Despite being an Englishman with 30 odd years living in the country, England is a destination that hasn’t frequented the blog too often. I wrote about the likes of London, York, Canterbury and even Peterborough in my early blogging days but they’re generally posts I don’t look back on and enjoy reading.
I’m not suggesting they’re badly written or they’re even particularly bad posts but I look back at them and I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. Everyone has their own blogging style and I won’t knock anyone else but I quickly learned that the “5 reasons to visit Canterbury” style just wasn’t for me. It might be what people want to read but it wasn’t what I wanted to write. I had no motivation to write those sort of posts and if I’m not enjoying it, why bother, right?
So I might go back and do those cities justice at another time (I did with London) but this will be my usual ramble-y type nonsense that I don’t really know why you lot keep coming back to read.
For my American readers, not so familiar with Manchester, it holds a reputation somewhat similar to Seattle. It is supposedly the one city in England where you can always expect rain. So why would anyone visit?
Well, like Seattle it’s also quite a fun city. Manchester is nowhere near as pretty on the eye as Seattle. It’s very much an industrial-looking city and has a history that backs that up but it stakes a claim as “England’s second city” and is probably the unofficial capital of the North.
Surprisingly Manchester wasn’t a city I’d actually spent much time in. I’d twice visited the city to watch my beloved Spurs – once at the Etihad and once at Old Trafford – two of the bigger football stadiums in the country.
I’d also briefly visited on another occasion as I was joining some Northern-based friends on holiday and we’d decided to fly from up North. However the reality is I’d not really seen anything of Manchester outside of a couple of pubs or a couple of football stadiums.
With a big summer trip planned I knew opportunities to travel in 2018 were going to be limited. So when my friend (and gig buddy), Lucy, suggested possibly going to see a band on their tour it made sense to look at what the best dates were. A weekend date seemed most suitable and as I scoured the options a Saturday night in Manchester stood out. It was near enough for Lucy in Sheffield to travel to and was a good opportunity for me to squeeze in some UK travel and spend some time in a city I wasn’t too familiar with.
So one Saturday in March I left a snowy Peterborough behind me and headed up North towards Manchester. Given the rubbish weather I wasn’t too hopeful it would be a smooth journey. It usually doesn’t take much more than a puddle on the tracks for the rail system to catastrophically break down, such is the unpredictability of UK train travel, but to my surprise I arrived in to Manchester in good time around lunchtime.
Lucy wasn’t joining me until later on in the day so I figured I’d try and get my bearings with the city. It’s a city I don’t know well at all so I left Manchester Piccadilly station with no real direction in mind. I had a bit of time to kill and if all else failed I’d revert to Google Maps so I just wandered on foot and figured I’d see where I ended up.
I wanted to head in the vague direction of my hotel but despite following signs in the city towards Deangate that didn’t seem to go particularly well. I ventured through the Northern Quarter of the city which has a number of bars, shops and other independent businesses. I vaguely recognised a Wetherspoons from a previous visit to the city but it was pretty busy (due to some game being on tv) so I decided to keep going in my search for lunch.
In an effort to get back on track towards my hotel, I stumbled upon Manchester’s rather impressive town hall. It’s certainly one of the standout pieces of architecture, I grabbed a few photos and then settled on a nearby pub to fill my stomach and get something to eat.
Feeling less hungry I made the relatively short walk towards my hotel (a Premier Inn). Having checked in I didn’t really see much point to doing too much else before Lucy’s arrival in the city. I chilled out for a bit and then wandered back towards Piccadilly station, now having got my bearings a little, and waited for Lucy’s train to arrive from Sheffield.
We had a quick catch up and then caught a taxi out to the venue for our gig. I was a bit surprised how ‘out of town’ the venue actually was, I figure it would have been fairly centrally located but it wasn’t really walkable – certainly if we wanted to catch the first band of the night.
Despite the rubbish location, it was quite a nice venue (Manchester Academy). It was a decent sized venue, I’m not sure if it was a sell out but it didn’t feel overcrowded either. It was pretty quick getting a beer at the bar and we also had a decent view of the bands for the evening (The Dangerous Summer being the main band we’d come to see).
After a fun evening of live music we caught a taxi back to central Manchester, Lucy caught her train back to Sheffield and I ventured in the direction of my hotel. I was tempted to go and enjoy some of Manchester’s (famous) nightlife but wasn’t particularly sure where was best to go. There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the city, given it was a Saturday night, but nowhere that drew me in to have a couple of beers. I figured a night out in Manchester could wait until another occasion and instead took the sensible option, hoping to make the most of my Sunday in the city instead.
