Brutal Wigan

I love Brutalist architecture, there is something about the stark grey, heavy concrete, sharp lines and minimalist aesthetic, that just does it for me. Plus, I think of myself as a minimalist, I love simple, uncomplicated designs, made from natural materials, such as wood, metal and of course concrete (hint hint for anyone wanting to buy me a gift).

I have done a few art walks before, mainly around the well known Brutalist structures in London for example, such as around the Barbican and the Southbank Centre, but I really wanted to learn more about the architecture inspired by the movement closer to home, so a friend bought me the Brutal North coffee book for my birthday, and it felt like a great project to undertake, whilst foreign travel is still pretty much off limits still with Covid.

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I started with Wigan, because I moved to the area when I downsized from expensive Liverpool and wanted to become more central to the NW as I moved from a full time NHS employee to locum work. Of course the main reason for that was more flexibility to travel, but well. . . . my last trip was Dec 2019 so thats gone well.

There are just two buildings in Wigan that are featured in the book, but I found a couple of other interesting places to explore too, put on my walking boots, grabbed my camera and set off.

The first building is just outside the town centre and is the Roman Catholic Church, St Judes, located in the Worsley Mesnes area. Designed by the team who also built a couple of churches in Liverpool & built in 1964, this fan shaped church sits at a busy cross roads, with most people I guess just driving by and sitting blankly at the traffic lights, but I always passed it with a curious interest, always meaning to pull over and explore, so I was delighted to see it mentioned in the book.

Of course my art walk was a Sunday morning, and there was a service in full flow once I rocked up, so I had to make do with a quick peek inside, but as I only live a short drive away, I will have to make a return trip to explore some more of the inside at a later date.

The circular portion of the church is the baptistry, which makes sense, but my favourite part is the main body of the church fanning out behind, with a cool mosaic imprinted into the concrete.

Another place I pass weekly is the large Trencherfield Mill, across from Wigan Pier and the Leeds/Liverpool canal. So I decided to pop over and have a quick look on my way into the town centre, again, another place I’ve driven past in heavy traffic many times.

The building as its now stands was built in 1907, but there was one before that, built in 1822. The cotton mill was an important part of the industrial revolution, as cotton was brought in from the slave plantations in America as well as other parts of the world. Ships full of cotton docked at Liverpool, then it was transported along the canal into Lancashire to be transformed into textiles. Although the cotton industry never recovered after WW1, this Wigan mill managed to survive until 1950. It’s now a combination of college, commercial space and apartments.

I then headed off to the centre of town to locate the 2nd building featured in my book, the now empty and abandoned Wigan Civic Centre. Built in 1970, this four storey concrete structure was evacuated by staff in 2018 as they moved to a more modern building. Rumours have been around about its future use, such as a hotel, but as of now, its stands unused, looking across the road to its modern replacement, the Life Centre.

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Across from the Civic Centre, is a rather striking metal ‘Face of Wigan’, which despite living in the area for 3 1/2 years, I had never seen before. Chosen as a symbol to represent Wigan, not one person in particular but representative of all the people of the town, it reminded me of The Dream in a way, the large stone head that looks across an old colliery over in St Helens.

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The first book I read when I arrived in Wigan was George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and just down the road from the Life Centre is the library where George did his research. I thought there would maybe be a blue plaque or something marking the spot, but I couldn’t see one, also probably part due to Covid and also that it was a Sunday, the library and museum were closed, so maybe inside there is something paying tribute to the novel, which I really enjoyed by the way. Now every time I drive past the library on my way to the recycling centre or to a drum lesson, I pay attention to the red bricked building that played an important part in the history of one of Britains most famous novelists, sometimes it good to explore on your doorstep, you never know what little gems you will find.

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I had a good wander around the little side streets, paying attention to the little houses and shops that I usually rush past on my way to the train station or the shopping centre. The Wiend in particular definitely felt like a past era, a narrow paved alleyway, with a few bars, pubs, fairy lights & hanging baskets of flowers. Being a rugby town, it was no surprise to find a statue of a rugby player, ball in hand too, although I cant say I have converted into a sports fan since moving here.

