Extending from Rossendale and running through Salford and Manchester, the Irwell Valley includes places full of character, and the Irwell Sculpture Trail, the longest sculpture trail in the UK.

The beautifully restored East Lancashire Railway also runs through the Irwell Valley, providing great days out and themed trips for the whole family.

Why not use a holiday cottage in Lancashire as your base, and explore this fascinating region, on foot, or by rail?

The East Lancs Railway

Running from Heywood to Bury, and from Bury through Burrs Country Park, Summerseat, Ramsbottom and Irwell Vale to Rawtenstall, the East Lancs Railway (ELR) is a major attraction in the area.

The original ELR service had undergone various closures since the 1960s and 1970s, and finally closed in 1972.

However, following the formation of the ELR trust in 1984, the line reopened in 1987, running diesel and coal trains.

The ELR runs every weekend and on public holidays throughout the year, apart from Christmas Day. It also runs some midweek services in the spring and summer months.

As well as providing standard passenger services, the ELR offers packages, centred around rail journeys.

These include dining aboard a beautifully restored Pullman coach; Real Ale Trail guided tours; and various events throughout the year, including days out with Thomas the Tank Engine.

ELR Destinations

With 36 hectares of scenic countryside, Burrs Country Park is the newest stop on the ELR, having opened in January 2017. The park also has an outdoor activities centre, a campsite, picnic area and a café and visitor centre.

In between Bury and Ramsbottom is the picturesque village of Summerseat, with its own nature reserve, garden centre and two traditional pubs.

Ramsbottom is a bustling market town full of interesting and award-winning eateries and independent shops, as well as pubs and the Irwell Works Brewery. In addition to eating, shopping and drinking you can climb Holcombe Hill overlooking the town to the iconic Peel Tower.

On the rivers Irwell and Ogden, Irwell Vale is a traditional mill village that’s full of picturesque character and, like the other ELR destinations, you can pick up the Irwell Sculpture Trail from here.

The Irwell Sculpture Trail

The Irwell Sculpture Trail features over 70 different works of art by local, national and international artists.

The trail runs from Bacup, in Rossendale to Salford Quays, for 33 miles, and is the largest sculpture route in the UK. It is like a common theme running through the Irwell Valley and its various local attractions and places of interest.

Because of this, getting on, and off, the trail at various points is easy, which means you don’t have to do the entire 33-mile stretch in one go.

You can explore the trail on foot, or by bike. The sculptures are collected in clusters at different locations, from Bacup to Ordsall.

Notable individual sculptures include Richard Caink’s giant picture frame in the Ramsbottom cluster; the massive steel Halo structure in Bacup; and the Lookout in Clifton Country Park.

So, whether you hop on and off the train, or get your hiking boots on, the Irwell Valley has plenty to offer you on your self-catering, holiday cottage break.