Post lockdown travel plans

Travel is starting to open up, but I’m reluctant to start booking many trips, as things are still so uncertain, and with 4/5 trips cancelled last year, I am hesistant to spend any more time emailing and spending hours on the phone trying to reschedule tours and claiming back refunds.

So, Peru that was scheduled for Sept 2020, its on hold till 2022, but im hoping to extend it to a longer trip to South America, covering a few countries.  It will be my first visit to that continent, so with almost 2 years of no travel, I plan to take full advantage and spend longer over there that I had initially planned, fingers crossed.

Until then, I hope to visit Portugal with my mother in October for a city break, and this summer will be full of walks, and trips within the UK, to catch up with all my friends I have missed this past year. . . .

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Once lockdown restrictions began to loosen up over the summer in the UK, I started to make plans to meet up with friends. Living in the North West, we still had limitations on who we could see and where we could go, so after a bit of research, a friend and I decided the massive outdoor grounds that house the Sculpture Park would be ideal.

Situated close to Wakefield, the open air gallery is situated within the 500-acre, 18th-century Bretton Hall estate, currently showcasing sculptures from artists even I had heard of, such as Damien Hirst and Ai WeiWei. In particular I wanted to see Damien’s ‘Virgin Mother’ statue and a gigantic Portugese cockeral by Joana Vassconcelos, which greets you as you arrive at the park.

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Covid has meant the park is run a little differently than before, you can only buy your ticket online, and a lot of the indoor spaces are closed, but with over 80 outdoor sculptures and installations to see, you can easily spend your day visiting just those. But, there are still indoor toilets and a gift shop that you can visit (masks mandatory) and they have converted their cafe to an outdoor take away space.

Tonnes of Covid friendly measures are in place, with one way arrows, hand sanitiser on gates dotted all over the place and the one indoor exhibition space, limits the number of visitors inside at a time.

We had a glorious day, I think my friend and I were just excited to be able to socialise again after lockdown, but there was some truely amazing, unique sculptures that really made you stop and think. My favourites were indeed the Virgin Mother, but I also really liked the Buddha by Saint Phalle, the Rabbit Madonna by Usagi Kannon II and Network by Thomas J Price.

We were super lucky with the weather too, and although it rained later in our visit, we were still able to enjoy a sunny picnic with some sheep in a field, overlooking the lake and it was almost like the virus had just been a bad dream.

I hadn’t paid too much to the indoor exhibit on offer, as I initially presumed it would be closed, but I’m glad we ventured over, as it was truely inspiring. It was curated by the Portugese Artist Joana Vassconcelos, who designed the giant cockeral at the entrance, but other works on display indoors, included the iconic oversized silver stilettos of Marilyn, made out of saucepans, which represented the division between women’s traditional domestic and contemporary public roles and I also loved the ‘Red Independant Heart #3’ made entirely of red plastic cutlery.

 

As far as my first post lockdown adventure went, it was a total success!

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.