Visiting the Old Country, May 2016

I’ve finally managed to get my sorry arse out of the apartment having had the laziest of Sunday’s and so I thought I would jot down a few notes over a Flat White. This is the last Sunday of my second trip back to the UK this year. It’s been a long trip; four weeks but feels so much more. Unfortunately it will be less than four weeks before I’m back again for another month. While these visits play havoc with my life back home, my plans and more importantly my sleep patterns, they have allowed me to be a tourist in my own country and as such visit a few places which I’ve never been to before, or certainly not for many years.

As always when I sit down to write a post I am reminded how little I retain in my mind these days; if I don’t write it when it happens it seems to be lost. Perhaps a few sparks may ignite as I work.

The late flight in was not enough to stop me being awake at 4 am the following morning. As I was not heading down to see Lauren until the following day I had to find something to do. I could sit and watch telly or, as was the decision, I could head into London and be a tourist.

I was still at school the last time I visited St Pauls Cathedral. It was a school trip but I don’t actually remember how old I was or which school I was at. Somewhere I am sure I still have some photos!

St PaulsHaving not seen Steve during my previous trip I messaged him to see if he was about. We met up at his place round the back of Kings Cross and jumped on a bus into the city. A few hours wondering around St Pauls and then lunch wasn’t a bad way to spend the day. With jet-lag kicking in I headed back to Wycombe much earlier then I would have liked.

Steve took this picture from the upper gallery in the dome. I made the Whispering Gallery before height issues forced me back to ground level.

File 22-05-2016, 21 22 42Sunday and I was off to Canterbury to see Lauren. Another early start so I took the scenic route back through the centre of London, past parliament and along the embankment to Docklands, Blackwell tunnel and then the A2 south.

File 22-05-2016, 21 25 47With no plans we just had a lazy walk around the city and cathedral as well as a huge lunch. The weather was superb and the company not too shabby either.

Sadly, as always, work has to interrupt proceedings but as I was staying in Manchester the next weekend I decided to make a visit to the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port.

File 22-05-2016, 21 27 31Canals and the inland waterways of Britain have long held a fascination for me. Something about the accessible, living history would be my guess.  It is this interest that is one of the things that makes Australia such an amazing place for me to live. The history in Sydney can be seen, touched and experienced first hand. My visit to Port Arthur, Tasmania, reinforced to me just how recent some the country’s “history” actually is. Many trips are planned to the various convict, mineral and gold mining sites now abandoned around greater Sydney and New South Wales.

The docks, warehouses, cottages and boats were great to see and so a happy few hours was spent looking, enjoying and soaking up the atmosphere.

File 22-05-2016, 21 43 07Being so close to the castles of North Wales it would have been rude not to have visited at least one. Conwy Castle was one of Edward I “ring of steel” designed to suppress the welsh following a revolt. It later played important rolls in various uprisings and was even held by the last native Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndŵr. The fortifications were constructed to encircle the entire town much of which remain and are accessible to this day.

This was my first visit to this part of Wales but I doubt it will be my last. Chips by the sea rounded off a great day.

With the weather set to hold fair on Sunday, actually hotter than Sydney apparently, I headed north out of Manchester for the town of Lancaster.

File 22-05-2016, 21 44 33Lancaster Castle is at the very heart of the city and was until a couple of years back still a functioning prison, the oldest working prison in the country. The building remains an active court, the longest serving court in the country. There have been many famous accused passing through among them the Birmingham Six who where held in the prison as the underground passageway into the court meant that maximum security could be ensured.

Infamous for the number of people condemned to death within the court the process of passing sentence, execution and removal of the dead became very streamlined with the underground passage from gallows to coffin still visible if not, sadly, accessible to the public. Infamous amongst the condemned where the Pendle Witches in 1612.

Both courts can be viewed during the tour as can the route for the accused from prison to dock. When condemned you can actually see where the prisoner was “sent down” to commence their term at Her Majesties Pleasure.

File 22-05-2016, 21 56 06Form Lancaster I headed further north to Pooley Bridge and then up past Ullswater through the lanes and valleys to the tiny hamlet of Martindale and the Old Church of St Martins. This is a truly stunning, peaceful and remote location. It is a place I have visited a number of times since first finding it by pure luck over 25 years ago. While I have changed in so many ways over the years the church, and valley in which it sits, have not changed at all, locked in their own time and space.

