Meandering around Manchester – Capital of the North

Whist the week of the Summer Solstice should have seen us racing the sun from Lowestoft to Arisaig, strike action across the UK rail network meant this wasn’t possible. Having made plans to come home via Manchester so Beth could attend a gig, we decided to drive over to the North-West and spend a couple of days in the ‘Capital of the North’.

Manchester’s Canal Street

Arriving on the Wednesday afternoon, we were soon checked into our Premier Inn and wandering towards the city centre to meet up with friends for dinner. I’m going to be covering all of the food spots we visited in Manchester in a separate post, so won’t cover those here, however our meeting point was not far from one of the most central points in Manchester, St. Peter’s Square.

St. Peter’s Square is home to the Manchester City Hall and the Central Library, along with memorials such as the Cenotaph and the Emmeline Pankhurst statue. It is also the site of one of Britain’s most infamous atrocities, the Peterloo Massacre, where armed cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry charged into a peaceful protest, killing 18 civilians and injuring hundreds. At the 200th anniversary in 2019, Manchester City Council unveiled a new memorial to the Peterloo Massacre replacing previous plaques that had been seen as insufficient.

St. Peter’s Square

Our meal with friends was actually out in Sale, one of the many towns making up Greater Manchester, giving the opportunity to try out the Manchester Metrolink, Manchester’s network of trams. The journey to Sale took about 20 minutes from St. Peter’s Square, with the return costing us £4.30 having paid by contactless.

Whilst Metrolink is a great way to get around the city if you’re heading a bit further out from the centre, the core of the city is all walkable, with an extensive bus network also being available. As such, the next day, we wandered back into the city centre to find some breakfast and explore for a while before catching a bus out to our main stop for the day.

Piccadilly Gardens

Whilst wandering we found ourselves in Piccadilly Gardens, another key area in Manchester and disappointingly we found it partially covered by a building site and all round just a bit dirty. Building site aside, if Manchester City Council gave the area a bit of love and attention, or just a litter pick, it’d be a nicer place to spend 15 minutes waiting for a bus.

Our next stop was a must visit on Beth’s list and I was certainly interested in seeing what it had to offer. Set within the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) complex is the Pankhurst Centre, a museum located in the former home of Emmeline Pankhurst and dedicated to the efforts made by her and the Suffragettes, along with more recent protest campaigns.

The Pankhurst Centre, former home of Emmeline Pankhurst

The bus out from Piccadilly Gardens to the MRI cost just £1.50 and pre-booked entry to the Pankhurst Centre is completely free, with the option to donate either when booking or on site. With four ground floor rooms of the former house dedicated to exhibitions, the Pankhurst Centre only takes a couple of hours to explore fully, however is certainly worth a visit to learn about a key part of Britain’s history. My only criticism is that the information provided throughout the exhibitions is just an overview, with no in-depth info available to those who would like more detail.

Having made our way back to the city centre and grabbing some lunch close to St. Peter’s Square, we made the 15 minute walk across the city centre to the River Irwell, crossing into the City of Salford for the next thing on our to-do list. Leading from the city centre to the Manchester Ship Canal, the River Irwell is a different way to see the city, and so we had decided to take a boat tour on the Princess Katherine.

The Ordsall Chord Railway Bridge

The full round trip from Rali Quay in the city centre cost £10 and takes about 60-70 minutes with a stop at Salford Quays midway. Covering the main sites of Old Trafford, the Lowry and Media City, along with some lesser known but just as important to Manchester such as the Ordsall Chord Bridge and former Dry Docks, the boat tour was an excellent way to explore some key parts of the city’s history and the part played by the river and ship canal.

Our final stop for the day followed a short break at our hotel to recoup and recover from what was quite a warm day in Manchester. A 10 minute walk from our hotel and just a couple of minutes from Piccadilly station is Escape to Freight Island, a hub of culture and food located in the former Mayfield Freight Depot.

Gnome Island, an important site on the boat tour!

I’ll cover the amazing restaurants in more detail in the next blog, but it was a great place to chill and enjoy the atmosphere whilst trying some amazing food. Entry to Escape to Freight Island itself is free (excluding special events) and we were able to walk in on Thursday night without a reservation, however I’d recommend booking if you are planning on heading over.

Our final full day in the Capital of the North was one dedicated to the city’s history, with our first stop being the Science and Industry Museum, part of the Science Museum Group and another popular Manchester attraction that is free to enter. Unfortunately, a large part of the museum is undergoing restoration and redevelopment and so only the exhibits in the main building are currently accessible.

Escape to Freight Island

A large part of the ground floor is dedicated to Manchester’s textile industry and is laid out as a cotton mill with raised walkways guiding you round the various machinery with a mix of regular and interactive media. The other exhibition on the ground floor is ‘Revolution Manchester’ which tells the story of Manchester’s contribution to developments in computers, motoring and broadcast media. On the lower ground floor there was also a temporary photography exhibition dedicated to the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous tribes.

The Science and Industry Museum is also home to Manchester’s original railway station, Liverpool Road, served by the Manchester and Liverpool Railway when it operated the first scheduled passenger railway services. Unfortunately, the original station is one of the parts of the museum currently closed and so I’ll definitely have to revisit once this, along with the Power Hall, has reopened.

The Textiles exhibition at the Science and Industry Museum

Having taken a quick walk down Liverpool Road itself to see the frontage of the original station, we decided to walk back through the city centre to our hotel and stumbled upon another of Manchester’s former railway stations, Manchester Central. One of the city’s key termini for almost 90 years, the Grade II* listed building is now home to an exhibition centre but during its heyday saw a mix of local services to Chester and Liverpool along with express services to London St. Pancras, along with the famous Midland Pullman. The local line towards Liverpool is now used by the Altrincham branch of the Metrolink.

Our time exploring Manchester was drawing to a close and, with Beth attending a gig at the Manchester Academy, I decided to take a quick rail trip to Preston and back (read about that here) to get my railway fix for the week and tick off a few more stations. Manchester is a great city to explore and there is still so much more to do that we didn’t have time to explore. For transport geeks alone, there are multiple museums across Greater Manchester to explore so I’ll definitely be heading back to the Capital of the North.

Manchester Liverpool Road Station

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