I'm currently heading back to Scotland after a(nother) great weekend in and around Manchester. As the TransPennine Express whisks me North, I thought I'd use the time productively to share my weekend.
Until I visited just after New Year, I really wasn't sure what I'd think of Manchester. It's a big city after all, one of England's 10 'core cities', and that means big. Being a bit of a hick, I don't always feel comfortable in big cities. London, for example, usually intimidates me – the buildings are so tall and close together, the crowds so thick and purposeful, the expressions on faces so focused.
I was prepared to feel that way in Manchester too – but it didn't happen. Instead I actually felt quite at home. Now that might in part be because I was being shown round by someone who knows the city well, but I'm not sure that's the whole reason. The city has (to me at least) a good vibe – an undercurrent of humour and humanity, a city where people live not just work or visit. It also was far less busy and crowded than I expected – although to be fair, we did avoid the main shopping drag.
It has some big buildings and some very modern ones, that's true. But it also has some more human scale ones, and a great combination of old mixed in with the new. The red brick definitely helps too. Less severe than London, or Edinburgh even. And stylish, very stylish!
In the city we visited many of the sites – the Town Hall with its Ford Madox Brown murals and opulent marble staircase, Old (or to be more accurate, not so old quite spanking new) Trafford, Rylands Library, Museum of Science andIndustry, Salford Quays, the Lowry Theatre, the People's HistoryMuseum. We even made a trip out to the mecca of Mammon that is the Trafford Centre. Sadly, Coronation Street is no more so the Granada Studio Tour wasn't on the itinerary.
But it wasn't all city life – and I confess I was amazed at what beautiful countryside there is within very easy reach of the city centre. Beautiful market towns and former mill towns with vibrant high streets and pretty cottages. Rolling moors and enticing country walks. Saturday morning'stea stop, for example, was a garden centre near Warrington boasting a tea room complete with outside booths, blankets and heaters, all with a great view of the fantastical ice sculptures created by the small fountain.
Admittedly the North West has its fair share of down at heel locations – mill towns that haven't survived the post industrial age that is modern Britain, areas of deprivation and poverty. A quick scan of the local council websites tell the story with regeneration schemes, anti poverty projects and youth employment initiatives commonplace.
But for all that, you know what? I liked it – even the train journey through Dumfries & Galloway, the Lake District and Lancashire is a pleasure. Apart from the damn Virgin Pendolino trains that is, their travel sick inducing properties never cease to amaze me. This morning's alternative of the TransPennine Express is a joy by comparison, even if it is just a glorified Sprinter train!
PS Best of all was the company, but that's a whole different story for another day...