Last weekend I was back down south. While watching some rubbish on the TV I picked up another canal location I needed to see.

2016-05-15 11.45.21Edstone Aqueduct on Stratford-upon-Avon Canal is the longest such structure in England, and what an amazing structure it is.  Effectively a long cast iron trough built on top a brick structure where the adjoining tow-path has been build at the bottom of the trough so as the boats pass by they are at eye level.

2016-05-15 10.43.30The whole of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was built on a shoe-string. Bridges and locks where built to the minimum 7ft width wherever possible. One result of this were the ingenious bridges which where constructed in two halves, a gap being left through the middle of the bridge deck to allow the horses tow-lines to be passed through without being unhitched.

At Lowsonford stands an original barrel roofed “Lenghtsmen’s Cottage” which is now owned by the Landmark Trust and available to rent for holidays. During my visit the trust had an open day so I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have a look around.

2016-05-15 12.25.44 HDR-2Outside, on the bank of the canal, looking down towards the water, was a steel statue by Sir Antony Gormley. I say “was” because I understand it was only there for a year to mark the Landmark Trusts anniversary and was due to be removed in the week after my visit. I have always liked his work and it seems somewhat appropriate in the setting of the canal lock.

My final weekend was much quieter. On Saturday I took a drive back out through the North Wales country side, past Snowden and on to Caernarfon and its magnificant castle. From there I started north back towards Manchester with a detour across the Menai Bridge and into Anglesey, another first for me.

Manchester – My First Weekend

Following my post at the beginning of July listing the places I need to see while in Manchester, this has been the first opportunity I have had to tick off a few items. As Lauren had a couple of days off work she decided to come and stay saving me the 200 mile trip home. The client I am working for at the moment has very kindly booked me a serviced apartment in the city centre. Unlike hotels, these apartments are block booked, in my case for an initial six weeks, which gives me a perfect base from which to live and explore. It also means that I can have visitors.

After a long week, and with the weather being horrible, Friday night proved literally to be a wash out. We did meet up for lunch at Costa, but by the time I got back from the office in the evening I was soaked through, and so, after a quick 5 minute walk to the local convenience store, it was a lazy night in front of the telly.

Saturday was to be busy; with so many places to visit, a decent, if a little late, breakfast was in order. Bill’s Restaurant, just off Deansgate, proved to be perfect; check out Lauren’s blog for her review.

After breakfast, we headed towards the Arndale Centre as there were a couple of things we needed. This brought us into contact with two, unexpected, things. First was a demonstration in support of the people of Gaza; rather loud and with the use of some inappropriate phrases, it past by us relatively quickly for which we were both rather thankful.

The second was “Dig the City”, Manchester’s Urban Gardening Festival which was made of up of a large number of small gardens created right in the street. There were vegetables, flowers and even a crazy golf course! There were many really clever ideas which could be adapted easily into any town centre garden.


Next we headed to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). Housed in five former railway warehouse buildings, MOSI covers everything from the sewers below our feet, through the industry which made Manchester so rich, to the planes which fly over our heads. The museum also houses the oldest railway station in the world with a full size steam engine taking visitors on short rides through the site. One of the buildings which was clearly a former railway maintenance shed housed a number of engines and carriages which have been, or are currently being, restored to their former glory.

There was so much to see at MOSI, which I think we found a little overwhelming. We also found that so many of the exhibits were not labeled, and the route through not particularly well defined, so that we seemed to drift with little direction through items which we didn’t understand. As such we left earlier that anticipated and with a sense that we had perhaps missed out on much that the museum had to offer. Highlights were without doubt the buildings and railway tracks themselves.

2014-08-02 14.57.01From MOSI we followed the back roads into Spinningfields and round past the numerous shops and restaurants the area has to offer. Our destination The John Rylands Library.

I am not going to say much about this building other than to say you really MUST go in. The entrance is in the new part at the back of the original library which fronts on to Deansgate.

The building is a masterpiece and incredibly atmospheric, particularly on a gloomy or winters day as the light outside fades and the shadows escape from their hiding places.

