City of Salford

Back to the UK for my next post, and the 3rd county I have visited ‘consciously’. It was too obvious to visit Manchester for my Greater Manchester trip, so I chose its neighbour Salford, a place where I went to university and also a place where I have lived twice, so I was looking forward to returning.  Like a lot of people, I never really paid much attention to the history and culture right on my doorstep, usually choosing to look further afield, but its hard to ignore just how much Salford has grown and changed since my university days 18 years ago.

Of course Salford historically was part of the county of Lancashire, but then joined with Manchester, Bolton, Bury and others in the area to form Great Manchester in 1974 and in doing so, became one of the largest metropolitan areas in the UK. Salford itself encompasses quite a large area and includes some small towns such as Eccles and Swinton, but for my trip, I concentrated around the Salford Quays area.

Getting to Salford is pretty simple, but check football fixtures for both City and United before you visit, or else you will more than likely get stuck in heavy football traffic and that is never fun.  Located just over 30 miles from Liverpool if you travel in from the Western end of the M62 and its about 50 miles from Leeds if you are coming from the Eastern end of the M62. National Express buses have a Salford Quays drop off on its way into Manchester but from there it is about a 30 minute walk to the centre of the Quays, from Liverpool the bus journey takes 55 mins and from Leeds the bus takes 90 mins. If you drive in, there are a number of car parks to choose, if you park at the Lowry Outlet car park, you can get 4 hours free if you visit the onsite cinema, and there is also a discount for those visiting the theatre at the Lowry Centre opposite.

There is no specific train station around Salford Quays, the closest ones being Manchester United Football Ground, Eccles or Salford Central, but most people will probably be best getting a train into Manchester City Centre and then jump onto the ever expanding Metrolink. You can pick up a Metrolink tram close to all the main stations in Manchester, there is a stop at Piccadilly, one at Deansgate, one at Victoria and if you arrive via Oxford Road station, its a short walk to St Peters Square. Wherever you catch the tram, just make sure its one labelled either MediaCity or Eccles, and then you can get off right in the heart of Salford Quays.

Salford Quays became one of the first UK urban regeneration projects back in the 80’s, but it was the development of MediaCity UK back in 2007 when the area really took off and became next level. The BBC first moved in, then ITV Granada followed, the University of Salford now have its media department based here as well as other smaller film and tv companies. This means over the past 10 years, shops, bars, restaurants, seasonal events and other attractions have sprung up, and you can easily spend a day or weekend here being thoroughly entertained. 

It made sense to start my visit at the Lowry a spectacular waterside building housing theatres, galleries, a restaurant, cafe bar, gift shop and tourist information centre. I have been here many times to watch shows, but this time I spent about an hour exploring the art galleries and in particular the permanent LS Lowry exhibit, as not surprisingly, the Lowry houses the worlds largest public collection of paintings and drawings by my favourite Lancashire artist. 

If you fancy some shopping, a meal or the cinema, then opposite the Theatre is the Lowry Outlet Mall.  There are tonnes of discount shops here, including Clarks, Gap, Yankee Candle, Next and Cadburys, and its saved my bacon a few times in the past when I’ve needed a birthday or Christmas present at short notice! The North West based Makers Market also sets up stall on the last weekend of the month here too, which is worth a visit in itself. 

For anyone brought up on British children’s TV, its a short walk over to MediaCity and right by the tram stop is the legendary Blue Peter Garden, when the BBC moved up north to its new location, the garden, pond, sculptures all came along too. It’s only small, but its free and its a popular photo spot.

Blue Peter Garden

Stick around and explore MediaCity too, the BBC records BBC Sports, Breakfast, Radio 5Live and 6 Music here, and Granada record Jeremy Kyle, so you may see the odd presenter or band popping out for lunch (I swear I saw Gary Lineker once!). It also means there are sometimes free show tickets as audience members are needed to participate in live recordings, as a result I have sat in on a couple, always good fun! Click This Link for up to date information about what shows and guided tours are available.  If you visit during a big sporting event, its more than likely they will be showing it on the big screens outside the TV studios too, I’ve spent many an evening relaxing in a deckchair, with a drink from a pop up bar watching the Olympics and Wimbledon.

To meet the demand of the new residents and the influx of media, more and more restaurants and bars have sprung up too, as well as the reasonable choice over at the Lowry Outlet Mall. There are some delicious new places for food and drink, Marco Pierre has opened a restaurant here since my last visit, but I have enjoyed a beer and burger at the Dockyard and Lime Bar is always fun with a great music and inexpensive cocktails, and there are the usual chain coffee shops as well as some independents too if you just need warming up.

 

It’s no more than a 10 minute walk, over one of the waterfront bridges from MediaCity to the Imperial War Museum. The tall hard to miss aluminium building is built on a bomb site resulting from a German raid in the 1940’s and represents a shattered globe. The architecture both inside and out was specifically designed to be a little disorientating and unsettling to the visitor, to illustrate the perilous nature of war. There are both permanent and temporary exhibitions on display and a really interesting gift shop selling items inspired by wartime rationing.

