Hull's a very different kind of city, very much out on a limb, the kind of place that's only ever a destination, never passed through. The former royal port sits on the northern bank of the Humber, a whoppingly wide river spanned by what was once the longest suspension bridge in the world, ideal if you ever want to go to Cleethorpes. It's very compact and very flat, and very white, which is kind of ironic for the city whose MP ended the slave trade. It's going to be UK's City of Culture in 2017, which is excellent news and well deserved. And its architecture is rather splendid in places, as this excellent long read from Jones the Planner makes clear. Honestly I need hardly write a post at all given the existence of that, but I'll have a go anyway, particularly if you should ever consider a visit. [16 photos]
Five free museums i)Hull Maritime Museum: "Have you been befurr?" asked the lady on the front desk. "Not since 1987," I replied. "Oh well it won't have changed much," she said, and she was right. Odd-shaped rooms with glass cases tell the story of the city's fishing fleet, with the skeleton of a whale as the centrepiece downstairs. The building's impressive too, formerly Hull's Dock Offices, the curved upstairs Court Room especially so. (Midweek inhabitants: retired couples, art students sketching bones) ii)Ferens Art Gallery: A mix of old masters and modern canvases, the building more like a civic conservatory, and surviving midweek on the back of the nice ladies wandering through to use its cafe. iii)Hull and East Riding Museum: I was expecting the history of East Yorkshire, but got the pre-history instead. The trail through the building features an extensive Iron Age village and a Roman villa with mosaics, plus a giant oak boat hollowed out of a single log 2300 years ago and preserved inside a special tank. But once William the Conqueror's invaded the timeline leaps forward briefly to the Civil War, then splutters out round the back of a mammoth. iv)Streetlife Museum: If you read this blog you'll like this one, a collection of transport memorabilia from the last 200 years. As well as the old cars, bus, train and tram that you'd expect, there's also a considerable display of bikes and horse-drawn carriages. The attendant invited me to climb inside one of the latter, which then promptly juddered and shook for two minutes, I know not how because the blinds were down. A big tick too for the shopping displays in the windows of the 1940s high street, although I think the school party found them somewhat less evocative. v)Wilberforce House Museum: William Wilberforce, the great reformer, was born in a Georgian house on the narrow cobbled high street that runs parallel to the river. Downstairs you can learn his story, including how he introduced his slave trade bill in Parliament every year for almost two decades before they finally voted it through. Upstairs is an in-depth look at slavery and its abolition, including the uncomfortable truth that Britain owes its place in the world to flogging Africans to cut sugar, and it took the MP for Hull to stop them. Archbishop Desmond Tutu approves.
If it's not winter or a weekday you might also be able to visit: i)Arctic Corsair: A Cod War Trawler is moored on the river Hull round the back of the Streetlife Museum. They do tours. ii)Spurn Lightship: For fifty years this was the flashing warning sign at the mouth of the Humber, because you can't build a lighthouse on the shifting sands of a sperm-shaped spit. One day I'll make it out to the tip of Spurn Point, hopefully before the sea washes it away for good.
Five Old Town peculiarities i)The Land of Green Ginger: As peculiar street names go, this one takes the biscuit. You'll find this short street off Whitefriargate, by the closed down shop and the hotel with the record-breakingly tiny window. Nobody's quite sure how the name arose, but I shall forever associate it with Kenneth Williams reading a story of the same name on Jackanory. ii)Hepworth Arcade: This late Victorian shopping arcade is gorgeous, a proper throwback, and was home to one of Marks and Spencer's first penny bazaars. I caught it late in the day with just two other shoppers, which was nice for me, if not the independent retailers. iii)Holy Trinity Church: Hull's a city without a cathedral, but it does instead have England's largest parish church, the whopping Holy Trinity. Visitors are welcomed by a volunteer at the door, a committee's-worth bustling around around inside, and Christian muzak over the loudspeakers. Someone's also stuck up the most pointless health and safety message I've ever seen, namely that "Some Medieval Buildings Have Uneven Floors And Steps". iv)The <vitamin tablets> Fish Trail: 41 species of fish, from A to Z and then some, are depicted in this series of plaques that runs round the Old Town. There's a certificate for you at the Tourist Information Centre if you can tick off the lot, but I doubt they dish out many. v)Victoria Pier: Down on the waterfront, in the dead-on-a-weekday Marina district, an extensive wooden pier juts out into the Humber. A ferry service used to cross the river from here to New Holland on the Lincolnshire side, but the arrival of the Humber Bridge in 1981 put paid to that. I'd have gone and walkedthebridge if I'd had time, or better weather, but alas had neither.
See also: i) Victoria Square: Civic heart of the town, its centrepiece is a raised platform supporting a statue of the Queen, underneath which are two majestic public conveniences. I can vouch for the gents, anyway. ii) The Co-Op Mural: Huge glass mosaic above what's now BHS, depicting the town's fishing fleet, and whose masts cunningly spell out a four letter word. iii) Paragon station: A right proper end-of-the-line terminus, with far too many platforms for modern services, and a fine statue of Philip Larkin heading for his Whitsun train. iv) White telephone boxes: Only BT-independent Hull has white telephone boxes. v) Scale Lane Pedestrian Bridge: Barely a year old, this chunky black swingbridge links the Old Town to the eastern bank of the River Hull, or more precisely to the empty car park of an ugly Premier Inn.
Hull's big millennial project was a mega-aquarium called The Deep, a four storey spike of aluminium pointing out across the Humber estuary. The building looksamazing from the riverside, though rather less so from the car park, which is where you'll find the main entrance. Having coughed up ten pounds plus you rise up in the lift to a lookout across the river and the utterly flat terrain beyond, then dive into the attraction itself via an evolutionary time tunnel. It's properly interactive along the way, but not crassly so, you'll be pleased to know. The first big fishtank mimics a tropical lagoon, but that's peanuts compared to the half-million gallon tank at the heart of the building around which swish sharks, rays and other giant fish. You view this several times on the way round, including from a tunnel nine metres down and, at the very end, on an elevator ride bursting up to the surface. The newest residents of the building are a group of Gentoo penguins, very cute, but they weren't particularly performing as I walked by. There are also several tanks of jellyfish, cold water fish, sea shrimp, whatever, and various environmental themed displays to help you get your money's worth on the way round. I had the dubious honour of being the last visitor of the day, so all the special activities and feeding opportunities had finished, and I was pursued round the passageways and galleries by a small team of cleaners and keen-to-go-home staff. I kept them waiting, enjoying the opportunity to have the sharks and other creatures entirely to myself - you probably won't be so lucky.