diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Day out (continued): Manchester (part 2)
As well as attraction hopping, I also took two journeys to see more of the 'real' Manchester. A walk along an inner-city canal, and a tramride to the suburbs.

Rochdale Canal: Castlefield → Piccadilly [14 photos]
The industrialisation of Manchester played a key role in the development of canals in Britain. The Bridgewater Canal was arguably the country's first, opened in 1761 to transport coal into the town, but I'd not be walking that. The Manchester Ship Canal was once the world's widest, opened in 1893 to serve a thriving inland port, but I'd not be walking that either. Instead I chose to walk the first mile of a canal that threads through the centre of town, in some places a key real estate asset, in others almost entirely overlooked.

The Rochdale Canal starts at Castlefield Basin, a once-bustling hub from which the Bridgewater Canal heads off in the opposite direction. Less pivotal today, it's surrounded by brick warehouses and brick trying-to-look-a-bit-like-warehouses, inside which Manchester's metrosexual dimension holds court. There are a lot of modern housing developments around here, because post-industrial land was available and because heritage sells, including one patch with the seemingly undesirable name of Potato Wharf. In London you'd find this sort of semi-highrise glass-panel stuff up the Regent's Canal or down the Lower Lea Valley, but in Manchester it's a lot more central.

Having tracked east beneath the railway, and through an opened-out tunnel, at Deansgate the canal provides the bottom slice of an entertainment sandwich. On top is the main tram route out of town, high on a viaduct in the shadow of the slablike Beetham Tower, at 47 storeys the tallest building in the UK outside London. This being Manchester the architect gets to live in the penthouse, over 500 feet up, rather than some absentee overseas landlord, which is nice. And squeezed into the railway arches below is a sequence of trendy food and bar spaces, each with double decker terrace looking down across the water, where the smart casual set come for a lager, cocktail and chinwag on a Saturday evening. I felt quite underdressed, and also very much out on a limb being the one walking the towpath rather than reflecting above it.

The nature of the canal changes as it slips away from the main road between two banks of flats. Those on the right might look unremarkable, and architecturally they are, but a glance at the vandalproof panels facing the towpath confirms a much more exciting past as the fabled Ha├žienda nightclub. An annual tally of talent is punched into each grey metal sheet, from Bernard Manning's opening night jibe in 1982, via the Smiths, New Order and Happy Mondays, to the final DJ night in 1997. Nothing of the pill-popping paradise remains (other than the name), it was all demolished by a housing company a few years later to create the Ha├žienda Apartments, the party very much over.

What follows is a deep canyon, first between flats then unconverted warehouses. At first I passed knots of aspirational youth, but as the balconies died out round the bend I was surprised to find myself almost alone. The stretch of canal either side of Oxford Street is only rarely walked or jogged, it seems, and my only company was a pair of lads drinking cheap beer on a metal barge who seemed surprised I'd disturbed their bacchanal. I'd passed five locks already, with a sixth and seventh imminent and an eighth and ninth to come, which may explain the paucity of boats passing through. The Rochdale Canal is scenic but demanding in terms of effort, and we're not yet anywhere near the scenic bit.

Before long the towpath heads into private territory, then gives out altogether, forcing a return to street level to continue. What follows are three of the most famous blocks in the city, namely Canal Street, the heart of Manchester's gay village. A series of pubs and bars face the open water across a strip of cobbles, some frontages festooned with rainbow flags, others advertising drag-hosted evenings with cheap booze. I was expecting the street to be busier on a Saturday evening, but maybe seven o'clock is still too early, or maybe everyone was rammed inside The Rembrandt blaring out Girls Just Want To Have Fun at the tops of their voices.

Beyond the last pink door the towpath returns, at quite low level, then vanishes inside a low-arched tunnel. It looked a bit dark ahead, but it was the official signed towpath so I assumed it couldn't be that scary and marched inside. All seemed empty, until I came upon a dishevelled man drinking by the water's edge, and another man pissing up against the wall, and two more in the recessed gloom where the canal opened out into a low basin. No I don't have a light, I said, and sped up to exit the chamber unscathed, then dashed up some steps back to the main road. I doubt that many people walking away from Manchester Piccadilly station realise there's a canal and fully working lock beneath their feet, let alone a cavern where drunkards swig and Canal Street regulars cruise... well, not unless they read the papers.

Heaton Park

A quick trip on a yellow tram takes you from Piccadilly to almost the edge of the city. Or at least the last bit's quick, streaking through the suburbs past not-quite looked-after houses and prim semis, past sportscapped boys monkeying on the platforms, to a concrete halt. Emerging with the locals and crossing the street past the Prestwich Balti, the entrance to Heaton Park lies immediately ahead. It's huge, at 600 acres the largest municipal park in the country, and almost a neighbourhood in itself (if you're a donkey, alpaca or squirrel). Part is fenced off for livestock, part is woodland, part is a golf course, and the main central section rises to a low grassy peak. Up here on the highest point in town is Heaton Hall, a neo-classical pile built for Lord Wilton in 1789, and whose estate escaped being paved over to create parkland instead. The hall is undergoing renovation but will now occasionally be open for booked tours, from this month onwards. Also not open on my visit was the heritage tramway round the boating lake, which is Sundays only, which was a shame because I'm told it's great fun. But then I'd turned up in a hailstorm, proper stereotypical Manchester weather, and the park was barely occupied. The fairground by the Papal Field struggled on with maybe four punters, an ice cream van near the summit gave up hope and drove away, and when I looked to the horizon I could see snow on a hump of moorland to the northeast. It's got a bit of everything, Heaton Park, including the crumbling remains of the front of Manchester's old Town Hall, and even a tunnel underneath because the Lord didn't want new-fangled railways despoiling his land. He was right too, it's a highly agreeable amenity.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream