Something inside me lights up at the prospect of a trip up north, so when Laurence signed up for the Greater Manchester Marathon, making a weekend of it was a no-brainer. Until this trip, I’d only ever seen Manchester under a blanket of thick grey cloud, but on this occasion there was a healthy dose of vitamin D to be had.
Manchester fuses old with new, and while the cotton mills which put it on the map (and earnt it its nickname, Cottonopolis) are long gone, the city’s rich industrial past lives on in the red-brick repurposed warehouses and olde-worlde arcades and exchanges. After lunch at Red’s True Barbecue (a carnivore’s idea of heaven, though they do have a handful of veggie options on the menu), Dad, Laurence and I spent the afternoon exploring the city centre.
Out of Red’s, onto Albert Square. Manchester Town Hall, a stunning piece of Gothic revival architecture, loomed above us. Look familiar? It’s stepped in for the Palace of Westminster in numerous productions, including The Iron Lady, and the result of the 2016 EU Referendum was announced from its steps.
Next, St. Ann’s Church: a stocky, red-brick structure with an elegant interior. Wood panelling gave way to cream columns; light streamed in through a trio of stained glass windows. Centuries ago, when Manchester was but a small rural town, distances to other villages, towns and cities were measured from its tower.
Through Barton Arcade, a cast-iron and glass confection from the city’s golden age. Today, it houses an eclectic collection of cafés and shops. If you’re in need of a caffeine fix, give Pot Kettle Black a whirl.
A glimpse inside the Royal Exchange Theatre, a futuristic event space which has given the former cotton exchange a new lease of life. The hefty, 150-tonne module – suspended from the ceiling as it cannot be supported by the floor – looks akin to a space craft preparing for lift-off.
Moving on, towards The Old Wellington Inn, a half-timbered pub dating back to the 1500s. Following the 1996 IRA bombing, it was moved brick by brick to Shambles Square, along with its neighbour Sinclair’s Oyster Bar.
Tucked away behind it, Manchester Cathedral, dwarfish in comparison to Liverpool Cathedral but no less impressive inside. Of note: the ornate woodcarvings in the choir, considered to be among the finest in Europe.
Behind the Arndale Centre, over the tramlines, onto High Street. Destination: Cat Café. Cats of all colours, shapes and sizes: ginger; coffee-coloured; stripy; fluffy; shorthair. My favourites? An inquisitive Toyger (that’s a cat that resembles a toy tiger) and a gorgeous Maine Coone named Aslan (not pictured).
Over to the John Rylands Library, maintained by the University of Manchester and open to visitors all year round. At the turn of the twentieth century, the John Rylands Library had around 70,000 books and fewer than 100 manuscripts; by 2012, it was home to over 250,000 printed works and more than a million manuscripts. Amongst its treasures are medieval manuscripts, a Gutenburg Bible, and various papyrus fragments. It’s a little slice of Hogwarts in Manchester, for those of us who never received a wax-sealed acceptance letter.
Later, after Dad had headed home, a brief wander through Chinatown and a drink at Rain Bar with a couple of Laurence’s friends.
On Sunday, an early start. Ready, steady, run for Laurence; I tram-hopped my way along the route to Sale, Brooklands and Altrincham, then back again. Outside Trafford Town Hall, Laurence stretched out on the grass, his legs weary after carrying him round the course in 03:14:11. (It’s just as well there was someone on hand to help the finishers up onto the stage for a photo.)