Manchester is probably not the first city most Scots would pick if they were planning a break south of the Border. I’m pretty confident that London would top any visitor numbers poll.
However, if you’ve been there, done that, Manchester’s revamped Quays area represents an attractive option in terms of culture, sport, dining out, shopping and sightseeing.
As a Leeds United-supporting Yorkshire exile now based in Edinburgh, two days spent close to the heart of Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium is perhaps not where I would normally expect to be come the weekend. But the plethora of museums, art galleries, sporting and tourist attractions all based in a relatively compact part of Manchester has a really nice and relaxed feel to it that compares favourably to that of any big city centre.
The Quays in Manchester’s Salford area is now home to the BBC after the broadcaster, amid much fanfare, moved its main HQ from London to the city.
Previously the site of the Manchester docks until their closure in 1982, the site’s transformation in recent years represents what has been one of the largest urban regeneration projects in the UK.
It’s perhaps fitting when talking about Manchester’s great industrial past to start with the Quays’ Lowry museum – an attraction that showcases original work from the legendary Lancastrian artist Laurence Stephen Lowry.
The gallery, one of the flagship locations overlooking the Quays, boasts some of Lowry’s most famous paintings, depicting scenes of the grind of industrial life in north-west England.
For those familiar with Lowry’s works, the gallery includes the iconic painting Going to the Match, which shows crowds of the matchstick people that Lowry will forever be known for, walking towards the old Bolton Wanderers ground.
The painting, bought by the English Professional Footballers’ Association in 1999 for £2 million, sits alongside other Lowry works including often bleak images such as Industrial Landscape and Coming from the Mill. But the Lowry gallery also contains lesser-known works such as Lowry’s paintings of the sea and other beach settings.
What marks out the Lowry gallery for a visit, though, is the superior knowledge of the venue’s staff, with regular talks on the stories behind the artist’s work, as well as little-known Lowry facts.
Who, for example, would know that Lowry, a chronicler of the poverty-stricken grind of working class life in the first half of the 20th century, was a lifelong Tory?
Taking a bit of time out from culture, the Emirates Old Trafford Lodge sited in the grounds of Lancashire County Cricket Club offers an ideal spot to stay just on the edge of the Quays.
The hotel location was also handy for the sporty part of my weekend stay in Manchester as the Old Trafford cricket ground hosted a 20-20 night game – a shortened, ultra-fast and limited-overs version of the quintessential summer sport.
Whether one is a cricket fan or not, Old Trafford cricket ground, which incidentally is just a five-minute walk from the cricket club’s footballing neighbour Manchester United, is a pleasant venue that offers a good mix of hospitality for guests at sporting events and the concerts the venue regularly stages.
The hotel, which is operated by Lancashire County Cricket Club, is an ideal location for anyone planning a pilgrimage to Manchester United’s “Theatre of Dreams” stadium, as hard as that is for a Leeds United supporter to state.
A good way to start a second day at the Quays is to take a short cruise on board the boats run by Manchester Cruises, moored behind the Lowry gallery.
Overlooking the Quays is the plush shopping complex – the Lowry Outlet. It offers a good selection of shops and restaurants to match any found in most city centres.
Back on the museum front, the Imperial War Museum North at the Quays offers a number of evocative exhibitions setting out the UK’s involvement in warfare that focus principally on the First and Second World Wars but also offer insights into the Cold War and the risk of nuclear conflict.
Displays on more recent engagements including the Iraq conflicts of the early 1990s and early 2000s give the museum a real contemporary feel, with exhibitions that mean the visitor could easily lose themselves for several hours.
A good way to say goodbye to the Quays is to step up to the Imperial War Museum North’s Air Shard – a 100ft viewing platform from where you can see the whole Salford area. Probably best avoided if you don’t have a head for heights.
• Virgin Trains operate every two hours between Edinburgh and Preston for onward journeys to Manchester. For enquiries and fares, from £13 one-way, visit virgintrains.com
Standard rooms at Emirates Old Trafford start from £64 per night, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Talbot Road, Emirates Old Trafford, tel: 0161-282 4020, www.emiratesoldtrafford.co.uk/#old-trafford-lodge