The Great Northern Tour; A Journey Through Sheffield and Manchester

Abandoned buiildings in Sheffield.
Abandoned buildings in Sheffield.

In the last month I made a pretty special trip, I finally made my way up to Sheffield and Manchester to explore some of these great cities and most importantly, hang out with some of my favourite people around. What started as a trip purely to see Architects play a sold out show in Manchester Academy, turned out to be a pretty intense four days of sightseeing, vegan food tasting, city exploring, and well overdue catch-ups. Alongside all this I picked up a new camera to keep me occupied in these unfamiliar streets, so I managed to document a fair bit of it too.

The North

I found myself in Sheffield midday on Thursday with a really vague idea of what I wanted to check out, luckily Leonie could suggest a fair few sights worth seeing and I spent the afternoon wandering through exhibitions on street photography, and Sheffield’s “makers” mentality, something I had heard of but never really payed any close attention to. I took a walk by The Borderline Venue straight off the train which I’d came across time and time again while checking out band tour schedules, and on into town for a general wander about.

Sheffield has so much to offer when it comes to exhibitions and interesting galleries to pass the time and hide out from the pretty typical Autumn downpours. I would definitely recommend a look through Winter Gardens, an ‘urban glasshouse’ which reminded me of The Eden Project back home, although smaller and much more central. This seemed to be the base for a few small Sheffield retailers, including a few pop ups and a Made In Sheffield arts shop where I spent way too long exploring the intricate crafty creations of the city, and shooting a Trump poster with a handmade table tennis ball sling. Alongside Winter Garden you’ll find Millenium Gallery which is home to a series of exhibitions and displays, I was able to check out; The Sykes Gallery: Metalwork Collection – incredible metal creations showcasing the history of metal production in Sheffield, Handmade For Christmas – another arts based store, the sort of place you’d buy ALL your christmas gifts if you had the money, and then The Ruskin Collection – a 130 year old a selection of nature and arts pieces that were originally arranged in order to inspire creativity amongst Sheffield workers all those years ago. Only a minute down the road you can find Central Library which is home to two more exhibitions on the upper floor. While I visited there was a great street photography gallery open, further inspiration to my new camera purchase, which shared unbelievably interesting perspectives of urban life as technology allowed photographers to leave the studio and take their cameras into the communities around them. Opposite this I found another called ‘Gallery VI: 400 Years of European Art’ which was huge, I know little to nothing about this kind of art, but it was definitely impressive and worth a look if you visit and have a bit of spare time.

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Sheffield cathedral grounds.

As for food, we checked out a few all vegan foodie spots, alongside a couple of cafes that I know I’ll be back at as soon as I make a return to the city. After exploring all of the above I settled in Marmadukes Cafe Deli, a pretty sweet little place that looks like it should belong in Instagram rather than the real world. The only other coffee shop I hung out in was called Grind on the other side of town right by Kelham Island, an old industrial district. This place was equally great and pretty small, but did an incredible vegan pumpkin curry that I should probably have a go at making sometime soon. Burger Lolz and Make No Bones were our choices for eating out over the two days and are apparently both fairly new. Burger Lolz offered ridiculous burgers filled with mac’n’cheese or kebab seiten, to be washed down with ‘freak shakes’ like pretzel/ chocolate/ peanut butter, all combined together and the absolute dream – probably the best most sickly thing I’ve ever tasted. Make No Bones offered slightly more wholesome meals, here I opted for their special of Kentucky Fried Tofu with a creamy cheese sauce, beans and home cut chips. They seemed to have a load of cakes and sweet bits too, but with a night out ahead we left it for another time. Pure On Raw is another option, I passed by and picked up a raw cappuccino cheesecake on my way to Kelham Island (as you do), but didn’t get a chance to dive into the menu fully.

I was pretty gutted that Kelham Island Museum was shut, it’s a museum that explores Sheffield’s Industrial history on a 900 year old man made island, but like everything I missed out on with only two days to explore, it’s something to put on the list for next time (because there will be one). Instead I wandered about the area and took in all sorts of great street art and explored some of the creative spaces that this district is home to. A friend of a friend showed me around her jewelry and metalwork studio, which only emphasised the Made In Sheffield brand and it’s relevance to the city still to this day. This is also the home to Peddler Night Market, a street food, art, and music event that I missed, but have heard great things about, and a cafe that I was recommended to visit over and over called The Depot (missed it – on the list). I also managed to have a sneak peek at the While She Sleeps studio from the outside, which felt just special as it did surreal.

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Spot the DIY street art installation, love this one.

I could easily go on further about how I spent my time here; the pubs we visited, Peace Gardens and The Botanical Gardens, the techno DJ night at Foodhall – a converted morgue, and the subsequent hour long, gin fuelled nerf war that followed around the maze of upstairs bedrooms and concerted offices.. but the last sight that really stood out to me was the night time cityscape, a view that my lovely host Leonie led me to. For this you’ll need to head to the station at night and pass over near to the Cholera Monument Grounds, you’ll find a huge bank of almost auditorium styled outdoor steps, and you’ll be able to sit and look out to almost the entire city centre lit up, a pretty special view for sure and somewhere I imagine you could spend hours at with some beers on a warmer night.