I woke up pretty early Sunday and after checking out of my hotel decided I’d just wander initially. Oddly, the first experience of the day was partially-witnessing a mugging. I say partially because by the time I’d realised what had happened I was too late to stop it.
Some young woman was half running / half screaming at some cyclist who whizzed by me at speed. I could see she was upset so crossed the street to check if she was okay, it turned out he’d snatched her mobile phone out of her hand and rode off in to the distance. So I kicked off my Sunday morning on the phone with Manchester’s police and reporting a theft. Not the best start to the day!
By the time we’d finished with the police her boyfriend had randomly turned up (I’m assuming he must have attempted chasing after the thief but I hadn’t seen him earlier?) so I felt a little happier leaving the shook up local with a familiar face and we went our seperate ways.
I soon stumbled upon a Sunday market of some sorts. It wasn’t particularly big but locals were browsing through the few stalls on display and I had a little look of my own for anything that might catch my eye. Content I wasn’t going to buy anything I wandered towards the Northern quarter which is home to some beautiful buildings.
Nearby is also Manchester’s famous shopping ‘mall’, the Arndale, which provided the perfect location for an early lunch! Long time readers will know I’m a frequent visitor of Hard Rock Cafe’s around the world and having been to both the London (only one at the time) and Edinburgh HRC’s I was keen to complete the UK set by visiting Manchester’s too. Although they’ve annoyingly since opened a second HRC in London so I’ll have to give that one a visit at some point too.
Surprisingly, Manchester’s HRC is one of my favourites. At the very least it’s the best of the three I’ve been to in the UK. The service was to its usual good standard and the memorabilia fun to look at as always.
Having ticked off another HRC and appeased my hunger I visited a museum just around the corner. Manchester, surprisingly not London, is home to the National Football Museum and was a must for me.
I was going to say it’s free to visit (if you wish), however don’t quote me on that! Firstly let me tell you why I was convinced admission was free! At the time of my visit that actually was the case, free admission for all visitors! However they encouraged visitors to pay a voluntary fee which would entitle you to a couple of souvenir experiences – see below.
Personally I decided these little extras were worthwhile to contribute towards the running of the museum but it also left a somewhat bitter taste for me given this was the national museum of the national sport – a multi billion pound industry in England. I felt it was a travesty that organisations such as the Football Association have turned a blind eye and left this museum to essentially self-fund itself. It’s a wonderful museum if you’re a football fan and something that organisations such as the above should be contributing towards.
However without such funding, it turns out, later in the year the museum introduced admission charges for anyone that wasn’t a Manchester resident. So I apologise, this is no longer a free museum. Despite the billions in English football, if you want any insight in to the history of football in this country you’ll have to dip in to your wallet (unless you’re a Manchester resident).
Back to my story, having made the conscious decision to contribute a fee I did still feel it was good value for my visit. There’s some great memorabilia in the museum and it’s definitely worth taking any football fanatic along to – of any age as plenty of it is interactive too.
Content I’d got my football fix for the day I went and checked out the nearby Manchester cathedral – this actually is free to visit (donations welcome obviously). It’s nowhere near the biggest cathedral I’ve visited but still has a pretty exterior and the inside was impressive too. It was definitely worth visiting.
My next stop was a somewhat unusual one. I wouldn’t ordinarily go out of my way to visit a specific pub but with the promise of a free beer I couldn’t help but tempt myself! I don’t know what the reason was but Scottish brewers ‘Brewdog’ had promised to give away 1 million pints of beer over the next few weeks and I knew that there happened to be a Brewdog in Manchester. Knowing I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity before the campaign ended I went and hunted down Manchester’s Brewdog bar for a quick and refreshing pint of their Punk IPA.
I did only have the one though! Having replenished I went back and explored Manchester for a few more hours. It’s a city that reminds me of Hamburg in some ways and for some it’s probably a comparison you’ve heard before. Neither are the prettiest on the eye, Hamburg probably moreso, but both undoubtedly have their charm and share a similar culture too. I could see why this city staked a claim to being England’s “second city”.
Before catching the train home I popped in to a pub and grabbed myself some dinner. They claimed to have award-winning pies so I couldn’t resist grabbing some pie and mash whilst catching a bit of the Manchester City game being televised.
Sadly my time in Manchester quickly came to an end. It’s definitely a city I think I could have seen more of but the 24 hours or so I had in the city definitely endeared itself to me. It’s a city I’ll hopefully return to soon and enjoy a bit of the nightlife next time too.
However with work the next day I couldn’t stick around and called an end to my staycation up North. Next up on the blog? Another quick visit to an English city: this time Lincoln!