diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gadabout: BURY

Bury lies eight miles north of Manchester, squished along the Irwell valley between Bolton and Rochdale. Another former mill town, it's also indirectly responsible for the Metropolitan Police, the Conservative Party and the repeal of the Corn Laws. I was in town on Saturday afternoon, and explored three Bury icons...
[11 photos]

Bury Market

Bury boasts the north of England's largest market, indeed it's often been voted Britain's best. Bury Market's so good that 1500 coachloads of shoppers turn up every year (perhaps lured in by the offer of £5 Coach Driver Meal Vouchers and a dedicated Coach Driver's Rest Room). In common with many northern towns there's a large market hall, this one 60-stalls strong beneath a 'bird-wing' roof, ideal for giftware, fresh vegetables and getting your nails done. Another 300 stalls fill the sinuous blocks of the Open Market, technically not open but very-much shielded from the weather, where Julie's Hats sells dowdy headgear opposite the plastic tablecloths of the Fresh Bites Cafe. You could easily wander for much longer round here.

But I judged Bury Market's pride and joy to be the Fish and Meat Hall. This oval centrepiece is topped by two layers of curving webbed canopy, but the full airy design only hits you when you walk inside... and the whiff of fish and meat too. Each of the stalls has a large sloping display in front, ideal for laying out lush seafood or blood red mince. This is the place to come for Bury's most famous delicacy, black pudding, available here in more sizes and flavours than carnivores generally require. I ummed and ahhed over buying Best Mate a Chilli Black Pudding, unconvinced I could get it home in heatwave conditions without spoiling, finally deciding at the end of my visit hell why not, only to discover that at half past four all the produce is packed away and the slabs get sluiced down, so all I ended up with was wet feet.

Bury Cultural Quarter

According to the town council's official tourist website, "the Bury Cultural Quarter boasts many of the most fascinating museums in the UK." I'd beg to differ. That said I didn't make it past the lobby of the Fusilier Museum, "the one stop shop for all things Fusilier in the North West", so maybe that's where I slipped up. I did explore Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre opposite, inside what Pevsner described as "probably the best building in Bury." I liked the art, a thoughtful collection spanning mixed ages and genres, sparsely hung. The museum chunk in the basement was very brief, unwisely implying Bury doesn't have much history. Alas I didn't find any of the sculpture section, even though I walked round twice, so I guess I must've missed a badly labelled door somewhere.

What I did find easily, because it's housed in an enormous shed, is Bury Transport Museum. Stored inside this former goods depot is a horseshoe of old vehicles, notably local buses and a horse tram, but also delivery vans and motorbikes. Step inside the Yelloway Mobile Museum (I couldn't, it was locked) to discover more about a century of coach travel. Look in on the model railway layout (it wasn't running), or admire the wall liberally smothered in old railway station signs. I particularly liked the niche history of Metrolink, and a splendid wooden departures board which once graced the ticket hall at (oddly enough) Harpenden station.

The Cultural Quarter also contains the original market square, where the place of honour is reserved for a statue of Sir Robert Peel. This 19th century Tory Prime Minister was born and educated in the town, although never represented it, gaining his first parliamentary seat courtesy of a rotten borough in Galway. A quote from his resignation speech graces the back of the plinth, and his waistcoat is done up the wrong way round at the front. Close by is Bury Castle (Bury originally means castle), although all that can be seen today are a few buttresses in a bit of moat, the remainder having been razed after the Wars of the Roses. To summarise, some interesting museums, but by no means the most fascinating in the UK.

East Lancashire Railway

If Bury Transport Museum piqued your interest, the ELR will seal the deal. British Rail pulled out of Bury in 1991, and today it's linked to Manchester only by tram. The former station at Bury (Bolton Street) is now the hub of the East Lancashire Railway, a proper 12 mile heritage line you could spend a day on. I turned up just in time to see the last train steam off to the last station, which wasn't worth a £15 day ticket, but pootling around the period platforms was free, and the Trackside bar was very much open. I psyched myself up to order the craft beer with a French name in an acceptable Lancastrian accent, but unexpectedly it was off, so I pointed at a stout instead.

If you have the time, what's great about the ELR is that it actually goes somewhere worth going to, so I'm told, specifically Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall. Ramsbottom is overshadowed by the Peel Monument on Holcombe Hill, and every September hosts the annual Black Pudding Throwing World Championships, because of course they exist. Rawtenstall has The Whittaker museum and a dry ski slope, plus a Lidl beside the bus station, and no doubt lots of other interesting things if only I'd gone there. It pays to explore and travel when the opportunity arises, even across Wigan, Bolton and Bury.

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