Blackburn and Darwen, two towns standing five miles apart and surrounded by dramatic scenery, have contributed a lot to history. It’s an extensive list and includes: playing a key role in the Industrial Revolution; producing one of the world’s best singers, Kathleen Ferrier; creating the butter pie – a delicacy loved by many all over the world. And it was home to the world’s smallest dog on record, a Yorkshire Terrier measuring just 9.5cm from nose to tail.

It would have taken that dog a couple of lifetimes to walk every park in the borough. There are nine of them – seven with Green Flag awards – with Corporation Park alone covering 480 acres. The parks host regular events: check out the Restricted Rocks family music festival – an annual event held in Witton Country Park.

Great British Life: Blackburn Cathedral. Blackburn Cathedral. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

For those who like to spend time outdoors, try one of the canalside walks or routes such as the 32 mile long Witton Way. Cyclists are amply catered for too – maybe try the Weavers’ Wheel Route, the Darwen Circuit or the mountain bike trail in Billinge Wood.

If strolling around the shops is more to your taste,there are plenty of independent shops, as well as national chains and both towns have markets that are well worth a visit. Blackburn Market is a go-to destination, particularly popular with foodies who can pick up fresh fish, speciality cheeses and meat sold by a butcher who captained the Team GB Butchers at the World Butchery Challenge.

Great British Life: View across the rooftops of Darwen toward Darwen Tower. View across the rooftops of Darwen toward Darwen Tower. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

The towns have three theatres between them, so it’s possible to choose at least one event a week, maybe finishing off the evening at one of the area’s many restaurants: it is said that it’s possible to eat every major cuisine of the world here. There are also many festivals in the towns’ diary including Pride, The National Festival of Making and The British Textile Biennial.

The borough has one of the youngest populations in the UK and that is echoed in the vibrancy of the area, something celebrated by council leader Phil Riley, who points out that Blackburn is benefitting from a £250 million package that will help industry, build homes and revitalise the town’s cultural quarter. When Darwen firm, Perspex, was offered the chance to relocate to Barcelona or stay in Darwen, they chose Darwen: a choice that didn’t surprise those who know there’s a bright future being built on a proud past.

Great British Life: Laura Barrett of Yoga Love Collective. Laura Barrett of Yoga Love Collective. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Namaste, Darwen

Chocolates and flowers are traditional Valentine Day gifts but Laura Barrett, of Yoga Love Collective, is finding that more and more couples treat themselves to a private yoga session.

‘It’s a good way to spend peaceful time together. I also run retreats, which are popular with couples and individuals. This year, we’re going to Cumbria, Costa Rica and Portugal,’ says Laura, who is one of England’s most successful yoga teachers and is also in demand for training other teachers.

Laura trained in India and travelled the world before settling in Darwen 16 years ago. ‘I came here because I fell in love with a man who lived here but I stay because of the sense of community and the gorgeous scenery: both are good for the soul,’ says Laura, who also offers online classes, putting Darwen on the yoga map, with people around the UK taking part.

‘In this hectic world, people are drawn to the mental and physical benefits of yoga; although the myth persists that you must be super fit or flexible to enjoy it, which isn’t the case. I offer armchair yoga and classes for beginners. We learn to breathe, properly breathe and believe me, that makes you feel better no matter how unfit you might be.’

Laura teaches from her gorgeous home studio but she has just opened a brand new space in Darwen town centre. ‘It’s exciting because I can now accommodate the growing demand and create so much more, as well as mentoring the teachers I train.’

Great British Life: Artist, Alexandra Gallagher. Artist, Alexandra Gallagher. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Canvassing success

‘Many people assume I’m based in London but Blackburn is a great place to be an artist. I love the history and recently incorporated some of itinto my works,’ says internationally acclaimed mixed media artist Alexandra Gallagher, whose work combines the sublime and the surreal.

Alexandra was a teenage mum but her husband encouraged her to take an art course, in order to build on her natural talent. ‘Ithink it was harder being a mum in the art world back then, but that is changing.’

