2015 marks my fifth year as a Manchester resident and nine for Mo. Between us, we are more than confident in promoting the wonders of living in this great city we call home, and we do so at every opportunity!
After spending the last six months blogging about my adventures far and wide, I realised I had hardly any content on local travels. There were more posts on London than there were on Manchester (blasphemous, I know) and this is simply not acceptable!
To get myself motivated into celebrating areas I’m surrounded by all the time, I decided to join one of the guided city centre tours. I wanted to try and experience the city through the eyes of a tourist.
Manchester Guided tours have a number of different excursions they offer. The ‘Discover Manchester’ tour runs every day from 11 and is known as ‘the essential Manchester walk for visitors and locals alike.’
Arriving early at the meeting point, the newly renovated Manchester Central Library on St. Peters Square, I instantly felt inspired. It was early Sunday, there was hardly anyone around and the sun was peeking out beautifully from behind the buildings, providing just the right light to snap snap snap.
A group of mostly tourists, mixed with just a couple of us locals , began to assemble. Denise rounded us up and as the Town Hall bell struck, our journey through Manchester’s past began…
The tour takes approximately 2 hours and covers a number of famous buildings such as the Town Hall, John Ryland’s Library and St. Anne’s Cathedral.
I listened eagerly as Denise guided us along the route and plied us with information. A Londoner by origin, Denise has spent the past 25 years in Manchester and after 5 years of providing tours, you could tell she absolutely knew her stuff.
As we walked from place to place, Denise pointed out pieces of historical architecture that had been blended with store fronts, explained the history of statues I had passed and not acknowledged and she introduced us to buildings that I had never seen before. We even learned of locations which have been used in some major Blockbuster movies and TV series.
I took notes throughout, scared my terrible memory would let me down when wanting to review how it went, but I needn’t have as I found I was able to recall near enough everything. The tour was presented in a story tale type manner which meant it was much easier to soak it all in.
A few of my highlights:
Noticing the Manchester Coat of Arms
Now that I know what each element represents I feel I am now worthy enough to class myself as a Manc. I love how it incorporates so many elements and themes, celebrating industry, hard work and the enterprising spirit of its people. (I later found a great article on this by one of the tour guides, Johnathon Schofield)
Taking a moment by the CENOTAPH for remembrance
The memorial stands tall with the unknown soldier laid at the top, he is everybody and nobody. Humbling to find out this memorial was funded by the people and unlike most, it was unveiled by Mrs Bingle who had lost three sons in the war rather than a General. As we walked away an Urban Poet started to recite about the struggles of Daily life, giving everyone a little dose of Manchester drama!
Manchester, the first city in England to be anti-slavery
Something I didn’t know, but I can’t say I’m surprised. We learnt of many instances where Manchester put its neck on the line politically and that’s something I’m quite proud of. Although Britain remained neutral during the American Civil War, Manchester workers chose to boycott all cotton from the Confederate states to support Lincoln’s fight against slavery (That’s a great city right there!).
Peeking inside the Royal Exchange Theatre
My favourite part of the tour. I’d never been inside the theatre before and it was not at all what I expected. One of the largest trading floors in England the scale of the building shows exactly why Manchester became known as Cottonopolis. Damaged in the bombings, it reopened in the 70’s as the Royal Exchange theatre. A theatre with no back of house! Can’t wait to visit again to see a production, if only to hear the school bell used to summon people to their seats.
We ended the tour as it began, at the sound of the Town Hall bell, named Abel (another new thing I learnt :)) only this time, we were stood outside the Manchester Cathedral. Almost as if it had been planned, the blossom petals started to float wistfully around us as Denise wrapped up the tour, hanging around to answer any further questions we had.
With the group slowly dispersing, Denise walked me round to her favourite hidden gem, the Manchester Madonna. Unlike most sculptures which are quite traditional and solemn… the Manchester Madonna is depicted with bare feet to symbolise the mill workers and a slight smile.
I’ve never gone out of my way to do a guided tour before. A believer in ‘you can do it yourself’ I’ve always preferred to carry around a guide book and learn from there.
Denise demonstrated perfectly why I have been doing it all wrong. There is one major element no book or website can provide: interaction. The luxury of being able to ask questions, to open things up for discussion and to simply take in such a vast amount of information.
As I walked back down Market Street, my eyes were frantically exploring everything around me (not the cleverest of ideas, as I nearly fell off a pavement, another reason to tour with a professional). As I passed by parts of the route, I was grinning from ear to ear looking at all the iconic buildings around me proudly, knowing that little bit more about why they were so great.
I enjoyed the tour so much I couldn’t stop nattering on about it, but rather than share all the wonderful things I learnt in this post, I decided to give just little snippets instead, as I’d rather you try to ‘Discover Manchester’ the way I did that day.
I promise you, it is so worth it!
Some information on Manchester Guided Tours
The ‘Discover Manchester’ tour takes place daily starting from outside the Central Library. The tour is £8 and can either be booked online, or paid on the day.
However, if you visit the website, there are a number of other tours available if you have specific areas of interest. I’ve already made my shortlist for the year, got my eyes on the ‘John Rylands’ and ‘Manchester Town Hall Clock Tower’ tour and the ‘Uninteresting objects’ one sounds ironically interesting.
Should also point out, for anyone interested in Mancunian history, their blog is a truly great read!
Thank you to Denise and the Manchester Guided Tours for this wonderful experience! As always, I would like to point out all opinions and photographs in this post are my own.
Can anyone recommend another Manchester tour I cant afford to miss??