I asked my daughter- who was a student at the University- for her impressions of Lancaster and one of the words she used was "dark"- which is a word I was planning to use myself- and neither of us was thinking entirely in terms of smoke-blackened stone. What other great city has a prison at its heart? HMP Lancaster was taken out of commission in 2011 but misery still leaks downhill from the medieval castle that used to house it. The Lancashire witches were held here, as were the Catholic martyrs of an earlier generation- and in the 19th century- after executions moved indoors- 200 people died here by the rope.
The Priory Church next door is full of Victorian glass and battle flags.
All in all, a difficult city to love.