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I was over in the village of Culcheth hanging out with a relative. We had breakfast and then bought some bedding plants from a stall set up by St. Rocco’s, a hospice for people who are facing their final days. Now, in spite of its purpose, it is a very positive place where the sick people and their relatives are looked after well. The money from the sale will go to support their work.

As we were in gardening mode we decided to check out Bent’s Garden Centre which is nearby. This is the one that has the spectacular Christmas displays. It started decades ago selling a few plants but is now a destination in itself with all manner of distractions. One of the latest is a rather nice pet store with a pet café. You can order treats for your furry friend and enjoy a coffee yourself.

The latest addition, though, took our breath away. A Jurassic crazy golf course for the kids, complete with animatronic dinosaurs…

Alpacas…

I haven’t seen the alpacas in a while. Well most of the winter I think. It’s not that they can’t cope with the cold, they are used to the climate in the high Andes of Peru and the like after all. But I don’t think they like the wet. It’s quite dry in the Andes I believe, Manchester on the other hand…. Now it’s spring though, they are back in their fields. They weren’t near the road but as soon as I appeared with my iPad they showed an interest in me. They are very curious animals.

Manchester has a reputation for being a wet, rainy city. A bit of a slur on our reputation as other places in the UK are far wetter than us. But people expect to get wet when they come here and can be disappointed if they don’t get the full Manchester experience. We don’t do deluges but we do often have a fine rain that’s described as ‘soft’ and the seemingly constant grey skies allow us to have skin that defies our ages. Not for Manchester the leather skin you see on people from hot, dry cities elsewhere in the world.

But I did see these plastic sleeves in HOME today, designed to stop your wet umbrella drip all over the marble floors of this theatre/cinema/gallery complex. Only in Manchester…..

Possibly the main reason to visit Rochdale was to take a look at its truly magnificent town hall. It’s one of the city’s Grade 1 listed buildings. It’s built in the same Victorian Neo Gothic style as Manchester Town Hall but on a smaller scale. It looks like a medieval town hall you would find in one of those prosperous, medieval Belgian towns like Bruges. Parts of it, with the stained glass, reminded me of Sainte-Chapelle, the Royal chapel of the kings of France, on the Île de la Cité in Paris close to Notre Dame Cathedral.

I’d heard good things about this building and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was built when Victorian Rochdale was at its wealthiest. It certainly impressed me. And I’m not alone. Hitler liked this building and, if he had conquered us, he was going to have it dismantled and moved to Germany. Well that didn’t work out did it? Quite how Hitler knew about it is up for debate. But there is a story that Hitler lived in Liverpool for a few months and it’s possible that he had a trip to Rochdale I suppose. If I ran the city I’d lose that car park though….more trees, café to sit outside of etc..

The stained glass in the building was stunning. I took this picture but the sun streaming through, bleached all the colours out. Such a shame. It was magnificent. They do tours so when I get the chance I’ll have to go back and take one.

I just thought I’d share some of the Azaleas that are in bloom in our garden. After all the yellow, purple and white of Spring, it’s good to see the vibrant, sherbet colours of Azaleas. They are cousins to Rhododendrons but are more compact so are perfect for small gardens. And they are happy in pots so you can move them around to where you would like them. They are quite slow growing so they don’t get out of hand. Rhododendrons look great for about two weeks but swamp everything else out and all you get for the rest of the year is large, waxy leaves. Nothing will grow under them and they don’t support lots of creatures. Unless you have a garden the size of Chatsworth and an army of gardeners to keep them in order avoid them. Azaleas rock. I must get more.

Nothing to do with Azaleas but I thought I’d share these ‘A’ boards that came my way. I love a good ‘A’ board. Here’s one with food for thought…

And this one is very clever, you have to be in the know to get this one… 

Rochdale got its name from the fact that the settlement grew up in the valley (dale) of the River Roch. The river starts up in the Pennine Hills to the east of the city, flows through Rochdale and the northern suburbs of Manchester until it joins the River Irwell south of  Bury. The water then flows through the city centre and out to Salford Quays before draining into the Manchester Ship Canal. 

Originally it was a clear, trout stream but the industrialisation of the Victorian times did for that when the cotton mills poured their effluents into the river. The river used to flow through the centre of the town. At some point they decided to culvert the river and a number of bridges were simply covered up and the space above was given over to roads.

