Category: Travel Writing

How to spend a weekend in Manchester for the International Festival

*Map via The i Paper

The Manchester International Festival is now under way across the northern-powerhouse city.

If you’re planning a visit, then you might just find my guide to what’s new and interesting around Manchester useful.

Amongst the highlights is the exhibition Use Hearing Protection: the early years of Factory Records at The Science and Industry Museum.

It celebrates the pioneering record label, home to Joy Division and a catalyst for Manchester’s cultural renaissance.

Plus there’s a new afternoon tea at The Refuge, attached to the new Kimpton Clocktower Hotel.

It’s a spoil-yourself end to a Live Forever weekend in Manchester.

Read the full story in this weekend’s i Paper, Manchester travel guide.

Why Liverpool could survive loosing its Unesco World heritage status

It looks like an own goal for Liverpool — not Klopp’s team facing the wrath of The Kop but the announcement by Unesco that it could strip Liverpool of its World Heritage status.

The port city of Liverpool is currently one of 32 Unesco World Heritage sites in the UK. The area stretching along the city’s historic waterfront and onto St George’s Hall was granted World Heritage status in 2004.

Yet controversy has raged in recent years about a series of dockland developments, leading to Liverpool being placed “at risk” by Unesco in 2012.

The heritage body this week expressed further concerns about the Liverpool Waters regeneration scheme and plans for the new Everton football stadium in a former dockland site, citing the developments had resulted in

“serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”.

The City Council hit back, saying some £1.5bn had been invested in upgrading Liverpool’s heritage assets.

Living city

The delisting would be a blow to the city, of course.

Post-industrial Liverpool has reinvented itself as a city of tourism, culture, and nightlife. Some 37m visitor arrivals each year contribute to an annual economic impact of £3.3bn for the city, according to pre-Covid figures from Marketing Liverpool.

The Covid-battered cruise industry has just set sail again with around 80 cruise calls planned this year, including Anthem of the Seas amongst other.

Liverpool has a proud maritime history, serving as a global port during the Industrial Revolution and a hub for transatlantic crossings at the turn of the 20th century. The city boasts 27 Grade I-listed buildings and is touchstone for Britain’s seafaring story.

In 1912, the Titanic disaster was even announced to the world from the balcony of what is now room 22 at the Signature Hotel, the former headquarters of the White Star Line company.

Laura Pye, Director of National Museums Liverpool, says the Unesco debate is more nuanced than a simple heritage-versus-regeneration trade off.

“We want future generations to learn about the city’s maritime heritage, of course, but Liverpool is a living, breathing city. It’s about finding new ways,” she says, “of using heritage to evolve.”

So, can sites survive a delisting? Two places so far met that fate: the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman and the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany.

There are currently 53 locations on its heritage danger list, including the Bolivian city of Potosi and the Everglades National Park in the United States.

Unesco also warned that Stonehenge could be added to the danger list at its 2022 review if plans to reroute the A303 road in Wiltshire are not modified. Yet, Covid aside, these destinations continue to draw visitors.

Moreover, Liverpool has an innate ability to rise phoenix-like from the ashes.

As a teenager, growing up in the Northwest of England, I saw Liverpool through the wilderness years of the Eighties, bowed and monochrome.

I also witnessed the green shoots of recovery when the International Garden Festival converted a former household tip into the UK’s first ever garden festival in 1984.

And I watched from the crowd gathered in front of St Georges Hall as the former Beatle, Ringo Starr, played live on the roof to launch Liverpool’s transformative tenure as the European Capital of Culture in 2008.

I find the city reborn these days. Tate Liverpool will host a summer-blockbuster Lucian Freud exhibition from July 24, hotels are relentlessly booked out for Premiership home games for both city teams and Bold Street bars are buzzing again with post-pandemic revellers.

Liverpool has some fight in her yet.

Seeking solutions

There’s one month left to reach a compromise before the final decision. Joanne Anderson, Liverpool’s newly elected mayor, says heritage and regeneration are not mutually exclusive and has invited Unesco to see the developments first-hand. She wrote on Twitter:

So, can Liverpool salvage its status as a maritime-heritage hub?

I hope so. It would be a shame for cruise arrivals, disembarking from the Cruise Terminal on the waterfront this July, to find that their gentle stroll through Liverpool’s Mersey-docked history, walking from the Three Graces to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in the Albert Dock, no longer gets the Unesco nod.

But I’m sure that Liverpool would rise again.

As Peter Colyer, Chair of the Liverpool City Region Tourist Guides Association, told me:

“Liverpool moves onwards and upwards. We would be saddened but the loss of status, but it would not impact significantly on visitor numbers.”

“The regeneration of Liverpool,” he added, “is an ongoing work in progress.”

So Unesco be damned. As any football fan knows, Liverpool may go one down at home sometimes — but they always fight back.

Read the edited story at Telegrpah Travel.

How to drink to English Wine Week at the Carden Park Hotel in Cheshire

Cheers! It’s English Wine Week.

I went to raise a glass at my nearest vineyard, nestled in the Cheshire countryside at the Carden Park Hotel and Spa estate [pictured above], for a national newspaper feature.