Imperial War Museum – Designed by Daniel Libeskind

You will probably be able to see the top of Manchester United Stadium from most places around the quays, its bright red sign atop of the stadium shining out, and its only a further 15 min walk from the museum. I’ve been to football matches here (charity and during the Olympics) but its always good for a wander (avoiding match days obviously). There is a massive merch store, museum, a cafe open 7 days a week, the statue of the ‘United Trinity’ and take a minute to pause at the Old Trafford Clock, which is permanently stopped at 3.04pm in rememberance of the Munich air crash. Like most big football stadiums you can also take a tour, All details here

United Trinity – Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law
Watching a charity match
 

BBC Guided Tour £11.75

Lowry Exhibit – Free (open 10-6pm daily) 

Imperial War Museum – Free (open 10-5pm daily)

Man Utd Museum & Tour £18 adult ticket.

Other Salford Sights – Salford Lads Club and Music Tour, Open Water Swimming in the Quays and Ordsall Hall Tudor Manor 

Chester – The Roman Walled City.

When I decided that I wanted to visit every county in the UK, Cheshire was an easy early choice, as it’s so close to where I’m living now. Situated in the North West area of England, it borders many other counties, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire as well as Wales to the West. 

The capitol is the historic Chester and is only around 19 miles & 42 minutes by direct train from Liverpool, 42 miles from Manchester and roughly 1.30hrs by train and 183 miles from London, which takes around 2hrs by direct train. I drove via the Mersey Tunnel on my last visit and made good use of one of 4 Park and Rides dotted around the city, we used the one by Chester Zoo and buses leave every 10 minutes to the centre of Chester, and it’s £2.00 return, easy! 

We landed nice and early in Chester, and so headed over to a lovely independant coffee shop called Cinderbox Coffee on Bridge Street, which served a good range of breakfast pastries, sandwiches as well as dairy free coffee, their cakes looked good too, but as it was only around 9.30am when we stopped by, I managed to resist.  Once warmed up and caffeinated, myself and my fellow county explorer Jane headed over to the Town Hall Visitor Information Centre to meet our tour guide.

There is over 2000 years of history to explore in Chester, and only so many hours in the day, so we prebooked on the popular Chester Walking Tour which departs daily all year round at 10.30am with an extra afternoon walk at 2pm between Easter and the end of October. The walk takes about 90 mins and dont forget your sensible walking shoes as you’ll be walking along cobbled streets and up high along the Chester Walls and Chester Rows as well as down to the Roman Amphitheatre and Roman gardens.

View from the walls

The Walls were originally started by the Romans and form an almost complete circuit of the city, measuring nearly 2 miles in length. There are four medieval gates to pass through aswell as some impressive towers and other National Heritage structures, one of them being one of the most prominent landmarks of the city, the Eastgate Clock.

Eastgate Clock

The Chester Rows also featured on the walking tour are half timber, covered galleries forming a second floor of shops above the 4 main streets below, some dating as far back at the 13th Century.  Whether taking a guided tour or not, it’s definitely worth finding one of the entrances and heading upwards as these are pretty unique, unlike no-where else and there is still a real sense of medieval history as you wander around the old and new shops up high.

After our walking tour was finished, we actually headed back to one of the Rows for an afternoon tea, at the recommended Mad Hatters which is housed in a 17th century rectory. I found it a little draughty, but the friendly staff, extensive range of teas and delicious cakes more than made up for it, I just had to wear my coat the entire time!

Feeling a bit sluggish after our sandwiches and cakes, we still had a good couple of hours left in the day, so we decided to head back outside and visit the Cathedral. It is located by the walls and opposite the Information Center and like most places in Chester easy to walk to. Founded as a Benedictine Abbey in 1092 and rebuilt in around 1250, there is so much to explore here, as well as the main cathedral building, there is a nature garden, falconery centre, cafe, obligatory gift shop, and dont forget to visit the LEGO project, as they are currently in the process of rebuilding an exact model of the cathedral in LEGO and if all goes to plan, it will make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. With so much more to explore in Cheshire, I’ll be back.

Chester Cathedral
 
River Dee
Cold day out
 

Chester Guided Tour – £7 

Cathedral, gardens and birds of prey centre £4 

Mad Hatters afternoon tea £16 pp

Other Chester sites – Chester Zoo, Chester Racecourse, River Dee cruise.

Lancashire Lass – Preston

I was born in Lancashire 42 years ago, so it seems appropriate to start my travels across the UK here. If we are getting technical, I no longer live in Lancashire, I now live in Merseyside, prior to that I was in Greater Manchester and hopefully soon, I will be returning to Greater Manchester (that’s a whole other blog post!).  But prior to 1974 (before I was born I might add) Lancashire covered a much larger area in the North West and actually included, Salford and Liverpool where I have since lived. When I started to draw up the number of counties I needed to visit though, I’m using the current list with the amended boundary changes, so that would mean including visiting cities that don’t seem to be linked to a specific county anymore like Bristol and making a separate visit to the Isle of White which is no longer part of Hampshire. But anyway, back to Lancashire. .

