In Discover

Bolton Le Mans crescent

In guides to the great towns and cities of the North, many are characterised in terms of the sad decline of their industrial prowess, the phrases ‘dark satanic mills’ and ‘it’s grim up North’ appearing often in the copy. While we acknowledge the importance of Bolton’s history as one of the country’s industrial powerhouses, this guide is really focussed on what this market town is all about now – which, as we’ve discovered, is cutting-edge festivals, an extraordinary Egyptology collection, and a theatre that’s just undergone a two-year, £12million redevelopment. 

Let’s start, though, with Bolton’s standing as the home of England’s only full-distance Ironman  – that’s a 2.4-mile swim at Pennington Flash, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and finishing, almost unbelievably, with a full marathon that ends in the town’s Victoria Square. This gruelling event is amazing to spectate, with athletes battling it out along streets through the town centre. Less punishing, but no less ambitious, is the annual Bolton Food and Drink festival, one of the UK’s biggest. Winner of multiple awards, this four-day celebration features hundreds of artisan stalls, bars, cooking demos, masterclasses, live music, and family entertainment, with the likes of James Martin, Michael Caines and The Hairy Bikers all making an appearance in previous years. 

Bolton Town Hall

Equally prestigious is Bolton International Film Festival, recognised as one the most ‘innovative, exciting and disruptive companies’ in media and film by Creative England – and highly reviewed across the board. Find screenings, industry talks, masterclasses and more feature on the annual programme, a number of which are held at Bolton’s Light Cinema. This state-of-the-art, nine screen cineplex shows blockbuster films and indie flicks, as well as theatre productions, operas and concerts, and is a crucial part of Bolton’s burgeoning cultural scene. 

The Bolton Octagon, which reopened in May 2021 after closing for a £12million redevelopment in August 2018, is another of the town’s key cultural players. Completely reimagined, the theatre has undergone a full modernisation, with updated performance spaces and brand-new facilities. The first professional theatre to be built in the North West of England after the Second World War, Bolton Octagon is now a national contender, with a bold and popular programme. Bolton Museum also underwent a major overhaul in 2019, with new, immersive galleries showcasing the town’s incredible Egyptology collection – including a full-size recreation of Pharaoh Thutmose III’s tomb. One of the biggest regional collections, the museum’s holdings include over 12,000 archeological objects from locations across Egypt and Sudan. 

Hall i'th' Wood Museum

The history of two of Bolton’s best heritage venues don’t stretch back quite this far – but Smithills Hall is one of the oldest manor houses in the North West, with an 800 year history, while Hall i’ th’ Wood is a rare surviving example of a Tudor wood-framed house. Located on the border of the West Pennine Moors and famous for ghostly encounters, the ornate rooms at the Grade I listed Smithills Hall make for a fascinating visit. Now a museum, Hall i’ th’ Wood is equally intriguing for its links to revolutionary industrialist Samuel Crompton and soap magnet William Hesketh Lever, who renovated the hall as well as establishing the Lady Lever Art Gallery  in Liverpool.

Smithills Hall’s proximity to the moors is a handy reminder of Bolton’s advantageous location on the edge of some stunning countryside. One particularly special hike from the town is to climb Rivington Pike, a formidable hill that boasts amazing views at the top, over 1,000 feet above sea level. Once used as a lookout point with a beacon to signal danger, it’s possible to see the Blackpool Tower and the Isle of Man from here on a clear day. Even higher is neighbouring peak Winter Hill, with more great vistas to be enjoyed from its summit. 

Bolton Market

Back in Bolton, there’s no shortage of more laid-back pleasures, with the award-winning food hall and lifestyle hall at Bolton Market an irresistible draw. Named 'Best Food Market' at the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards in 2011 as well as holding a host of other accolades, the market puts on regular events and has a growing reputation as one of the best in the North. Similarly good for the town’s community and visitors is ethically minded sustainable store , A Small Good Thing . The only organic grocery in town, the shop also sells eco-friendly products and refills, and turns any unsold produce into soup at the end of the week. It’s just one of the ways that the town is evolving into the modern day, and providing locals and visitors alike with new incentives to explore. 
 

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