The travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that he didn’t ever take a £20 note out of his wallet unless what he bought with it would be used for years. Whenever possible, I try to emulate that and that is no more true than with train tickets. Two of my favourite cities are Manchester and Liverpool, though reaching those places inevitably requires being creative with booking train tickets. It is invariably cheaper to split my journey in Preston, which is just as well since many options to get to Liverpool and Manchester involve changing there. Plus Preston station is properly old fashioned and keenly proud of its history. Changing at Preston, particularly to get to Manchester, avoids handing over as much of my hard-earned to my least favourite train company, Transpennine Express, who seem indifferent to comfort and human decency in their quest to maximise revenue in running inadequate trains. Virgin Trains aren’t perfect either – Branson runs a private healthcare firm that seems to be messing up the NHS in England, plus VT can be expensive – but they’re better than Transpennine Express.
Manchester and I have an interesting history. The last time I was there was about two years ago when I was actually studying the city’s industrial history in an OU module. I spent my 22nd birthday there, plus I heard big, dramatic news a few years later while in Manchester, standing by the lift in the Museum of Science and Industry. I can also testify from that particular day that it is very possible to source Irn-Bru in the area around MoSI.
Whenever I go, I have my regular spots. I make a point of visiting the Alan Turing memorial in the Gay Village. There are many who believe that Alan Turing was on the autism spectrum and it is in that spirit that I go to the memorial. Also nearby was a mural of I also like a wee trip along to the Lowry plus a spin on the Metrolink. Plus MoSI is excellent, with each part of the place enlightening and inspiring even for a scientific dunce like myself. The People’s History Museum is also fabulous, with the red flag flying high there, really not a bad thing. The Central Library is a stunning building, domed and coiled like an onion inside. The National Football Museum is in Manchester, not far from where the Co-op is based, and while it only has two mentions of Scottish football in the whole place, both on a panel about the architect Archibald Leitch, it is quite decent too.
Liverpool is much more like Glasgow and I like it a lot. It’s full of museums plus it has similar architecture to Glasgow, as well as a similar history looking out to the world. If time is limited, it is possible to walk just a few minutes from Lime Street and spend hours on one row between the World Museum, Liverpool Central Library and the Walker Art Gallery. The Walker Art Gallery is nicely old-fashioned with a great modern British art room right next to a bit of French Impressionism. The last time I was there, there was a massive inflatable cartoon cat on the balcony at the Walker, which was slightly mental but good. Liverpool Central Library is glorious, a mixture of modern and beautiful, old-world wood and balcony with the Picton Reading Room. The World Museum is suitably varied with loads of interesting galleries, including the World History bit upstairs which is probably the finest and most diverse outside London.
The area around the Albert Dock is also tightly packed with museums, plus the Tate which usually houses good exhibitions. Some shite too, like, as happens with modern art places. The Maritime Museum is interesting. It has some interesting exhibitions including a bit about LGBT culture which amongst other things discussed Polari. On the fifth floor of the Maritime Museum is the International Slavery Museum. Liverpool, like Glasgow, like Bristol and London too, had a lot of trade with the Americas and the Caribbean, not a little of which involved the efforts of slaves. To their credit Liverpool doesn’t shy away from talking about slavery and the International Slavery Museum is a fascinating insight into black history and the history of the slave trade. The Museum of Liverpool is also worth a look, particularly for its insight into local industries, politics and football. The closest equivalent I can think of is the People’s Palace here in Glasgow.
I haven’t been to the north of England much in the last couple of years. The last time was to Durham, at the other side of the country. I’m due a trip to Hadrian’s Wall, Carlisle and a whole lot of places, not least Liverpool and Manchester. Maybe in the close season, I might manage a few day trips down there. Writing posts like these usually makes me book train tickets so it might be sooner than May. We’ll see.