As we've previously mentioned we are both 'larks', awake and ready to go very early in the morning. This has its advantages - watching the sun rise, catching early morning mist, getting to work on time!
Imagine our excitement when we found out a steam train was due to pass through Manchester Victoria generating (hopefully!) lots of contrasting ancient (well maybe not ancient!) and modern transport pics! Imagine our horror when we found out it was due to pass through at 6.30am. we're about 45 minutes away from the city centre on a good day (rare and infrequent - the days when no one else is on the road!)- mentally adding on breakfast, getting ready (have to put my lipstick on!), parking, walking etc meant a very, very early start and after a busy week it was not something either of us relished.
It was an opportunity we didn't want to miss, so time to book a last minute hotel deal in Manchester for the night (this is how seriously we take our photography now!) and there was even time for a Friday night family meet up with the 'grown ups'.
Even without the travelling, Saturday still brought a very early start and when the alarm rang at 5.30am we almost had to drag each other out of bed. Thankfully Chris had done a pre-visit 'recce' on his work lunch break earlier in the week, so we knew exactly where to stand (or thought we did!). The sun was out, the city was quiet and, unlike earlier in the week, it was warmish (no frost!).
We positioned ourselves at the side of the track, just before the train would disappear inside the station - at the side of the embankment building and not on the actual track!
I didn't realise we had become train spotters too ( I will shortly be buying my very own anorak!), but there was considerable excitement as we saw the steam appear and the familiar chug chug noises. It wasn't the prettiest of steam trains, but it was a delightful sight making its way through the building works and the new flats in and around the station. Happy travellers waved from every window (they must have been up so early as the train had departed Liverpool at least 40 minutes previous) and the train looked really inviting particularly the First Class section (until we reached home and priced it up!).
As it entered Victoria Station, we casually set off to the other side of the bridge to see it come out the other side. Even managing to look at each others videos and photos! At this point our plans went slightly (well massively!) array - neither of us had read the actual timings! We waited until 7am and then checked to find the train had just gone straight through Victoria and we had completely missed its departure! Still, no time for disappointment as we saw lots of early morning trains and trams and the trainlines looked particularly impressive in the early morning sunshine!
So, there we were 7am - all done for the day and a bit lost for ideas. The lighting was spectacular, so we wandered around for 8km passing through the Northern Quarter and back into the city with a stop for cinnamon swirls on the steps of the Bridgewater Hall. We still had time to kill before we were expected at our next appointment, so called in at Salford Quays (again the lighting was really, really good!) and were met by rowers, wild water swimmers and more spectacular sunshine.
All done for the day and back home in time to watch the Royal Wedding (might have been a slight afternoon nap though!) we were pretty pleased with our mornings work!
Brought up on the legends of Bury market and black pudding, coupled with the total disbelief when people pronounce it wrong (its Bury as in 'Berry' to us!) I was born just outside the town over 50 years ago and spent the first two years of my life living in the leafy suburbs of Whitefield. Unbelievably, apart from a couple of trips with the kids to the East Lancs Railway to meet Thomas the Tank Engine and more excitingly the real Santa (it was the real one wasn't it?), neither I, nor the rest of my family, have ever been back. My Dad's job involved us all moving around northern towns during my early years and it would appear as a family we just moved on and forgot all about places. One of our current photography obsessions involves taking the cameras out to highlight the great North West where we live and work, so it was time for a trip back 'home'.
I must admit I had mixed feelings about visiting Bury, I genuinely expected a town which had seen better days (in line with several other of our great northern towns) but I was looking forward very much to finding my first home and where I had spent the first years of my life.
From the moment we arrived I was taken aback by the modern, lively town that greeted us. From the town centre apartments over the bustling outdoor shopping centre to the stylish restaurants and cafes on every corner (there was even a Tim Hortons!) the town had a real 'buzz' to it. It benefits from having its own Metrolink terminus and at times it almost felt like we were in city centre Manchester (on a slightly smaller scale).
We paid a visit to the world famous market - packed full of stalls and shoppers and as a sewer how wonderful it was to see real fabric stalls. Fabric shopping online is cheap and easy, but so often I am disappointed with how the fabric looks and feels when it arrives - I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to rummage through rolls of fabric and the off cuts basket!
