31 May 2012
The Flame and its Torch Bearers have travelled an incredible distance in the past few weeks, crossing the South West, Wales and much of the West Midlands – though it still has a long way to travel. The next few days of the Torch Relay show the degree of determination and organisation needed to carry out the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay, as it travels across four very distinct regions of the UK. We will be helping you deal with the culture-shock of crossing numerous borders and island-hopping by giving you a taste of the best sights and sounds that these different regions have to offer.
We start on Day 13 with more familiar territory if you read our previous blog post . We are in the heartland of goods manufacturing in the West Midlands, with many towns and museums preserving crafts that are vital to the area’s past and present identity. As well as the Wedgwood Museum, another museum that tells the story of Stoke on Trent’s key role in designing and manufacturing ceramics is the Gladstone Pottery Museum, where you can take part in daily workshops to make your own pots in the large kilns used by the Victorians.
As we continue our north-bound journey we come across towns and cities that established links with countries from around the world through the goods they made and traded. For example, Macclesfield is home to the Silk Heritage Museum, which charts how the city’s industry once thrived on the silk that was imported from China. The long journey from China to Britain made by the precious silk is a reminder of how global links have shaped the UK – a poignant thought in the build up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, when the world will be welcomed to our tiny island, and one that underpins our Walk the World project. You can learn about the silk’s journey at the museum and have a go at weaving and designing your own silk pyjamas.
For something completely different whilst in this part of the North West, you can venture into the great outdoors at the Anderton Nature Park, an area of reclaimed woodlands near Knutsford. You can enjoy spotting wild species of plants on the Wildflower Trail, artworks near the paths, and even search out a unique feature of the Park: its Boat Lift. This contraption was used to transport boats between waterways at two different levels and therefore allowed goods and materials to travel to Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent and the ports of the River Mersey. It now stands as a reminder of the canal and waterways network that helped this area prosper during the Industrial Revolution. The Torch will head further north for the rest of the day, taking in the industrial heritage towns of Wigan and Hindley (amongst many others), until it ends up in Bolton for the evening celebrations.
As the Olympic Torch makes an early start at Bolton Town Hall, it only seems right to pay a visit to the Spirit of Sport – the largest public artwork in the UK. With its golden appearance and its surface etched with the images of sporting heroes, this artwork is sure to get you into the Olympic spirit. It not only celebrates the stamina and achievements of all sportsmen and women, such as the world-class athletes that we’ll be watching this summer, but it could also pay tribute to the 8,000 Torchbearers who are making the Torch Relay happen and acting on the sporting values that the sculpture represents.
Carrying on the theme of inspiring sculptures, one of the stops along the Torch Relay route later in the day is Crosby Beach, where the cast iron figures of Anthony Gormley’s Another Place stand and stare out to sea. The beach is the perfect spot for a seaside stroll or to meditate on the horizon, like the Gormley sculptures. Make sure to make a visit to the beach at low tide – not just for your safety, but also to be able to see the figures, which appear and disappear depending on the ebbing flow of the tides.
The coastal journey continues as the Flame travels to Liverpool, a city famed for its maritime heritage and as a gateway to the north of England for travellers throughout the centuries. One of immigrant communities that has made Liverpool their home is the city’s Chinese residents. A strong symbol of their presence in city life is the Chinese Arch on Nelson Street, which is the largest imperial arch outside of China. It consists of 5 roofs and 200 dragons, making it an auspicious and impressive structure worthy of the Chinese New Year celebrations and parades that take place every year in this part of the city. You can discover more about the Chinese Arch and Liverpool’s other global links on one of our Walk the World walks, developed in partnership with the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
Day 15 signals the Torch’s first adventure off the mainland, heading from Liverpool to the Isle of Man. Situated in the middle of the Irish Sea, between the coasts of Northern Ireland and North West England, it has always been known as a hardy island, with a proud cultural heritage and identity, making this a fascinating place to visit. The island has a wealth of heritage sites to suit all interests, from prehistoric burial sites to Victorian architecture, as well as a variety of landscapes, from beaches to glens. To get a taste of this island of contrasts, why not take a journey on one of its historic and quirky transport networks. The Torch itself will travel around the island on a TT motorbike sidecar, a horse tram and the Manx Electric Railway. We suggest boarding the Isle of Man Steam Railway from Douglas to Port Erin to experience both a key part of Manx Victorian heritage and to explore the south of the island.
The last stop of the day for the Torch (and one of the stops on the Steam Railway) is Castletown, which has its own medieval castle keeping watch over the bay, Castle Rushen. The castle has its origins in the Norse period and its limestone walls used to dominate the southern part of the island, a reminder to the local population of the power of the Kings and Lords of Mann who developed it from the 13th to the 16th century.
The Torch Relay makes its second sea crossing on Day 16 and picks up its journey in the capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast. The city has had a turbulent past, particularly during the so-called ‘Troubles’, but is now a vibrant and stylish place to visit. Belfast has a fascinating ancient history worth discovering, such as its Bronze Age origins that can be uncovered at the 5,000 year-old Giant’s Ring near the city. One of star attractions within the city itself is St George’s Market, which is not only a lovely example of Victorian architecture, but also hosts a fabulous market every Friday and Saturday, with many traders coming from the surrounding area to sell everything from scrumptious baked goods to mouth-watering Lebanese snacks (hungry yet?).
A more sombre destination for visitors to the city is the new Titanic Belfast museum (where the Torch will be paying a visit) and the SS Nomadic, the tender vessel which carried passengers to and from the RMS Titanic (built in Belfast in1909–11), and which is being restored in Hamilton Dock (hard hat tours may be available). In the year that many people will be commemorating 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic, with a special exhibition space newly opened at Titanic Belfast, it is a particularly apt time to learn more about these vessels and the tragic journeys associated with them.
No trip to Northern Ireland would be complete without a trip into the countryside or along the coast. As the Torch heads north, a good stop on the coastline is the Chaine Memorial Tower, which stands on the western side of Larne Lough at the entrance to Larne Harbour. Once a lighthouse that stood watch over this part of the coast, it is now an attractive landmark that sticks out into the still waters of the Lough.
We hope you have a lovely weekend of discovery in either the West Midlands, North West England, the Isle of Man or Northern Ireland. We’ll back on Monday with more recommendations for places to visit in Northern Ireland and Dublin.
Post by Susannah, Discovering Places team.
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