The cotton industry died and the town went into decline. It has needed to do things to revive itself. One of the things it has decided to do is make the best of some of the beautiful architecture in the town centre. And it was decided to open up the river again so visitors to the town could see it running by the spectacular town hall (more of that soon). The river, now the industry has gone, is running clear again and the fish have returned. They found the remains of one of the old bridges and have restored the old stones, building the new bridge sensitively on top of it. It’s a triumph I think. Another town in the Manchester area, Stockport, built a 1960s shopping centre on top of the River Mersey that ran through the centre of that town. The shopping centre, 50 years on, isn’t a thing of beauty and is in bad decline. People drive past it on the way to the Trafford Centre or on the train into the city centre to go shopping. They could do worse than look at this scheme and apply it to Stockport.

The new scheme in Rochdale shows off nicely some of the attractive Victorian buildings in the town. They are made of that honey coloured sandstone that you see a lot of the Victorian buildings in city centre Manchester. But not on such a grand scale of course.

After my meeting in Media City, I had to get right across Greater Manchester to Rochdale. Normally I’d jump in the car and do the orbital M60 motorway to do a journey like that but on Monday I was using the tram.

Rochdale used to be its own little town. It’s been around a long time, a least a 1000 years that we know of. It really boomed in Victorian times when huge mills, spinning cotton, were built around the small town. It became very wealthy and this is reflected in the buildings that were put up at that time. The collapse of the cotton industry has damaged the town but its proximity to Manchester city centre and being surrounded by beautiful countryside has made it a desirable place to live. Houses prices are way below the prices you’d pay in popular suburbs like Didsbury, Chorlton, Hale, Bowden…. so bargains are to be had. The downside is that you don’t get the vibe of a place like Chorlton. Hipsters are thin on the ground in Rochdale. Rochdale is a proud town and is quick to assert its identity when people assume it’s part of its larger neighbour, Manchester. People from outside the city think it’s part of the city and, with us voting for a mayor for the Greater Manchester area in a few days, I suppose it really is a suburb of Manchester. And, as Manchester is a thriving, vibrant, world city it could do worse than ride on its flashy neighbour’s coat tails.

To be honest north Manchester is a bit of a mystery to me. Apart from using the M60, that runs through it, to get to Yorkshire, I’ve not really explored it. I rarely get further north than Victoria. The inner suburbs north of the station have a ‘colourful’ reputation. While south Manchester enjoys the levels of wealth of London and affluent places in the south east, north Manchester has roughly half the wealth of the south of the city and it shows. The tram journey beyond Victoria takes you through the ‘colourful’ suburbs where houses are cheap and for a good reason. Moston won’t be the next Chorlton any time soon and for good reasons. The line then runs through another of the old cotton towns, Oldham, where you could see fine old buildings put up in the Victorian times and I’ll have to check it out soon.

From there the tram took me to Shaw. It’s a small town in the eastern hills. It’s increasingly popular as a commuter town for Manchester and the Sunday Times had the villages in this area (Saddleworth Moor) as one of the top places to live in th UK. Lots of pretty, stone built cottages nestling in green valleys within walking distance of great restaurants and 30 minutes from Spinningfields. I had to change trams here. The station was by an old cotton mill. If this was in Ancoats, it would have been coverted into apartments going a £500,000 a pop. Shaw isn’t quite in that league yet. I like mills. They are simple buildings but have a pleasing elegance about them that modern factories don’t have. Given a bit of tlc, and with light flooding in through those huge windows, they make great places to live. This one, Briar, is relatively simple and nothing like the grand, almost palatial buildings they put up in places like Ancoats.

I jumped on tha tram into Rochdale town centre and jumped off one tram stop before the town centre at Rochdale Railway Station. I wanted to check out St. John the Baptist RC Church that is just by the stop. It was built in 1927 in the Byzantine Revival style. Henry Chipp, the Canon of the church at that time lobbied for the older church to be replaced by a building in this style. We thank him for it. The design is based on the architecture of the Hagia Sophia (Basilica of the Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul. That building was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I between 532 and 537 in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Over the centuries it was enlarged and decorated with wonderful mosaics. It was the largest Christian building in the world for nearly a 1000 years. By 1453, when the armies of Islam took Constainople, it had fallen into bad disrepair. The first Sultan of Istanbul (Mehmed the Conqueror) converted the church into a mosque. Over the centuries it was restored and the minarets were added giving it the appearance we see today. In 1935 it was turned into a museum with some of the Islamic decorations being removed to reveal the Byzantine mosaics that has been covered. I’ve never seen in person it but it’s on my list.

This is Rochdale’s little version. It’s Grade II listed. It’s a lovely little building. 

