Having arrived back in the UK we didn’t hang around too long before going on a little trip. After all, we’re seasoned travellers now aren’t we? Off we set Up North. Well, I say ‘Up North’ but really it was Stafford with Manchester thrown in, decidedly Midlands with a touch of North. However for our sensitive Southern souls this was definitely a trip Up North.
Bright and early, first stop Stafford. Steve’s company has relocated in the time we have been in Switzerland and so this was the ideal opportunity to visit his new workplace (and for him to get some work done). The children and I left Daddy to it and set off to find the delights of Stafford for the day. Initially not a lot seemed to be going on but then we found Stafford Castle and passed a very pleasant few hours wandering around, although we were all a little disappointed that you couldn’t actually go into the ruins, I’m guessing health and safety decrees that they are too unstable for public access. However the little visitor centre was lovely and gave us the opportunity to get dressed up in the weighty Norman armour and have a go at brass rubbing. T and I thought about leaving J in the stocks for the rest of day, but took pity on his angelic little face and released him. Just a shame we didn’t have any rotten tomatoes to allow him to get a truly authentic experience.
Onwards to Victoria Park (does every town in England have a Victoria Park?) which has a fabulous playground and skate park. This proved to be a rather rude re-introduction to English youth and served as a timely reminder that Toto we are definitely not in Kansas anymore. With youths that were far too big (and definitely old enough to know better) doing their best to wreck some of the play equipment I realised exactly what we had left behind in Switzerland. We have spent the last year in a peaceful bubble. The outdoor lifestyle means that Swiss teenagers don’t have to allay their boredom in playgrounds meant for younger children; they take off to the forests, onto the lakes or up into the mountains to expend their energy. After an incident with said English youths (don’t worry it didn’t include any muggings, although it did leave me a little unsettled, wondering what kind of country we had actually come back to) we headed back to Daddy and spent the evening in high anticipation for our trip to Manchester the following day, we were going to visit the Legoland Discovery Centre, the Lowry and most exciting of all, the Blue Peter Garden.
Lego plays an important part in the Life of Ryrie and so it was only natural that a trip Up North should include calling into the Trafford Centre where the Legoland Discovery Centre (LDC) is located. We arrived to the sight of hundreds, nay thousands, of people queuing. Thankfully though it was not to gain entry to the LDC but for their chance to wow the judges on the X Factor television show. Personally I can’t think of anything worse than standing in front of a panel of judges and singing but clearly there are plenty of others who believe that this is the perfect way to spend a sunny Thursday in July. The queue at the LDC was far more reasonable and we quickly found ourselves being greeted by Professor Brick-a-Brack and introduced to a (much) smaller, softer, louder, version of Legoland Windsor. The children loved the Lego cars that they could actually drive and the flying Merlin’s Apprentice ride. Although the highlight for all of us was the 4D cinema showing a fifteen minute Lego Chima film complete with smoke, water sprays and foam. The LDC is not just a glorified soft play centre as it also provides opportunity for Lego fans of all ages to learn new building techniques from the Master Model Builders with workshops that run throughout the day. There were three school groups at the Centre on the day of our visit with ages ranging from Reception to Year Fives and each group appeared to be getting something out of their trip whether that was clambering through the Fire Academy or training to join the Ninjago Team, or constructing the tallest tower that could withstand the Earthquake table.
Exhausted from the LDC we headed over to our hotel in the Salford Quays area of Manchester. MediaCity UK is a short walk away and it was there we were headed to visit the Blue Peter Garden. As regular readers of LifeofRyrie.com will know, I love Blue Peter. The children now love Blue Peter and T has even managed to bag herself two(!) Blue Peter badges. So this trip was actually quite exciting. Blue Peter is aired live every Thursday afternoon from MediaCity UK and so we timed our visit to coincide with it on the off chance that they would be filming from outside in said garden. Sadly this was not to be the case but it did mean that we were able to explore the garden, elements of which had been relocated from London. Just to be in the place where Lindsey, Radzi and Barney have presented from was enough for us and we had a wonderful afternoon, relaxing on the lawns with the thwack of tennis balls in the background (Wimbledon was being broadcast from a huge outdoor screen) and a jug of Pimms at our feet.
The next day we decided to visit The Lowry which seems to be a cultural hub for Manchester with both performing and visual arts. The building is simply spectacular with a complex interplay of shapes, materials and colour and is worth visiting just for that alone. However, Steve and I were most keen to visit the permanent exhibition on LS Lowry which showcases a huge variety of this famous artist’s works whilst giving an insight into his life and the man that he was. It was splendid. We arrived at gallery opening time of 11am and were awed by the breadth of LS Lowry’s talent. He is most famous for his everyday, industrial ‘Up North’ scenes and so I was surprised to find a series of spectacular seascapes as part of his collection. The children amused themselves by taking up the gallery challenge of sketching their interpretation of their favourite picture and so the morning passed and it was soon time to head back South with our heads filled with the sights and sounds of Up North.