Now, Alexandra gives online talks to universities and colleges and exhibits around the world from India and Australia to America and Saudi Arabia and even on the high seas.

‘Many cruise ships exhibit my work, including paintings, fabrics and bird sculptures – birds often feature in my work,’ adds Alexandra, who was asked to collaborate with the fashion brand Coast, designing 20 fabrics. ‘That was fun, as was designing a scarf for the American brand, Echo. They donated $100 to charity for every piece sold, a great way to own a piece of art.’

Alexandra’s work, ranges from prints to original pieces and is widely collected. ‘I sell through galleries and my website but I also like taking commissions, getting to know people, their stories and working with them to produce something they will treasure,’ says Alexandra who has found that the art world is, after all, quite happy to deal with Blackburn.

IG: alexgallagher80

Great British Life: The Revd Canon James Lawrence inside Blackburn Cathedral. The Revd Canon James Lawrence inside Blackburn Cathedral. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Faith in the future

New York might be so good thatthey named it twice but that didn’t stop the Reverend James Lawrence from leaving it to take up a post as Canon at Blackburn Cathedral.

‘I worked in a church in Manhattan but when I first walked into Blackburn Cathedral and experienced the fantastic morning light streaming in, I knew this was where I wanted to be.

‘There are so many things about this very special place that makes it such a privilege to be here, not least the fact that the diocese will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2026. The run up to this will start about now and we’ll put details on our new website,’ says James, who is already working on a 2025 Valentine Gala Dinner for couples.

At the moment, people visit from across Europe to see the wonderful art collection, one of the best collections of religious art in the country. The famous programme of musical events, including candlelight concerts, is enhanced by the organ which is one of the finest in the UK.

Some 1300 schoolchildren visit every year and, mindful that Blackburn has a strong Muslim heritage, there is a rewarding inter-faith programme too.

‘There is something for everyone here.It is a place for everyone and everyone is welcome and we hope that all will help us celebrate our upcoming anniversary,’ says James who still feels that New York can’t quite match Blackburn’s unique light.



Great British Life: Sunnyhurst Wood. Sunnyhurst Wood. (Image: Getty)

Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, it has the largest icon collection outside London, plus heaps of other items including Egyptology. It re-opened last month after extensive roof repairs. The Open Art Exhibition, runs from January 27 to April 13, and there are fascinating permanent collections on display.

This magnificent classical style building, with a foundation stone laid by King George V, prides itself on having a variety of events from classical and rock music to comedy and plays. Acts appearing this spring include Ed Byrne, John Suchet and Paul Weller. It has three bars, each with a distinctive character.

Built on Beacon Hill, commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the right for free access to the moors. The views are superb but it’s not accessible by car and the climb can be fairly steep. Luckily, there are well-placed benches, enabling you catch your breath, gird your loins and carry on!

A lovely, wooded nature reserve, holding a Green Flag award since 2005. There are over 700 species of plant and wildlife here, including herons and kingfishers. The picturesque Old Keeper’s Cottage is a visitors’ centre and art gallery. If you forget your picnic, refreshments can be had here.


Great British Life: Stanley House HotelStanley House Hotel (Image: Stanley House Hotel)

Mellor, Blackburn

An award-winning country house boutique hotel, situated in 54 acres of delightful countryside. The luxury rooms are individually designed, with no detail overlooked. Fred’s Brasserie provides delicious meals and the Spa, winner of 2023 Best Boutique Spa, allows for complete relaxation.


A former winner of the prestigious Lancashire Life Hotel of the Year award, this stylish late Georgian manor house has charming and comfortable rooms and a newly refurbished restaurant, Othello’s, named after the hotel’s stunning stained-glass window, depicting the Shakespearean play.

Brocklehead Farm

Luxury glamping pods have recently been added to this working farm. Surrounded by stunning views, the pods range from mini pods to family accommodation. The Shep is designed for couples; its wood fired heater and hottub making it ideal for romantic breaks.