Revisit Manchester’s waterfront

Jay Fagan visits Salford Quays for a family holiday with a difference

WHEN I suggest that anyone reading City A.M. might care to forgo the charms of every other destination within a three hour radius and visit a re-claimed docklands on the borders of Manchester; well, bear with me…

Spectacular architecture, large open spaces, boat rides, waterfront bars, clubs and restaurants plus a huge variety of entertainment; the list of things to do in Salford add up to a beguiling cocktail – albeit one probably better enjoyed in the summer. I’m not certain how tough it is up north but it sure can be cold.

Britain’s second Square Mile has been re-vitalised by the mini-Canary Wharf that is Media City and the arrival of both the BBC and Granada Television (plus attendant creative, media and production companies). What was once a dreary area of second rate restaurants, an outlet mall and a few blocks of flats, all clustered around the former terminus of the Manchester Ship Canal, has been transformed by the invasion of BBC execs more naturally at home in north London than north England.

To see what’s in store for the relocated TV-folk I jumped on a Virgin express to Manchester and found that smart cafés, restaurants and even pop-up bars abound. It’s not exactly the Mediterranean and the cold breeze coming off the Ship Canal does limit al-fresco café society, but there is a real buzz and it is a genuine alternative to more traditional venues for a weekend break.

So far, so unlikely, I admit. It’s not a location I’d choose for a quiet weekend with a good book and a glass of wine. But for an activity break for all the family it takes some beating.

If you like museums, the Imperial War Museum North, in its spectacular silver-burnished skin, is a must. It was designed by Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind, many of whose relatives died in the Holocaust. The three “shards” that make up the building represent fragments of the world destroyed in conflict.

The Lowry arts space, also housed in a spectacular, futuristic building, has two theatres and a gallery inevitably devoted to the largest collection of the works of local boy LS Lowry, of “matchstick men” fame.

Bored with culture? Pop over to Manchester United’s Old Trafford Museum and Tour. This is a must-visit for every football fan in the same way no trip to Madrid is complete without going to the Bernabeu. The “other Old-Trafford” – now, confusingly, called “the other Emirates” – is the home of Lancashire Cricket Club and is also based here. Try to bag a room overlooking the ground at The Lodge to watch the cricket in your very own hospitality suite.

Thrill-seekers can learn to wakeboard on the North’s first Urban Wake Park, where people of all ages skim across the water at up to 22mph, propelled by an overhead wire pulley, feet enclosed in the equivalent of a snowboard. For more gentle souls there are sculling, windsurfing or sailing lessons at the Salford Watersports Centre.

If that all sounds a bit too energetic, sit back on a Manchester Cruises boat for a trip along the historic canals. One of the earliest cradles of the industrial revolution, this area became the workshop of the world, building machinery that transformed the empire into the greatest ever seen.

Fans of BBC shows such as Dragon’s Den, Match of the Day, CBBC or Blue Peter should head to Media City for the BBC Studios Tour. Booking in advance is essential to guarantee a place. You can also join the audience at all manner of shows including The Voice.

It’s no secret that many BBC staff members were appalled at the idea of taking little Tarquin and Daisy-Mae out of their Home Counties schools and setting off up the M6. Apparently there are a lot of empty nest flats at weekends but according to other residents, the invaders are becoming reconciled to their ever-evolving surroundings.

There’s a home-from-home at private members club On the 7th – a not too subtle pastiche of a well-known private members club in a house in Soho. I got in by claiming a friend of a friend had told me about it, so I think anyone with a degree of cheek would be able to do the same.

Come night time, visit one of several recently opened eating spots – notably local restaurateur Steve Pilling’s Damson, perched above the central piazza. If that’s not enough it’s just a £6 cab fare into Manchester centre, which has a bigger choice of bars, restaurants and night spots than anywhere outside London. Despite the area’s culinary enthusiasm and obvious wealth there is not a single Michelin-star in the whole place but maybe that reflects a down to earth Northern approach to fine rather than fussy eating.

I stayed at the four star Copthorne Hotel. My room overlooking the docks was comfortable and they do a super champagne afternoon “tea”, which is more my style than traditional “tea”.

All in all, the Quays at Salford is a surprise package unlike anywhere else in the UK. Our industrial heritage is everywhere – not obliterated as it has been in London’s Docklands. There is a lot to do and it’s a terrific location for families.

You might have to work a bit harder to discover the nuggets – but they’re there and it’s unlikely any visitors who throw themselves into the activities will consider themselves short-changed; particularly when they look in their wallets on the way home and find far more left than if they’d gone on a more traditional city break.

IN THE KNOW
■ Salford Quays is a tourist destination one square mile around the waterfront (thequays.org.uk)
■ Attractions include museums, sporting venues, theatres, cinemas, and galleries housed in award winning architecture
■ The area is peppered with bars and restaurants
■ Visitors can play, watch and take part in twelve different sports in the area
■ Discount shopping and water cruises are available in this historic area close to Manchester city centre
■ Travel by mainline train to Piccadilly Railway station
■ Travel by metro to Salford Quays from across Manchester.

We stayed at The Copthorne Hotel, where prices start from £79 for a B&B with two people sharing (millenniumhotels.co.uk/copthornemanchester); dined at Damson (mediacity.damsonrestaurant.co.uk/); and enjoyed visits to IWM North (iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-north), The Lowry Theatre (thelowry.com) and The Lowry Outlet (www.lowryoutlet.co.uk). We also took a boat cruise with Manchester Cruises (manchestercruises.com).

The cost for two adults for a weekend is approximately £250.