I photographed the exterior and then noticed an ‘open’ sign on the door. I looked in and found myself in a vestibule. There was a service going on inside so I didn’t think it appropriate to go further inside to take pictures. So here’s a rather poor one of the Byzantine influenced interior through a glass panel of a door.

I wondered about the future of this building. We aren’t a church going nation anymore and this building is in a part of Rochdale where a lot of Muslim people live. There weren’t many people at the service on a Monday lunchtime. Maybe on Sunday it’s packed though. I wonder if it might have the same fate as the Hagia Sophia? Having said that the Roman Catholic Church in this part of the city is very fond of this building and it won’t be getting any minarets added any time soon.

 

In his epic poem ‘The Wasteland’, T.S. Eliot wrote ‘April is the cruellest month.’ It certainly was this morning. Two weeks ago we were basking in temperatures in the mid 20s in Manchester, this morning I had to scrap ice off my car. And it’s snowing in the northern parts of the city this afternoon. All a few days away from May. The apple trees are in blossom. This weather won’t do the blossom any good and won’t be tempting the pollinating insects out either. I fear for the apple crop in a few months time. They do say it will be warmer by the May Bank Holiday weekend coming up though.

Back to yesterday. I’d taken the tram to Media City for my first meeting. It wasn’t an arduous one so I had time to wander around the Quays and see what was happening. 25 years ago this area of the city around the abandoned Manchester docks (we used to the 4th largest port in the country, 30 miles from the sea) was a wasteland. Today it’s a vibrant community with swish apartments and glass office towers, truly iconic cultural buildings and nice places to chill, drink and eat. It’s the northern home of the BBC who have attracted all manner of hi-tech businesses and highly paid jobs. I love Media City, the security guys glide around the area on segways and there’s always the chance of spotting a famous face around the area. There are plans to double the size of Media City with more office towers, studios, apartments etc… Another panorama of the Erie and Huron Basins on the Quays.

This project is taking shape overlooking the Eire and Huron Basins of the old docks. There will be 4 of these towers, three have been sold out already (we’re very short of accommodation for the growing population of the city; it’s one of the problems of success). They look great in the artist’s render. Each one is as high as Manchester Town Hall. The people who like to keep an eye on such developments in the city got very excited about them when they were announced.

They were less than happy when they started putting the cladding on them and the colour was entirely battleship grey instead of the promised shades of grey and white. Fortunately second panels, in the expected colours are now covering the battleship grey. The first tower is shooting up.

Across the road from the Harbour City tram stop, BUPA are building a purpose built Manchester HQ building. They already have offices at the head of the basin in The Anchorage but are expanding their Manchester base. This is what it will look like.

People are surprised that in a country famous for its National Health Service, we have private health care as well. BUPA is a company providing this. Some people, or maybe their employers, pay into this for immediate treatment. I’m not convinced. I’ve had a little health worry myself recently and it’s been less than a month from consulting my doctor to getting to a point where I’ve been sorted. This including an ultrasound in a NHS hospital that would be the envy of any country in the world. Here’s where they are with the building at the moment.

Not a new project but I’ve always like the three buildings that make up the NV apartment scheme with their curved façades set at an angle to the water.


At the Manchester Ship Canal end of Huron Basin there is this little but exciting looking development. It’s not the iconic Lowry Centre, Manchester’s waterside theatre and art gallery complex; one of the projects that the city gave itself as a present for the Millenium back in 2000. It’s the smaller gold roofed building that Artisan is having built. Artisan is a fashionable restaurant and bar in Spinnigfields, much loved of the famous and wannabe famous of the city. Mr Beckham likes to hang out in it when he hooks up with his buds in the city. This is what it will look like.

This is where they were with it yesterday. In a few months it’ll be full of BBC types and the famous people who have business in the studios.

It’ll have a great view of Media City and the Quays other truly iconic building, the Imperial War Museum North.

I walked through to Trafford Road. This used to be the edge to the Quays but, recently, the developments have jumped the road into the roughty toughty area of Ordsall. Trafford Road connects the end of the M602 to the western suburbs. It’s wide and busy, nasty in the rush hour or if you catch it when people are trying to get to or from Manchester United’s stadium at nearby Old Trafford. I’ve driven along this road, and been stuck on it a lot. There was one famous occasion, Manchester United were playing on a cold night, and a guy who’d been to see the match, opened the door to my car and sat in to get warm. I’d always been told never get into a car with a strange man but wasn’t sure what to do when a strange man gets in your car. We had a chat and he had a warm and then he got out. Weird! My present car locks itself if I forget these days. The people behind the four apartment towers on Erie and Huron Basins are also building this tower on Trafford Road. It seems to be a continuation of the apartment blocks they have already built next door.

