplay Inn.

The name indicates that deer did indeed roam these moors.

Once the most polluted river in Europe, the Irwell has become much cleaner and now supports fish, including trout. Kingfishers are found close to Bacup town centre.

The Irwell, which twists its way to Manchester via a chain of towns and villages, once powered cotton mills but these have now faded into memory.

As well as being recognised as one of the best preserved mill towns in England, Bacup also boasts what is thought to be the shortest street in the world.

This is the 17ft (5.2 metres) Elgin Street, which is composed of only one house and is reached from the town centre via Bankside Lane and Lord Street.

The history of the textile industry in the town has now been recognised by English Heritage. Preservation orders have been placed on several buildings, including the Victorian Maden Baths and the Market Hall.

Some shops have also been preserved and here is the place to enjoy black puddings, tripe and onions, beef and cow heel and blac peas and local cheeses.

The Market Hall is a thriving and friendly place and has the sound, smells and scenic wonder of a Victorian cotton town.

The Natural History and Folk Museum on Yorkshire Street, better known as 'Bacup Nats' is the place to see local artefacts, photographs, natural history specimens and to have your leg pulled by the friendly and informative volunteers.

The museum, founded in 1878 as an naturalists' society, houses a spectacular jumble of exhibits recalling the 19th and early 20th century heyday of cotton and coal, clog and shawl, train and tram.

The richness of the wildlife is reflected in the collections of birds and butterflies, moths, mayflies and mammals.

The museum building on Yorkshire Street, which is owned by the Nats, was once a public house but also once served as a doss house.

In an old outhouse an old power loom has been restored and is in ear-splitting working order.

In the nearby small garden, protected by a wall, is a collection of old street signs.

The Nats Museum is a museum piece in its own right.

Moorlands Park is worth an extended visit and was once the place where cotton workers took their leisure.

If earning a living and enjoying a breath of fresh air kept the body in good condition, then the soul also had to be looked after.

Bacup folk were religious but there was real competition between chapel (of which some excellent examples remain) and the Church of St John Not all folk were well behaved and it is worthwhile to look on Todmorden Road to see the old stocks, which were in use until 1850.

Whichever way you look at it, if you want to celebrate the true character of old Lancashire, then a visit to Bacup is a must.