As we emerge from our cocoons post-Lockdown, like imagines stretching our wings, where might we be headed? If it is a UK city break that you are considering, two of our regular contributors make compelling cases for their hometowns.
Regular contributor Jay Rafferty makes the case for his hometown, Armagh
Welcome to Armagh, the littlest city in Ireland, home of saints and scholars with not a bookshop in sight! The Northern Irish tourist board proclaims that this wee stubborn place is in the footsteps of giants and this is very true, provided the giant is named “Buckfast.” The City of Armagh has an over-abundance of four things: Cathedrals, chippies, pubs and taxi ranks (often frequented by patrons in that order). The orchard county has been the birthplace to a range of celebrities throughout the years including the emigrated poet Paul Muldoon, the Merlin actor Colin Morgan and the Unionist bulwark Ian Paisley Senior. That’s right! From BBC’s D-list actors to political heavy-weights. We’ve got them all here in Armagh. Well we did, but they all left.
Why not take in the rich culture of the city? Take a stroll along the handful of Georgian houses which are world famous for having appeared in the 2015 ITV drama The Frankenstein Chronicles. Remember that show? We sure don’t. Or how about a visit to the Naven Centre, the seat of power in Ulster for the ancient Irish Celts. Explore the hill where the fort once stood. You heard me right: A hill! What a fun day out for all the family. Go hunting for the unmarked grave of the last High King of Ireland Brian Boru, buried somewhere near the Church of Ireland Cathedral, we’re pretty sure. Or why not take a leisurely walk along the famous Mall, a once flooded racecourse turned grassy knoll, turned cricket pitch and war memorial between the disused courthouse and crumbling goal, right in the middle of the city. You’ll see a whole host of Armagh’s characters, from family’s walking their pets, to local sportspeople jogging, to teenagers leaving their Dominoes refuse lying in the grass like they’ll sprout pizza trees. Just remember, Armagh was built on seven hills so if you aren’t used to sharp inclines, god help you.
In the evening, feel free to frequent one of our many, many, many, many drinking establishments where can be found a host of local musical talent that only sing covers. Ever heard ABBA’s Dancing Queen screamed by a crowded pub of thirty-somethings on a Thursday night? Well, now you can! Have a pint in Ogle Street at 8pm and finish off the night with a shot of sambuca and a Chinese takeout on Railway Street at 2 am. Don’t forget there’s always The Bunker, the only nightclub (DISCLAIMER: The Bunker is only open on St Stephen’s Day).
From cultural and religious pursuits to outdoor leisure to thinly veiled sectarian divisions, there’s something in Armagh for everyone!
While another regular contributor, Maddy Templeman writes a love letter to her beloved Liverpool without one mention of the ‘B’ word.
Liverpool is a city with three Graces, two cathedrals, two football teams, one naked statue and lots of history. It is a unique and beautiful place, the people are genuinely warm and friendly and there are some great places to visit. I am a scouser, born just down the road from Aintree Racecourse, the home of the Grand National. Although there are lots of obvious places to see, I like to take visitors to some of the spots they may not have heard about.
One of my favourite places is Speke Hall, a Tudor mansion ran by the National Trust. It’s a beautiful example of a half-timbered building complete with a priest hole and resident ghost or two. The inside has been wonderfully preserved with treats such as original William Morris wallpaper. You can also meet the Childe of Hale, a giant said to be over nine feet tall; his painting is in the great hall and you can visit his grave in the nearby village of Hale. It is such a strange sensation to be walking around a house that is five centuries old with the sound of aeroplanes taking off at Liverpool John Lennon’s Airport which is almost next door!
The city centre itself has some lovely architecture such as the three Graces, the Town Hall, India Buildings and the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. The latter has a Grade II listed men’s toilet, the only ones in the country, which has to be seen and admired.
For a random day trip don’t miss the Williamson Tunnels, a set of tunnels running underneath Edge Hill. They were reputedly built by unemployed people after the Napoleonic war to give them an honest day’s work. The reclusive Mole of Liverpool, Joseph Williamson, paid for their building in the early nineteenth century but they were never used for anything. It is an interesting place to see and fascinating to see the various artifacts that have been unearthed.
Calderstones Park in the South of the city is a lovely green space comprising of botanical gardens, a lake and ancient megaliths which are reputedly older than Stonehenge. It is also home to the Allerton Oak or Law Oak; formerly used as an outdoor court who would sit under its branches 1000 years ago. It is a gnarled, twisted, atmospheric old tree with hollow bits and poles holding it up.
For shoppers there are obvious places to visit but there are many independent shops dotted around the place particularly on Bold Street. For food, find a local café or pub serving scouse, the traditional dish of the city, a meat and vegetable stew served with red cabbage or beetroot and a crusty roll. It is typically made to use up all of the leftovers and left cooking for hours; it’s delicious.
I love to travel, but when I start seeing red brick terraced houses and purple wheelie bins, and smell cream crackers from the Jacob’s factory, I can’t help but feel glad to be home.