Queues at the black pudding stalls, freshly baked goods everywhere (being good Wigan people we bought delicious pies for lunch!), cheap and cheerful trendy clothes and lots of people actually shopping and buying. How rare is this now? Often the shops are full, but the counters are not. Look in the shop then buy cheaper on the internet - probably the biggest problem our high street has to deal with right now and one we are also guilty of. All I could think is why have our other Northern towns let their markets fade away? Town planners need to pay a visit to Bury on market day and see what we are missing out on! If the high street is lacking in footfall follow their example and attract the coaches in -people will visit the restaurants and cafes and other shops and give our towns that special 'buzz'.
We took a tourist trip round the town walking as far as Clarence Park and Chesham Woods (past my Dad's first young man's 'digs') and then called in at the Transport Museum and the East Lanc's Railway en route back to the town centre.
Helped by clear blue skies and warm sunshine, the town was clean and well kept and was a genuine pleasure to visit (and photograph!)- look at the queues of cars waiting for the car parks and you'll realise how popular a town it appears to be.
The journey home took a slight detour to our old family home, which was surprisingly poignant. It was hard not to imagine my now eighty year old parents starting their married life off in this house, producing two children and just being young. It was a stark reminder to both of us how quickly time moves on and how you really need to try and make the most of every minute.
Social media is full of people demonstrating their ‘wanderlust’ – 50 countries - 12 months, bucket lists of jaw dropping locations, I gave up my job to travel the world… We gaze at their photographs of visits to places most people can only dream of and envy their courage to ‘up sticks’ and travel the world.
Sadly, for most of us life is much more mundane consisting of mortgage repayments, a job that you’ve stayed in too long and of course (let’s not forget!) supporting your kids as they travel through life. Is it possible to achieve ‘wanderlust’ with all of this against you?
Long distance travel to experience different cultures and visit remarkable places is something most of us can only dream of doing, but how many people look at what their local area has to offer? Do you visit your local areas? Research your local history? Take the time to explore what is in and around where you live.
We constantly look for different places to photograph and despite living in and around this area for many, many years we have during the past 12 months discovered all sorts of hidden gems of places to visit – many of which can be visited for nothing!
Although the Parbold Bottle may not inspire you with the same level of excitement as the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China - the view from the top of Parbold Hill is stunning stretching out to the Lancashire coastline across a remarkably flat landscape. The walk up to watch the sun go down should be on everyone’s bucket lists – if you are lucky you might even find an ice cream van there!
Despite Standish rapidly disappearing beneath new housing estates, there are still areas of outstanding natural beauty. The walk past the cricket club down to Elnup Woods gives you waterfalls, old buildings, bridges, benches (to rest for a while!) and even a spectacular ravine.
Worthington Lakes is another hidden gem – United Utilities reservoirs offering a 3km walk all the way round with birds and woodland and, if you feel like getting up early, amazing views of the sun rising above nearby Winter Hill.
Wigan itself is steeped in history from our world famous pier to Uncle Joe’s famous mintballs, unbelievable sportsmen and women and even a statue with a lucky foot! I wonder how many people just pass these wonderful places on their way to somewhere else.
So maybe we should all start our quest to achieve ‘wanderlust’ closer to home. Who knows where it may eventually lead?
Competition comes in many forms including two of England’s most famous cities vying for the title of ‘second city’ after London. What attributes does this second city need? What would be the one thing that would propel one of the cities to the coveted second place? Would there be any advantage to being the official ‘second city’
Manchester is a very familiar city to us with strong family and work links. We socialise in the city, dine there, attend different sorts of events and frequently just wander around with our cameras uncovering hidden corners and hoping for exceptional photo shots. Conversely Birmingham is a place we’ve never really spent any time in other than to pass through on occasion and, in the pre-arena days, attend concerts at the NEC.
Our recent short visit to Birmingham gave us for the first time, and purely from a tourism view, the opportunity to see for ourselves the differences in the two cities.
Arriving in Birmingham late afternoon on a working week day was the first surprise – where was the city centre traffic? In fact, the whole time we were there we saw no traffic queueing in the city centre at all. Sadly, horrific traffic jams are part of everyday life all the time in Manchester. How does Birmingham achieve that?
Another notable difference was the skyline. Birmingham was surprisingly flat and even though the two cities have similar skylines filled with cranes and building sites, Manchester appears to be growing upwards at a rapid rate. The views are equally stunning but quite different.