So far they have only done the core.

There used to be a multiplex cinema and car park overlooking where the River Irwell empties into the Manchester Ship Canal at the bottom end of Trafford Road. When a newer, plusher multi screen cinema opened next to the Lowry Centre it closed. They are now building six apartment buildings on the site with a bridge linking it, across the canal, to the Manchester United side. The development is being called Clipper’s Quay.

At the moment it’s a sea of green cranes and construction. One of the pictures is reflected in the mirrored glass World Trade Centre buildings across Trafford Road. You might see a little Tom.

Someone has been busy clearing away the bushes and vegetation on the bank of the river under Trafford Road Bridge. This is happening all the way through the industrial area of Trafford Park where a new tram route is being pushed out to the massive Trafford Centre and, eventually, to Salford Reds rugby stadium and the new docks at Port Salford, being built to bring ships back to the city.

 

I had two meetings to get to today. One was first thing in an office in Media City in Salford Quays and the second was in Rochdale, almost diagonally across the city from Media City, in the north east of the city. I could have used the car but it would have been touch and go if I could get from one to the other and I might arrive in Rochdale stressed from M60 traffic. I decided to give the Metro a go. First I bought a day pass for £5. I bought it using the app on my phone while having breakfast at home. Altogether I used 8 trams and if I’d had to buy the tickets separately it would have cost more and I would have to fuss at each of the stations. On my phone, my ticket was only a click away. If you are living here, or even just visiting for a few days, it’s worth having this one on your phone. Here it is.

First I took the tram from Altrincham to Media City. It all went so well that I had time to take some pictures as I wandered about. I’ll post them over the next few days. After the Media City meeting I took the tram into the city and changed lines in St. Peter’s Square. While waiting for the tram I took a panorama of the square with the Princess/Empress trees still in full bloom. They looked as if they are going to fall soon sadly. That’s sad but they are replaced by the most enormous leaves that look just like the sort that small children draw. The trees will grow this summer and next year there will be even MORE purple blossom to enjoy. When I looked at the picture carefully, as I’d used the panorama option on my phone, I noticed the guy walking towards me on the left is walking away from me on the right!

This has become one of the most beautiful parts of the city centre. 

At the top of Bridge Street, just before you get to the bridge and overlooked by Albert Bridge House, is a little piece of land. It’s on the edge of Spinningfields and on my route from that part of town to Kendal’s department store on Deansgate and on to St. Ann’s Sqaure. I imagine at some point there must have been buildings on it. What they were and what happened to them I don’t know. They could have been demolished or even bombed out in WWII. At some point someone decided to pave the area over. It looks like it was done in the 80s. It has a dated look and could do with a bit of a makeover. There’s some uneven paving and a few benches. A cool restaurant has opened on it but I’ve not seen any tables spilling out onto it yet. It doesn’t have a name, so I call it ‘the square with no name.’ Imaginative aren’t I?

I’d like to see it given a thorough update. Maybe now people see the stunning job they’ve done on St. Peter’s Square, the city might have an appetite for this to happen. In the meantime a little olive grove has sprung up. Surprisingly these trees do well in Manchester. We usually associate them with holidays in places like Spain, Italy and Greece. But some types of olive trees live up in the mountains in those countries and are used to cold winters. We may not have baking hot summers like Tuscany and Andalusia but our winters are mild compared with the Italian and Spanish mountains so the trees thrive here. But, because of the shortness and the coolness of our summers we have, we are unlikely ever to see a crop of olives. They are very decorative trees and are popping up around the city. There are some outside Selfridges in Exchange Square and there’s also a grove of them, along with some lemon and orange trees, on the top of the Hilton Tower. How cool is that.

These trees will probably have started out life in one of the Mediterranean countries before being transported to their new home in Manchester. They do have these wonderful gnarled trunks that become more contorted over the years. They are long lived trees and some, in their original countries, will have seen, if not the rise of the Roman Empire, the fall of it. The ones here have been put into some of those wonderful, bee, cast iron containers that have been popping up around the city. They were cast by the Hargreaves Foundry in Halifax, the company that cast the parts for The Angel of the North that you see on the main road as you approach Newcastle. 

In the centre of the square is, I imagine, the oldest of the olive trees. Just look at how gnarled its trunk is. It’s been given a different type of container as suits its importance as the oldest tree in the grove. I wonder if Hargreaves cast this as well?