Finally, I found a nice church, situated on a small hill in the centre of town, one that I had seen from a distance on my travels, but not close up before. A Grade II listed building, parts of the church were originally built in the 13th Century, with a war memorial, a black metal fence studded with red roses and a very ancient looking archway, it was a nice place to finish my art walk, before grabbing a coffee and heading back home.

 

Dovestone Rocks, Oldham

So this hike, organised by the Bee Sober Sunday walking group, was advertised as a full day, long walk, but I think that bit went over my head. I just saw the words Peak District Sunday Hike and cleared my diary (who am I kidding we are in the middle of a pandemic, in the worse hit area of the UK, I had no other plans) So slightly unprepared, I turned up to an already busy carpark, at 9.30am on Sunday morning, scrabbling for change for the carpark, which seemed to reject every other 20p I put into it.

I could see the majority of the people parked up were here for a stroll around the Reservoir. Located just to the edge of the Peak District meant on a clear day, the views are superb, but I was well aware, we were walking in a completely different direction, away from said reservoir.

After a slight back and forth, our hike leader (i.e the one who downloaded the route onto his phone) found the correct path, and we headed North up a rather steep hill, it was a bit of a sharp wake up call for still early on a Sunday morning, but I slowly acclimatised and was able to appreciate the views soon enough, (once I got my breath back).

First spot for a group photo and quick break for snacks was the Pots and Pans war memorial atop Aldermans Hill.

Then, it was back onto the track, across to Dick Hill, full of rocks precariously looking out across the Peak District and down to the reservoir, not a place to hang around if someone has a fear of heights, and so we quickly retreated to lower ground when one of our group turned a rather pale shade of grey.

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Back on lower ground, some of us in the group (the tired ones) looked longingly at the reservoir and the carpark as it came back into view, but not for long, we headed East along the top of the reservoir, then back up a sharp incline, following the path alongside the rather magnificent Dovestones Cascade, that brings the water down. 490A98E2-CEB3-4DE3-804E-3F1695ED6AC3

At the top is Ashway Rocks, and it was here we stopped for lunch, and took in the misty and atmospheric views across the Peak District, which also distracted from my slightly undercooked pasta salad I had brought for lunch. Then, realising we still had a good 2 hours to go to get back to the carpark, we headed back on the trail. This portion of the walk was high up along the top, along Alphins Pike, with views of the reservoir below and Manchester up ahead and I’m sure I could spot my car down in the carpark!

I have to admit, the descent was painful, my underused muscles were not happy, but as soon as we landed back on the track heading for the car, my muscles relaxed again & all was happy.  Until the next morning of course, when I was rudely reminded of just how far we had walked the previous day. It was challenging in parts, but fun, with a great likeminded group of folk, all of us just making the most of the Covid restrictions and joining up to get out and connect with nature. Overall, another successful hike.

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Sunday Bridgewater Canal walk

Another Sunday Summer hike this year has been, again with the Bee Sober crew, this time a more gentle 2 hour stroll along the historic Bridgewater Canal. The canal built in the 1700’s is 41 miles in length, covering the area from Runcorn to Leigh near Wigan, via Manchester City Centre.

We all met up at the Stretford metro station, which is right by the canal, and parking is free with a metro ticket. We took our time, soaking up the sunshine, taking photos, passing under bridges, smelling breakfasts being cooked on the many barges parked up and apparently walked past the retired footballer Gary Neville and his family, but I was too busy being distracted by the swimming swams in the canal.

It took about 90 minutes before we reached the centre of Manchester and then about another 30 minutes to find somewhere to eat brunch outdoors, that would allow 6 friends, as the restrictions were starting up again as the Covid 2nd wave was starting to approach. In the end we found a Gino’s grill in the Corn Exchange area with outside seating that we had to ourselves, unfortunately there were no plant-based options, but I had brought a cereal bar with me, so had that with my soy cap, whilst the others had cake, oh well.

It was then a short ride on the metro back to Stretford to pick up our cars and head home. Well recommended if you fancy a nice flat walk, going from fields, to football stadiums to skyscrapers as you get closer to the city centre, where you can reward yourself with a nice lunch.

 

 

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