We've found the perfect unspoilt village - and it's in the heart of the Lancashire countryside, says Paul MackenziePHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

IF Great Eccleston were elsewhere in the country it would be likely to be over-run with tourists for much of the year. That the hordes of holiday-makers haven't yet discovered the village is testament to the quality and quantity of options available in Lancashire - and it means the village is quiet enough for those of us in on the secret to enjoy it in peace.

Tucked away off the A585 and within a few miles of the M55 and in easy reach of Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston, it's a village of cute cottages and handsome houses, and it has a smattering of smart shops, too.

And despite its size - there are no more than a couple of dozen lanes - Great Eccleston can offer something to suit all sorts of visitors. This is wonderful walking country, there are three pubs, a choice of places to eat, classy clothes shops and a bustling market every Wednesday.

In fact, the village was once such an important market centre that it was referred to as Little London, a nickname presumably coined by someone who had never visited London. But if there's something for every visitor, there's even more for those lucky enough to call Great Eccleston home.

The Great Eccleston Village Centre, conveniently situated in the centre of Great Eccleston, is a charitable group which is involved in all manner of things to support the community and to give them a packed programme of events and activities. The centre was opened eight years ago by Princess Anne and the programme now covers everything from watercolour painting to tap dancing and computer skills to yoga.

Terri Sawkill, the centre manager, said: 'The mission when the centre opened was to provide a diverse range of activities and the good thing is that we are now offering something for all ages, from baby ballet to bridge.

'There is nothing like this place anywhere round here and I love coming here, it's different every day.We have about 40 volunteers and it makes me feel ever so proud that they give up their time to support the centre. That shows there's a wonderful community spirit here.'

There are two clear barometers of community spirit and both of them show that Terri is right. The chatter at the bar of the three really rather nice village pubs is all friendly and convivial and the newsagents window contains almost as many notices offering help as requesting it.

Perhaps one thing that is lacking from the village is someone with a few minutes to spare to introduce the woman who needs help with her ironing to the local ironing service and the man who needs a lift keeping his garden tidy to the chap who has a leaf blower he wants rid of.

Maybe they could discuss it over a pint in one of those pubs. The Farmers Arms, perhaps, in Halsalls Square, or one of the bulls - white or black - in the wide main street. Each has its own bull over the door and outside the White Bull the Lancashire flag - our red rose on a custard yellow background - flaps proudly.

And they'll be flying the flag for agricultural shows, too. With this year's Lancashire Show having already been called off, organisers of the Great Eccleston Show are hoping for an even bigger event than they've had in previous years - and for good weather.

The show will be held on July 18-19 and secretary Sheila Robinson said: 'We've got a good programme in place for this year's show so hopefully we'll have a nice summer - or at least a nice weekend - and it'll attract a good crowd.

'I think it's a great shame that we haven't got a county show this year but everything is coming together for a really good Great Eccleston Show.We have had some tremendous support in the past and have had up to 40,000 people over the two days in some years.'

But it's not just the people who put the great into Great Eccleston. Its name also refers to the village being bigger than its Little neighbour on the other side of the main road. Much of the land covered by the words

Little Eccleston on a map is given over to farming but although it's small, it's also beautiful and among other very good reasons to visit are the toll bridge and the Cartford Inn.

Local legend has it that the bridge was built in the 1830s after an accident when two girls tried to cross the flooded river and their boat was swept away. They both survived but because one of the girls was a servant at Rawcliffe Hall the squire paid for the bridge to be built. These days it costs 40p to drive across the bridge and once you've paid your money to the woman who comes out of the little house as you approach, it's a good idea to head for the Cartford Inn.

A 17th century coaching inn, the pub has been renovated recently and now offers good food, quality accommodation and stunning views. They also serve some very fine beers which are made just a few yards away at the Hart Brewery by head brewer John Smith and which are an excellent excuse to raise a glass to Ecclestons Great and Little.