Manchester

I turned up in Manchester on Saturday and met an old school friend, also known as the all round rad dude Patrick. This time we literally had no idea what to do and decided our best bet was to grab a burrito and head back to the flat to organize ourselves, struggle to reheat the burrito whilst watching hilarious music videos, and then get on with our day. I’ve heard a fair bit about the Northern Quarter in Manchester and the only local person I’d spoken to so far in the city had also recommended the area, so we settled on focussing out exploration on there for the next day. Meantime on the Saturday we were lucky enough to make a pub trip, spending the afternoon catching up with an equally old school friend who knows the city far better than us. We took our place on the roof terrace and settled into the evening reminiscing on old times and trying to make the most sense out of adult life as we each know it so far, the kinda catchup you wish you had way more often.

Architects, the main event.

There’s no denying that the passing of Tom Searle, guitarist of Architects, played a large part in this trip. Tom was one of the only guitarists that I ever cared about, and someone whose name I’d often offer up when throughout my three years of  music performance at University, I was asked who my inspirations were. His death was obviously a surprise, and offered a chance to reflect on life and death, and the place of me and my friends within that cycle. The main point I took from this was an absolute cliché and something we already know, which is that you need to enjoy those around you each day, because you can’t be sure how long each relationship is going to last. I could have easily (much more conveniently, too) travelled to the huge Brixton 02, London show of this tour, but instead I chose to travel North to Manchester to spend that time with friends further away from home that I just don’t see enough.

The show was bittersweet of course, a celebration of a life that created a body of work, who wasn’t able to hear it’s huge success, but it was fantastic. We had a few too many drinks, something I will take the blame for, as we tried to recreate Slam Dunk ’15 as Stick To Your Guns opened up the show with a fairly hard hitting set, a band I always enjoy live. Bury Tomorrow arrived on stage and left room for a breather and a beer before Architects made their way on to finish the show, a grim mix of Jäger and Rum carried us through and prepped us for what was about to unfold. Architects played great as expected and the set felt well balanced between the last few albums. Cries, chants and screams for Tom could be heard throughout the night and Sam Carter’s voice reflected the collective sadness as it broke whilst talking about and appreciating his friend in front of the room. The band made it clear that this was a celebration of life, and a thank you to everyone that continued to support their band which has been met by hurdle after hurdle. Well worth the trip.

A favourite from the Northern quarter.

As planned on Sunday, although not surprisingly later than intended, we made our way into the city to search out the Northern quarter. On our way in we stopped by the Museum Of Science and Industry and spent an hour and a half or so checking out the mechanical creations that sit proudly within an old converted railway station. The museum claims to hold over 250 years worth of innovation within its walls, and you’ll find areas based around transport, tech, textiles, air and space that celebrate the best and most interesting or important creations in these industries. The old music gear, record players, radios and mixers were a highlight, but you’ll also find old gaming systems, steam trains, cameras, the first (huge) computer, materials, ancient mill equipment, airplanes, and all kinds of odd vehicles, alongside so much more. There was even a building that’s main attraction was low ceiling beams, literally a 30 metre warehouse celebrating a low ceilings/ making tall people uncomfortable, what’s not to like. Also worth noting, this place actually has a gift shop where you can actually buy legit interesting gifts, just a thought.

We found the Northern Quarter but struggled to find decent food, we settled on a tasty Jamaican kitchen and made our way back to a street market that we had just passed by before. There were all sorts of great bits here like clothing, prints, art pieces, plants, and food, but from what I can remember all we actually bought were raw vegan cake slices off two really attractive women. After the market we set out to just wander the area and came across record shops, vintage clothes shops, quite a few real nice street art spots, and then probably the most captivating mall I’ve ever visited. It all started with a sarcastic look into the Cyberdog store, but instead of leaving left, we followed right around and upstairs and literally fell into the 2000’s all over again. What we had came across is what I began referring to as the ’emo mall’, but have since found out is actually called Afflecks. It’s home to floor after floor of alternative stores selling a real eclectic mix of everything ‘alternative’. It’s a bit of a maze and is quite a journey, as you walk by cereal shops, old style poster and pin shops, art spaces, figure shops, music shops, fancy dress, american candy stores, streetwear brands, TV memorabilia, jewelry, retro clothing, vegan cosmetics etc. etc. I think we spent about another hour at least in here and it’s no doubt my biggest recommendation from the entire city, although sadly there’s no way my written words could convey it’s true magic. We bought into the marketing of some absolutely toxic looking fruit/ fizzy drinks (with a stunning 75 grams of sugar in each if I remember right), and then returned to the real world outside and found ourselves a decent central looking place to take a rest and reflect what had just happened, while consuming sweet, sweet liquid calories. Here we realised how ridiculous it was to be drinking these concoctions, while watching some minor drug deals and low level (probably gang related) conflicts go down.

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A cereal store in the emo mall.

I made my way back to Brighton that evening and concluded my Northern tour, it was so nice to explore cities so close to home that I’d never experienced before, and definitely something I plan to do much more often. I haven’t got any travel plans for the next month except to return to Cornwall for Christmas, and then following that I’ll be flying out to Austria to spend New Year’s snowboarding, probably the most overdue trip of my life, bring it. I realise this post may come across as some kind of ‘Dear Diary’, but I’m still exploring styles of writing and really enjoyed reflecting throughout this one.

If you made it all the way, thank you. If not, you’ll never know about all this, and I’ll consider it a nostalgic gift to my future self. Until next time.

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Another angle of the header photo, industrial Sheffield, around the Kelham Island district.

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