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Strategically placed on the banks of the River Ribble, PRESTON was already an important market town in Anglo-Saxon times and received its royal charter in 1179 - origin of the famous Preston Guild celebrations, which since 1542 have taken place every twenty years (the next in 2012). The town was attacked by Robert the Bruce, changed hands in the Civil War and saw action during the Jacobite rebellions, while Charles Dickens gathered material here for Hard Times , his coruscating attack on the factory system.

Some handsome Victorian public buildings survive, most notably the majestic Greek-Revival-style Harris Museum and Art Gallery (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; free), in the central Market Square. The permanent collection focuses on fine art and decorative art, while temporary exhibitions often explore links with the town's significant Asian population. On either side of the Harris lie the modern shopping streets, converging on Fishergate, the main street through town. For a change in emphasis, cross Fishergate to explore the handsome Georgian development of Winckley Square , once home to the town's richest cotton magnates. If you needed any more incentive to stop it would be to make your way to the ground of Preston North End - one of Britain's oldest football clubs - for the marvellous National Football Museum , Sir Tom Finney Way, Deepdale Stadium (Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, midweek matchday 10am-7.30pm, Sun 11am-5pm; £6.95). On one level, this is simply an unparalleled collection of football memorabilia: those who know about such things will relish the chance to see items like the Geoff Hurst crossbar from the 1966 World Cup Final. But you really don't have to know anything about football to enjoy the museum, since "the true story of the world's greatest game" is backed by fascinating archive material on football's origins, its social importance, the experience of fans through the ages, and other relevant themes.

For the football museum, it's a ten-minute ride on bus #19 from Preston bus station , right in the centre of town. The train station , on the west coast main line, has regular services to Manchester and Blackpool. The tourist office is in the Guild Hall, on Lancaster Road (Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm; tel 01772/253731), just round the corner from the Harris Museum.


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