Birmingham has a very compact shopping quarter including its very large markets, the Bullring and the Grand Central area around the station. Manchester is much more spread out with substantial distances between some of its main shops. Like most shopping centres now there is no real individuality to them with the same shops and restaurants offering the same clothes and food.
Birmingham’s New Street station is huge and feels more like an airport terminal with restaurants and food bars, shops and space. It has undergone a huge transformation in the last few years and now is part of the Grand Central shopping mall – or maybe the shopping mall is part of the station? Either way it is very central to the city and gives easy access to most areas. The Manchester stations both sit just on the outskirts of the city centre and are relatively small in comparison, but it is easier to find out where you need to be in them. New Street offers a bewildering array of platforms and lounges and there were so many different options for you to go through that it was a very confusing experience!
Both cities have interesting buildings, art galleries and museums – equal amounts of photo opportunities! Whilst Birmingham cathedral is interesting particularly the stunning stained glass windows, Manchester’s is exquisite. We return to it repeatedly and never fail to be disappointed. Manchester also has the beautiful Harry Potter like library inside the Chetham’s buildings and the equally stunning John Ryland’s library on Deans gate. Both free to visit and definite must sees.
And, in what is a very controversial subject up north, Birmingham has more than one Michelin star restaurant whereas Manchester has yet to achieve one despite several chefs having a try. That is not to say that Manchester has no Michelin quality food just that it never seems to fully meet the criteria. Does this matter – maybe, maybe not we could both recommend many a Manchester restaurant where you are guaranteed to have good food and service. However, for many the lack of a star in Manchester has become an obsession and having one would probably help lift the city out of what seems its focus on burgers.
The canal development around the Gas Street Basin area in Birmingham is another must see and something Manchester could learn from. Bars and restaurants, miles of well paved walking opportunities, well signposted routes – a joy to walk down and spend time in. Particularly attractive at night with many a twinkling fairy light and canal side seat.
Manchester has the previously mentioned Northern Quarter. Edgy and exciting, unusual restaurants and bars and a wealth of quirky, individual shops to visit including the famous Affleck’s. Ever changing murals appear on walls in the old-fashioned streets. Modern yet still having a period feel it’s a perfect film location– most notably being used in scenes from Captain America and Peaky Blinders.
Constantly trying to encourage visitors to the city, Manchester City Council are particularly good at events and themes – Chinese New Year resulted in a city full of red lanterns and decorations – Halloween saw the city turn green and giant tentacles above House of Fraser. Having never been in Birmingham for the equivalent it’s not fair to say who does it best. Think a visit to Birmingham’s Christmas markets will take place later this year for a brand new experience and to do some further research (as well as trying some more Michelin standard food!)
So, it’s probably too early yet for any final comparison, if one is even needed, and does it even matter who is first or second? Makes no difference to us. What we do believe very strongly is in the amazing cities we have in the UK. Go and visit them both you won’t be disappointed.
Do you ever wake up and decide to go and see a bridge? It’s a normal occurrence in our house!
Sunday morning is one of the few mornings that we usually have a little bit of a spare time so we like to go out very early with our cameras and try to capture something different. A photowalk with a purpose.
Just beneath the M60 motorway close to the Chill Factore is a brand new road bridge crossing the Manchester Ship Canal to Barton and beyond – hopefully relieving some of the (what can be horrific) traffic around the Trafford Centre and Event City.
Parking at the Trafford Centre and walking to, and then across, the new bridge as far as the shared stadium of Salford Red Devils Rugby League and Sale Sharks Rugby Union gave us a 6k walk (tracked to ensure we keep up with our Us Against the Year Challenge on Map My Walk!) Perfect start to a winter Sunday morning with the added bonus of some exercise and umpteen photo opportunities. Our average pace is pretty rubbish – we stop too many times to take a photo!
A very impressive bridge well worth the trip. Fascinating structure and frightening when you see how they are held up. It was a perfect photowalk with urban opportunities everywhere – motorway bridge, the stadium, the new bridge enhanced by a surprisingly beautiful Manchester Ship Canal complete with reflections of trees and shimmering sunlight.
We finished the walk with a trip inside the Chill Factore – from urban Trafford to an alpine village in seconds! The slope is particularly impressive although I’m not sure I’ll ever be going down it! I’ll stick to taking photos of bridges!
Life and other