* The edited article was published yesterday in the Sun on Sunday. This is my original version.

The vines stretch out across the estate, the grapes ripening in the sunshine. By late October, they should plump and ripe to pick for the wine-making harvest.

But we’re not in Bordeaux or the Barossa Valley. With English Wine Week starting today, we have given up on the amber-list lottery in favour of a grape British staycation in rural Cheshire.

Wandering through the three-acre vineyard at Carden Park, the Cheshire country-estate hotel around 30 minutes from the city of Chester, feels like a walk in the Napa Valley wine country — without the airport scramble.

Carden Park is home to one of the more northerly of the 770-odd vineyards in England. The majority are found in the Southeast but there are also over 30 vineyards in Wales and nearly 90 across the Midlands and the North.

The vineyard produces on average 7,000 bottles of sparkling Carden Park Estate Reserve wine each year from its two grape varieties, Seyval Blanc and Pinot Noir.

“The sandy soil and microclimate in this part of Cheshire suit those grape varieties to produce the best yield,” says Estates Manager Peter Pattenden.

WINE TRAIL

English wine travel is also booming with an average of 4,449 monthly visits to vineyards according to Wine GB, the national association for the English and Welsh wine industry.

Some larger wineries, such as Chapel Down in Kent and Llanerch in South Wales, have championed wine weekends away, combining meals and accommodation with winery tours.

Carden Park currently offers a more informal, self-guided stroll through the vineyard. There are plenty of options, however, for a wine-pairing weekend of Great British food and drink with wide-screen Cheshire countryside views.

After we had explored the estate, we headed into nearby Chester to meet local wine expert Richard J. Smith. He founded the Wine School of Cheshire and recently opened The Tasting Room in Chester, offering tasting events and wine-appreciation classes.

English wines are, he says, finally give the French and new-world winemakers a run for their money at international tastings.

Traditionally, English wines were sparkling but Richard champions still wines, favouring new grape varieties, such as white-wine Bacchus, that grow well in cooler UK climates.

“The Romans brought vineyards to England but, when I tried my first English wine around 1990, I simply poured it down the sink,” says Richard.

“English wine has transformed in recent years with new winemakers, technology and, of course, the effects of climate change,” he adds, opening a bottle of Pinot Noir with hints of burnt raspberry from the Gusbourne Estate winery in Kent.

We also taste a glass of Atlantic Dry from the Camel Valley winery in Cornwall. It’s fruity and fragrant — perfect with white fish or goat’s cheese.

“Our wineries are often family owned and the grapes are hand-picked,” adds Richard, who has four tastings planned for English Wine Week, and runs regular summer-evening wine cruises on Chester’s River Dee with the local boat company, Chester Boat.

“I love the sense of personality this brings to the new generation of English and Welsh wines.”

FINE DINING

Back at Carden Park, it’s time for dinner at The Vines, Carden Park’s new fine-dining restaurant inspired by the estate’s vineyard. The plush-green decor and starched tablecloths create a genteel atmosphere, complemented by a fine collection of wines from around the world.

The hotel also recently opened Vertigo at Carden, new aerial adventure course, while the Spa at Carden is ideal for some next-day recovery after a glass of vino too many.

But, for now, we tuck into lemon sole with local asparagus and roast beef, all washed down with a bottle of Carden Park Estate Reserve Rosé, priced at £47 in the restaurant.

The speciality coffee-bean ice-cream, served with amoretti biscuit, is our new favourite desert.

As the sun sets over the vineyard, we finish our stay by raising a glass to the new breed of English winemakers taking home-grown wines to the world.

Read the story at Sun Travel.

20 good reasons to spend your next UK staycation in Chester & Cheshire

UK staycation? Of course you are.

So it’s timely that I had a two-pager in the Daily Telegraph at the weekend as part of the Staycation Nation series.

It was packed with my local-knowledge tips about summer events and activities around my home patch of Chester and Cheshire.

From Storyhouse’s open-air cinema to Sick to Death, a new visitor attraction devoted to the history of medicine, I offered the lowdown on the best the city has to offer this summer.

I also ventured further afield to find new attractions across Cheshire — from a new woodland adventure park to an afternoon-tea canal cruise on a vintage barrow boat.

But there wasn’t space in the edit for one further option, so I’m slotting it in here instead …

Get spooked!

If you’ve exhausted the other Cheshire options, then there is something else: my lockdown project.

Haunted Chester is an audio tour to download to your smartphone, using the VoiceMap app.

I developed it as a socially distanced alternative to then-suspended group tours, incorporating the flexibility to follow the one-hour city circuit any time (particularly atmospheric after dark) with spooky stories at various stops en route.

Think ghostly monks, haunted hostelries and supernatural spectres with my local-knowledge perspective on my home city and its haunted heritage.

I’ll even be delivering a Facebook Live ghost tour on June 19 as part of the Chester Heritage Festival.

£4 download, or from the Visitor Information Centre. More from Haunted Chester.

Read the full story in Telegraph Travel.

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