Part seven of Confidentials' tour around the urban environs of Greater Manchester
When someone says “Trafford”, the most common word associations are “Old-” and “-Centre”, but there’s much more to the area than the famous sports grounds and shopping mall. It was the symbolic birthplace of the NHS, launched in 1947 at what is now Trafford General Hospital, and the Manchester Ship Canal, which boosted the city’s import/export trade and catalysed the growth of the Manchester we know today.
A weekend spent in and around Trafford Park – the world’s first industrial estate – is a package deal of leisure and history. Take afternoon tea in Urmston and raise a cup to Brooke Bond, the Manchester-born tea company that brought us the nation’s favourite brew (PG Tips, which is still produced at Trafford Park). Marvel at the feat of Victorian engineering that is the Barton Swing Aqueduct, the world’s first and only rotating bridge which has carried the Bridgewater Canal over the bigger Manchester Ship Canal since 1893. Build a Model T car out of bricks at Legoland in homage to Ford, who opened their first base outside North America here (and later produced aero-engines here during the WW2 war effort).
In summary, enjoy everything that modern-day Trafford has to offer while remembering its fascinating past.
FRIDAY NIGHT: Dinner and drinks in Urmston
Urmston has attracted attention for its burgeoning restaurant scene, which offers food from around the globe; there’s Indian (Adrak, Deccan), Italian (The Italian Job, Mamma Maria’s), Turkish (Istanbul Grill) and Greek (Santorini), to name a few popular places.
But you can’t beat a classic steak dinner and for that, you go to the Station Bar and Grill. If you can get there before 6pm you can enjoy a rump steak as part of a stupidly good value set menu, but the à la carte offers a greater choice of cuts – all from sustainable British heritage breeds, aged on the bone for 28 days and cooked to perfection.
Follow your meal with a beer at The Assembly next door or The Barking Dog around the corner (you could also walk across the road for a glass of wine at Kelder or past the station to The Three Barrels). The listed Steamhouse pub on the station platform and Prairie Schooner Taphouse on Flixton Road are also well worth a visit.
SATURDAY: Shopping and strolling in Urmston and Davyhulme
Start with breakfast at Kin Bakehouse & Kitchen, a Northern Quarter-style café whose delicious food (especially the banana bread with “the works”) comes with decidedly un-NQ prices, then browse Urmston’s independent shops for everything from clothes and accessories (Fred’s and Bang Tidy Lifestyle Lounge) to books and rare albums (Urmston Bookshop and Music for the Soul). If you’re shopping for someone else, you’ll find a range of gifts at Rose and Bumble and Power of Karma, and you can furnish your home with unique finds from Rif Raf and your cupboards with treats from Craft Brewtique.
Although the Eden Square development offers the convenience of supermarkets and discount stores, Urmston Market Hall is still the locals’ favourite place to pick up produce. The small indoor market has a butcher, grocer and sweet shop, but it’s soon to be redeveloped into an indoor/outdoor artisan affair akin to Altrincham Market, so enjoy the traditional experience while you can.
Get a takeaway lunch from Feed and head to Davyhulme Millennium Nature Reserve via Abbotsfield Park, where a little-known band called The Beatles were booked to play the 1963 Urmston Show; by the time it came around The Beatles were so big that they had to be smuggled in and screaming girls stormed the stage. Parents of little train-lovers might like to know that the park has a miniature railway, which offers rides on Sundays.
On a brisk autumn afternoon, Davyhulme Millennium Nature Reserve is a great spot to wander along the western bank of the Manchester Ship Canal and watch wetland and woodland birds. It’s a Site of Biological Importance but it’s perhaps more notable for being one of the few bits of land in this area not owned by The Peel Group (the developers behind the Trafford Centre).
Back in Urmston, enjoy afternoon tea at Scrumptious Tea Room (the clue’s in the name) or, if dainty sandwiches aren’t your style, head to Get Chucked, which has been called one of Manchester’s best burger joints.
SUNDAY: The “People’s Palace”
The ostentatious design of the Trafford Centre is one of many reasons to visit this so-called “people’s palace”; where else could you stroll along Italian marble walkways to a domed atrium based on St Paul’s Cathedral, stand under the world’s largest chandelier on a staircase inspired by the Titanic, and see a plethora of frescoes, fountains and statues? Many of the design features have local meaning and there’s local history here too, if you know where to look.
A plaque in the corridor between H&M and Boots recognises Trafford Park as the location of the first Ford Motor Company base outside North America, and if you look up from the same spot you’ll see a painting of the area. A statue by the Odeon escalators shows the founder of the Brooke Bond tea company toasting its first shop, which opened in Manchester in 1869. And there’s a sculpture of the Trafford Crest, featuring a man holding a bolt of lightning shaped like the Roman numeral X (representing the 10 communities within the borough), above the Great Hall entrance.
Have lunch in Europe’s largest food court, The Orient, which resembles a 1930s steam ship (a nod to the Manchester Ship Canal) with two decks and a pool you can’t swim in under a “sky” that changes with the time of day. The lower deck is mainly fast food but there are restaurants upstairs on the replica streets of America, Italy, Egypt and China – ostensibly the ship’s destinations.
As you wander, look out for novelties including a vintage Mercedes (a touching plaque reveals it was owned by the mother of the centre’s founder), a time capsule buried by the main lifts, and giant angel wings painted by world-renowned street artist Kelsey Montague outside Nando’s (Taylor Swift famously posed with the New York version).
If you’ve any time/energy/money left, you could also visit Legoland, the Sea Life Centre, the Odeon IMAX VR Experience, Paradise Island Adventure Golf, Laser Quest and The Rock, Trafford Treetop Adventures, Namco Funscape, Trafford Golf Centre, Chill Factore, iFLY Indoor Skydiving… there are enough attractions here to fill a week, not just an afternoon.
Getting there: Urmston has a train station and several bus routes to the Trafford Centre, which is well-served by buses from the city centre too. A new Metrolink line extension is currently underway to bring trams to the Trafford Centre by 2020.