I visit Lancashire pretty much weekly, but I wanted to dedicate a day to exploring it ‘Consciously’. Dad was still in hospital at the time, so after we had checked up on him, mum and I headed to the town where I was born – Preston and what seemed a good place to start, the museum of Lancashire for the history bit. 


I am quite a fan of a local history museum, especially if I’m on a city break somewhere, as it’s a great place to gem up on the history and traditions of the place you’re exploring in a short space of time.  Although I have just checked the website of the Lancashire Museums and it seems this particular museum is now closed except for school trips, which is a shame. 

Mum and myself then headed out of the city centre, down London Road and over towards Hoghton, to a place we had driven past many times over the years, but had never explored before; Hoghton Tower. We chose Hoghton Tower not just because it was somewhere we had never ventured before, but also because of the recommended views across Lancashire and the rather impressive guest list of this Grade I listed building, which has included over the years, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and King James I, who I’ll come back to in a minute.

Mum had booked us on a private tour of the building, which took around around 2 hours & cost £8 each. This fortified hill top Manor House still retains a real sense of history and I especially enjoyed the banquet hall, the dolls houses and exploring the dark and musty cellars.  Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and had a real sense of pride at showing us around, but I don’t think you can just turn up for a tour though, you always have to book in advance. There is also a large garden and a tea room that serves a very popular afternoon tea. We didn’t have an afternoon tea during this visit, but have since returned  and it was indeed delicious. There seems to be a busy calendar of events too, from farmers markets to outdoor plays and I believe this can have an impact of your visit regarding parking etc, so I would always recommend ringing or checking online before you visit.

By this time we had worked up an appetite and with a roast dinner in mind, (well it was a Sunday) we only needed to cross the road to The Sirloin Pub, which has its own connection to the tower. Rumour has it, that when King James I stayed at the tower on his way down to London, he enjoyed one of the banquets there so much, he ended up knighting the loin of beef, Sir Loin, and so the term for this cut of beef was named.

The pub across the road, plays homage to this and serves a very well made sirloin roast dinner, among many other local dishes like hot pot, we sat by the roaring open fire and tickled the pub dogs, before heading back home. 

Museum of Lancashire – no longer open to the public

Hoghton Tower – booking essential for tours and afternoon teas

Sirloin Pub – Open daily

Other Preston spots – Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Avenham Park, Brockholes Wetland & the British Commercial Vehicle Museum.

Expect I’ll be posting more about Lancashire in the future, as writing this blog has given me a taste to explore my home county some more.

Consciously Exploring Every County.

When my dad became ill with early onset dementia and it became clear he wouldn’t be returning home, that he would be spending his remaining time in the care of a nursing home, it was understandably upsetting and stressful. But travelling is my big love, I love nothing more than packing a small bag and stepping onto a plane or train for the unknown, ready to experience whatever new sights, smells, tastes are thrown at me and emerge myself in a new way of life for few days or weeks, or as in my big trip in 2006, a few months.  

Me and Dad many years ago
With the instability of dads illness, it became apparent very quickly that my priority needed to be close to home, or at least I needed to be able to get home quickly if there were any problems. I am an only child you see, so there is just me and mum, and as is the nature of dementia, dad can no longer make decisions about his care and needs 24hr nursing support. So my dreams of visiting some of the more far flung places had to be put on hold. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable with the idea of travelling across Russia or exploring India by train, knowing that things were so unpredictable at home, and I wouldn’t be able to get back quickly if a crisis came up. But I still had a burning wanderlust and travelling is my passion, so I needed to find a way to replicate that, but also be able to get home quickly if needed.

That is when I decided that I would visit every county in the UK. I have visited many in the past, explored some extensively, or passed through others on the way to somewhere else. Once I had made the decision, my friend Weene (she will probably come up quite a lot in this blog, as she is involved in many of my adventures especially here at home) renamed my project ‘Emma Consciously Explores the Counties’. This was because Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin had just announced they were ‘consciously uncoupling’ so it was all over the media, and I wanted to make a point of consciously exploring each UK county individually. To educate myself about the history of each region, try some of the local food and visit some of the tourist spots, basically set about each county as if I was in Europe on a city break. 

So I did . . . and I still am doing, so I will document my progress here and its why my own country will have a big section devoted entirely to itself. I used to be snobby about holidaying locally, I was all about the far off locations and the new passport stamps and visa’s, but things change, life changes, and sometimes in ways you don’t want it too, so you can struggle and resist, or go with it and adapt, so after a bit of a struggle, I adapted, and it turns out I quite like the UK after all.