One of the best things about living in the compact, rail and motorway strewn NorthWest is just how easy it is to get away for a day and explore a little further afield. Much as we all know Manchester to be the cultural hub of the North, we can also be really proud of the region and its perfectly feasible for visitors to enjoy an extended break in Manchester by taking in a day trip or two. These would be our best recommendations.
Until the opening of The Hepworth, Wakefield wasn’t really on our radar. That all changed when the city’s David Chipperfield-designed gallery opened in May 2011. Today, its historic and contemporary exhibitions are worthy of international attention – also head there for interesting events, family activities (great playground) and a lovely café. Yorkshire Sculpture Park is set in 500 acres of rolling parkland at West Bretton. Its 60 outdoor works are supplemented by five indoor gallery spaces. The café and restaurant are good while the design-led shop is worth opening the wallet for. Closer to The Hepworth is Nostell Priory, an 18th century house set in 300 acres of parkland owned by the National Trust. Take a detour along the way to Heath Common, home to the pretty Heath Tea Rooms and Kings Arms Pub.
It might once have been a time-slip of Victorian pastimes and hanging baskets, but nowSouthport is the sort of place where we could happily spend a weekend – starting with The Atkinson. This determinedly innovative arts centre offers both visual and performing arts excellence, with a theatre, newly restored fine art and contemporary galleries, and a museum. Just down the promenade is the Waterfront Arts project. Opened in 2010, this edgily industrial space overlooks the beach and hosts contemporary fine art exhibitions. For holiday jollity “Britain’s longest overland pier”, is a listed structure, with its own tramline to carry visitors over a mile between Southport promenade and the pier head. The refurbished Southport Market opened last year, in the old Edwardian market hall, and offers independent food, clothing, gifts and craft stores. And no visit is complete without a trip to the Lawnmower Museum. Nearby, “Another Place,” the Anthony Gormley statues at Crosby beach, are a haunting and timeless piece of art.
We love Liverpool, a city of many contrasts – a busy port town, a home of provocative art and an increasingly cosmopolitan place following the city’s turn as European Capital of Culture. Art gallery The Bluecoat, the city centre’s oldest building with a “secret” courtyard garden, provides a break from the frenetic feel of the Liverpool ONE shopping district; it is also home to such independent stores as Nook & Cranny. In the Baltic Triangle is our favourite Liverpool bar, kitchen and music venue, Camp & Furnace. By the river is Tate Liverpool, housed within the 150 year-old Albert Dock; Our final stop is the World Heritage road that is William Brown Street, holding the finest examples of neo-Classical architecture in the UK. They include the Walker Art Gallery, and the World Museum Liverpool.
Visitors heading out to Blackpool to take in the traditional seaside air and fun might be surprised, and delighted to find out more about its cultural offering. The Promenade Art Show spans the famous Golden Mile with a 2km-long outdoor exhibition that features work by artists such as Bruce McLean and Peter Blake. Nearby, the Grundy Art Gallery and opulent architectural highlights including the Tower Ballroom, Winter Gardens and Grand Theatre add to the mix, while the beach itself is a seven-mile stretch of golden glory. On the way, Preston’sHarris Museum and Gallery is well worth a detour: sitting inside an enormous, neo-Classical building on Preston’s Flag Market it contains historic collections of note, as well as an outstanding contemporary art programme. Nearby, art pub The Continental and the recently-restored Avenham & Miller Parks (whose River Ribble setting and award-winning Avenham Pavilion cafe are just peachy) offer food, drink and riverside delight. Both places are easily accessible by train from Manchester.
Cumbria, and The Lake District in particular, is one of the UKs most successful tourism destinations, but better known for its outdoor pursuits and stunning views. It’s a vast county of course and lots to recommend. Here are a few highlights – Grizedale Forest Sculpture Parknear Coniston; Abbot Hall Museum and Gallery in Kendal; Allen Bank in Grasmere, which looks across the valley to the diminutive but better known Dove Cottage and is where Wordsworth moved to as the family expanded; the all-year round Theatre by The Lake in Keswick – or look out for Eden Arts summer programme of Picnic Cinema which screens great films in Cumbria’s truly amazing off-the-beaten track locations, such as Withnail and I on the set of Uncle Monty’s farm deep in the Lowther Valley.