England Stories and Tips

Manchester and beyond

Manchester's Arndale Centre Photo, Manchester, England

We spent our first week on the road in Cornwall. The second week is based out of Manchester, Salford actually, where my fiance lives. We did a bit of shopping and stopped into a little known library in the city centre, Chetham's library on the Monday. Mostly the weather all week was grim other than one nice day. We caught up with friends and visited his dad a few times as well.

On the Monday morning, I got up before he did and offloaded my Cornwall photos to his computer. Then.. we had a camera accident. Graham knocked it off and over into my hot cup of tea. It was a very large cup! Digital cameras and liquid don't mix very well! I tried to dry it out but it did seem fried. I'm only glad i got the photos off the card first. I still haven't checked the card to see if it was permanently damaged! So it's off to the shopping mall in the city centre, the Arndale Centre. There's a shop there that carries the same camera, one model newer and it's about the same price i'd pay in Canada, perhaps slightly cheaper.

After we did other errands in the Arndale, we had lunch at Moon under Water, a big Wetherspoon's pub on Deansgate. From there, we walked over past the Cathedral to a spot I had wanted to check out. I had heard about the medieval Chetham's Library via, of all places, Twitter. A comment from a Coronation Street actor, Steve Huison, who had visited it last year alerted me to it's existence and I added it to my list of things to see.

It's a little known off the beaten track spot that may not appeal to a lot of people but i found it fascinating. It's a library that dates to the 17th century and is the oldest public library in the U.K. The building it's in is even older and is now part of a music college. There are lots of gated alcoves lined with books and there's a lovely reading room with a fireplace over which is a large coat of arms. I think you have to make an appointment to actually use the reference materials and books but it's free to go see. The ceilings are beamed and the floors are wooden planked. There was a small exhibit on while we were there, artifacts and papers, journals and diaries from a Manchester manufacturing family, the Leeches, over quite a few generations. The alcove in the reading room was apparently used by Karl Marx when he often visited Manchester.

We stopped into the Manchester Cathedral as it was handy but it only reinforced my feelings from a prior visit. It's not one of my favourite cathedrals. It doesn't seem to have the same warm feeling but it's very much a working church and some of the modern stained glass is very nice. It's chilly, it's raining again so we had enough fresh air for one day. I had thought to visit the other old library on Deansgate, the John Ryland one but that will have to wait for another visit. Back to the car and to the grocery store for supplies for the week. Another quiet night in while we plan our day trip for tomorrow and burn some music for the road.

Tuesday dawned a bit grim. The skies were dreary when we got up but Graham was optimistic that they'd be nicer over the other side of the Penines in Yorkshire so we headed across the M62, turning off at Leeds and heading for the old spa city of Harrogate. A hot mineral spring was discovered there in the 16th century and over time, the city grew into a healing and wellness destination as popular as the European Spa towns of the day. The Victorians really built up the city and facilities and the architecture here is very elegant, with tall buildings and nice detailing. The Victorian shop fronts are still in evidence with wood and iron decorations, some stained glass accents and some that i saw have glass that curves at the corner of the display window instead of cornering at a window frame.

We parked and walked around the centre square area. There was a Turkish Bath there that you can still go to for spa treatments and I may have missed getting a photo of the Royal Baths building but the tourist information center is in it and we were in there for a town map. We did see the old Pump Rooms which is now a museum. This would actually be a good base to explore the Yorkshire area with a number of attractions nearby like Ripon Castle, Fountains abbey and Bolton Abbey. The city of York is not far either.

We walked around a bit and went into the Mercer Art Gallery which was supposed to have quite a good collection. The current exhibition featured Yorkshire artist Atkinson Grimshaw who was known for paintings featuring moonlight. I can't say as his work overly impressed either of us much. As they were night views, we found them dark and a bit grim. I thought there would be a permanent exhibit as well but there didn't seem to unless there was a different entrance for that. Apparently, though, it may just be changing temporary exhibits, either special ones, touring ones or exhibits from the permanent collections. The gallery is free and is a nice, small gallery so it doesn't take long to look at what's on.

It's practically across the street from the Pump Room museum which explains the history of the spa town, shows you some of the treatments that people might have taken, most of which look pretty brutal! It's a nice little museum that won't wear your feet out looking at it.

It's time for lunch and across the street from the museum is Hales Bar, the oldest bar in Harrogate. it's a nice, cozy place with red leather seating and round wooden tables. There's two seating areas, we ate in the smaller one by the bar that still has gas lighting on it. The food was good and there was a good selection. After lunch, we thought we might look for the famed Bettys Tea Rooms to have dessert.

We did a bit of walking to find it, down and then up a hill and over by the war memorial. There's a cafe on the main level, a tea room a few steps below that and a larger room a few steps down again. I think they do cater to larger groups as well. We had a hot drink and a selection from the cake trolley. Mine was a lemon curd tart and Graham had a chocolate cake, both exquisite. It wasn't cheap, though. It cost us about £15 for what we had, as much as our lunch was but if you are in the mood for a splurge, you must do it.

It was a bit showery on and off all day and it looked like it was starting up again. I really didn't fancy tramping around the grounds of another ruined abbey in the rain (we had thought to visit Fountains Abbey) and anyway, we always try to do too much in one outing so we decided to head back, via a more scenic route than the motorway. We set a course for the A59 across the south part of the North Yorkshire Dales under sometimes threatening skies. The scenery was indeed awesome but would have been nicer if the sun had been out. I did try taking photos out the window and did manage a few good shots. We arrive back home in the grim showers.

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