Next, more food! This time The Handmade Burger Company, another absolute gem of a place. A good selection on the menu both for meat eaters like me and vegetarians like Lauren. I had the Lamb and Mint burger and it was superb.

So that was Saturday. Sunday started with another trip to the Arndale Centre as I needed to collect something which I had ordered on-line a few days before.

My apartment is situated on Princes Street which had been completely closed off to traffic, and in parts to pedestrians, for the Go Sky Ride event which apparently saw 12,000 cyclists on the streets of Manchester!

A quick breakfast at Costa Coffee and it was on to the Peoples History Museum.

Now I’m not a union man, or a member of any political party, and so when I read a little of the history of this place I wasn’t too sure that it would be worth the effort. The collections were in part provided by the Trade Unions and the Labour party, and so I was expecting history to be written in a particular way; I was very pleasantly surprised. The museum was incredibly interesting taking you through the changes from the majority having no say in their own lives let a lone the running of the country, the Peterloo Massacre, the Chartists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and so on through the wars and the ultimate universal suffrage which we enjoy today.

A special exhibition is on until the 1st February 2015, looking at the effect of the First World War on the people who went to war, those that stayed behind and how their lives changed on their return. Entitled “A Land Fit For Heroes and the Working Class 1914-1918” it is well worth a look.

Finally to round the weekend off we took a drive out to Salford Quays so that I could show Lauren the Imperial War Museum, Media City and the new Coronation Street studio.

A great weekend; some interesting places visited and some even better food eaten. More yet to see during my next weekend in Manchester.

Manchester – places I need to see

2014-06-19 20.21.58My stay in Manchester is beginning to feel slightly more permanent with the arrangements for my apartment being finalised. Exactly how long I will be here; I am still not certain, but it is now going to be at least two more months. With the appartement it means I will be able to stay over weekends and therefore get to see more of the city and surrounding areas.

Below are a few of the places I think it would be worth visiting:

In addition to the above, there are even more ideas in the Manchester Top 5’s.

Are there any great, must see, places I have missed?


Manchester – a personal introduction

During this year Manchester has effectively become my home as I have spent more time here than the house for which I pay a mortgage. I blogged extensively while in Sydney and I have even written a few posts about recent visits to London, but so far nothing about Manchester. Well I think it is time that changed!

So far I have only been here during the working week and so have not had the opportunity to visit any of the attractions which I would like to see. But I have spent time wandering the streets of an evening, taking in some of the sights and trying out a few restaurants. Nothing too fancy, but I do have to eat and hotel food is rarely that great.

I have found the general feel of Manchester a little confusing. Initially it was just the place I went to work, just another hotel, just another bed. Then I spent two months in Sydney, which I found to be almost perfect and by far the best place I have ever spent time. That trip clouded my view of Manchester when I returned and so I found myself continuously comparing the two, with Manchester coming off a very poor second best.

Having been back for about six weeks now I have started to settle in a little and see parts of the city I do like; it isn’t all bad. Some things I still dislike; for example there is very little green open space within the city; the large parks you see in other major towns simply don’t exist. The streets aren’t as clean as perhaps you would like and there does seem to be roadworks everywhere. I have also noticed a large number of beggars and Big Issue sellers.

But in its favour the streets aren’t as crazy busy as you would see in London, there is space to move and breath. All the major stores are here and there are loads of places to eat. The office I work in is right in the centre of town, as have been the hotels where I stay which has allowed me to park my car and stretch my legs.

So Manchester is growing on me. The traditional red brick and sandstone buildings have an impressive grandeur about them, with a presents and strength which clearly states that they will stand forever. The toll of the town hall bell every hour marks the passing of time as it has for so long and for many years to come.

While reading through some articles this evening before writing this post, I found the answer to something that confused me while in Sydney. In Australia and New Zealand they still remember this cities roots in the cotton trade and as such bedding, towels and other household linen products are still referred to as “manchester”, signs for which I saw in most general and department stores.

So okay, Manchester isn’t all bad. I need to spend some real time here and visit some of those attractions which I mentioned earlier, have read about and seen the outside of. May be then it will grow on me some more.