Friday 2 May 2014

A Trip to Manchester: Art, Crafts, Museums & Victorian Architecture

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to "get out of the house and go places and see people" - go on lots of Nice Days Out, meet up with friends for a cuppa instead of just saying "we must have a cuppa sometime!" and then never getting around to it, and step outside my comfort zone and take a couple of longer trips on my own.

For my first solo trip I decided to go to Manchester, kinda on a whim because it seemed pretty cool when I'd visited it for a day a few years before and because I found a cheap train ticket & affordable hotel while looking up the prices of trips to various places and thought "why not?" and booked it on the spot.

March seemed an age away when I booked the trip in January but (as they tend to do) the weeks rolled by very quickly and all of a sudden I was on a train heading North. I don't know about you but I love long train journeys. There's something so deliciously relaxing about them, being able to sit and read and/or stare out of the window as countryside and towns flash by.

I couldn't check in to my hotel for a few hours, so I headed to Manchester Art Gallery and stowed my luggage in a locker while I explored the gallery then had a cuppa in their cafe. 

This was a great start to my trip!

There are lots of paintings on display (including a room dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelites, whose work I have great affection for) but also some delightful collections of objects in the Gallery of Craft & Design. I really enjoyed the temporary exhibition about the (now closed) Manchester Art Museum set up in the late 1800s by Thomas Horsfall, not least because I'm always interested in Victorian reformers and philanthropists. The exhibition was co-curated by some local primary school children and I especially enjoyed their thoughtful explanations for why they'd selected and paired particular objects for the exhibition.

The highlight though was Joana Vasconcelos' exhibition Time Machine. There's a ticketed exhibition of some of Joana's large sculptures (which I visited later in the week when I realised I could get in free with my fabulous Art Pass) but also lots of joyful pieces dotted through the main collection, with lace-covered statues,  rainbow crochet creations bursting from picture frames and a fabulous textile "infestation" taking over the museum's atrium. The exhibition runs until the start of June - do go along if you can, but if you can't you can check out some photos & more info here and here.


After checking into my hotel I took a trip on the Ferris Wheel in Piccadilly Gardens. When I first spotted the wheel I was tempted to try it out (I don't think I've ever been on one before) but thought "no, it's a bit pricey, I should save my money"... but realising I was going to see it every time I looked out of my hotel window and was totally going to give into temptation eventually I went for a ride.

The company's website says there's a "fascinating commentary" during the ride but fascinating is really not the word I would have used! The views were great though (hurrah for a well-timed bit of sunshine) and it was nice to start my week's stay with a literal overview of the city I was visiting.


The next morning I got up early and headed to the Cathedral because a) it was the only place on my "places to visit" list that seemed to be open before 10am and b) since starting to go on Nice Days Out I've discovered I really, really enjoy looking around churches. 

Manchester Cathedral didn't disappoint. It's a wonderful building, with a dark and intricately decorated interior lit with some fab modern stained glass windows. I enjoyed a quiet, contemplative start to my day wandering around the building and learning about it's history from an informative leaflet. 


Near the Cathedral is the National Football Museum which wasn't on my list of places I'd planned to visit as I'm not remotely a football fan, but it was free and I thought it would be silly to just walk past without having a look...

... and actually, I really enjoyed it! There was a lot of memorabilia connected to footballers I'd never heard of, but I enjoyed the displays about the early days of football and learning about the history of the game. After the quiet hush of the Cathedral it was quite a contrast to be in this busy, noisy space full of happy schoolkids playing all the interactive games and shrieking with delight at the "smells of the locker room" display (where you could sample scents like oranges, linament and sweaty socks).

After the Football Museum I walked back into the town centre for a money-saving teabreak in my hotel room...

 ... then went for walk in the city's Northern Quarter.

I visited the Chinese Arts Centre for a modern art fix...


... then had a look around the lovely Craft & Design Centre. The building is filled with little studio-shops where you can buy work directly from the artists and makers. It's like attending a great craft fair - wonderful work, the chance to chat to the people who made it - with the added bonus of being able to peek into peoples workspaces and see work in progress.


Next I headed to the Police Museum which I knew was only open that day (Tuesday). This is a great little museum. The volunteers are friendly and well-informed and there are lots of different exhibits about the history of policing in Manchester, including a fascinating but slightly grisly room with objects connected to real crimes. The building is a former police station, so you can visit the charge office and the cells and there's a replica courtroom upstairs too.


After the Police Museum I walked around the corner...

... to visit the palace of crafty goodness that is Fred Aldous. Upstairs there's delicious stationery (oh my goodness I could spend so much money in this section) and quirky gifts and downstairs there are art and craft supplies as far as the eye can see. Wonderful stuff.


I loved the bird-themed art by Matt Sewell opposite the store!

I had some lunch, then went for a wander around the city centre admiring the delicious Victorian architecture...


... then spent a couple of happy hours looking round the John Rylands Library which is a delightfully bonkers neo-Gothic building.

There was an exhibition on and displays of some of the books from the collection but the main attraction (for me, at least) was exploring the building, visiting the fabulous reading room and (an added bonus) reading the various entertaining comments written on luggage tags by visitors the previous week, and dotted throughout the building.


Then it was time to head back to my hotel, put my feet up after all that walking... and eat dinner & plan the next day's adventures, while watching the lights of the Ferris wheel and fountains down in Piccadilly Gardens.

Part two of my Manchester trip will be posted next week :)


Papercraft Post said...

Thanks for the pocket tour of Manchester! Your photos are lovely. I've never been, but if I do go I will visit that craft centre and Fred Aldous (which was already on my radar) for sure.

Bugs and Fishes said...

No problem - glad you enjoyed it! I often shop at Fred Aldous when I need to order some crafty supplies, it was great to be able to visit the store itself and ooh over all the lovely things :)

Katy said...

Apologies for the very personal question, but did you go to the toilets at the John Rylands? They're amazingly Victorian and lovely!

Bugs and Fishes said...

Haha, I totally did! I nearly missed them but a helpful security guard pointed me in the right direction :)

Shell said...

I love visiting Manchester. It only takes us about an hour on the train to get there so we go quite regular. We usually head straight for the Northern Quarter, I love the shops there. I can never leave Fred Aldous empty handed.

Bugs and Fishes said...

Shell - lucky you, living so close! The Northern Quarter is fab and I could spend soooo much money in Fred Aldous, so many crafty and creative treasures.