Ice Climbing in the Heart of Manchester

Don’t worry, climate change hasn’t caused a new ice age in the North of England – not yet anyway!

Ellis Brigham on Deansgate have a refrigerated indoor ice wall and I thought I’d give it a try, so I booked a one hour ‘learn ice climbing’ session.

Imagine if the freezer compartment of your fridge was 20 feet tall and you had to climb to the top to get the oven chips down, well that was what this was like.  It is kind of strange though to be ice climbing with various shoppers stopping to watch you through the windows next to the stairwell.  This is how Clare managed to take the photos by the way, and also explains why some of them have a reflection of the shoe department in them.

The first challenge is getting into all the kit.  Extra thick socks, stiff B3 boots, C3 crampons, over-trousers, anorak, harness, helmet with visor and mountain gloves.  With all those layers on, it was quite a relief to sign the disclaimer and step through the thick fridge door into the minus 10 degree chill of the climbing wall.

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My instructor was Bikky, a real Nepalise mountain guide, whose normal working environment is the high ranges of the Himalaya.  I dare say cajoling a middle-aged mancunian up the inside of a two-storey fridge wasn’t quite as challenging as summiting Mount Everest but it certainly didn’t show as he was cheerful, encouraging and very knowledgable.

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We started with the flat wall where Bikky taught me the correct technique, which we developed further as moved onto the gulley section and then finally onto protruding ridge section.

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At this point I was starting to tire and my forearms were burning as I struggled to grip onto the pickaxes and balance on the narrow section of wall.  You have to twist your feet inward as you kick into the ice or else your feet just ricochet off.  I climbed this section twice and both times I lost balance and came off, but luckily Bikky held firm as I managed to traverse back to where I came off and on to the top.

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Another issue as the hour progressed was the helmet’s plastic visor  that protects your eyes from fragments of ice.   As I huffed and puffed my way up the climbs, mine started to mist up.  Back on ground level I tried to wipe the condensation off with my glove but it wouldn’t go.  Bikky laughed and explained that it had frozen, so I was climbing with a frosted glass windscreen – obviously the reason I fell off twice and nothing at all to do with my clumsy balance issues!

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Staggering back out, I was stopped by a small girl who had been watching and wanted to tell me that I’d done very well, so I’d impressed at least one person – which was nice.

Overall, an exhilarating experience which I heartily recommend and may well do again soon.  And it is kind of cool to be able to say I was taught how to ice climb by an actual himalayan mountain guide from Nepal – many thanks Bikky.

All I need now is for that ice age to get organised so I can move on to the bigger stuff.



Lightning Raid on Beeston Castle

Finally, the rain and storms ceased for a day, the sun came out and people all over England stopped bailing out their living rooms and filing animals into their arks, and looked for some way to enjoy the rare sunshine.

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We, however were feeling a bit worn out so we didn’t think of something to do until the last minute.  After completing a few jobs we had the idea to visit Beeston Castle in Cheshire.

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Beeston Castle is the remains of a 13th Century castle up on a hill overlooking the Cheshire plains.  We got there at 3.15pm to be told that it was closing at 4pm.

So, in the same way Oliver Cromwell’s roundhead troops did in the 17th Century, we bought our admission tickets in the gift shop and ran up the hill, through the gates and into the castle, firing in all directions (only with a camera, not a musket obviously).

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There’s not much left of the old castle, now as Oliver Cromwell ordered most it to be demolished so it couldn’t be used as a stronghold in the future, but it still is atmospheric and the views over the Cheshire plain are excellent.

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After a quick tour of the ruins we retreated back to the gift shop where we bought the traditional English Heritage  crisps, white chocolate and bottle of mead before heading home.  Here’s some a selection of photos.

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Manchester Pub Crawl

Let me just start by saying, I’m not much of a drinker.

I know one or two of my previous posts have included pubs, so I don’t want you to get the wrong idea that I’m some kind of alcoholic. Yes, I’ve had a few dodgy nights over the years, but as I get older I’m definitely getting more boring when it comes to recreational alcohol poisoning.

The idea behind this little adventure is, for my friend Mark and myself, to try and explore  few of the best craft pubs in Manchester – according to the Guardian newspaper.  I think these have been chosen due to the range of local beers and real ales rather than decor, facilities or the whims of fashion, etc.  There’s ten pubs on the list but we decided to limit ourselves to six for safety’s sake.  We also decided to start at 4pm and try to be finished by 7.30pm so we didn’t get caught up with the Saturday night clubbers.

Meeting Mark at Piccadilly Gardens we braved the icy winds and made our way to pub No 1 – the Molly House in the heart of Manchester’s gay village.

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Nice pub though a little short on seating.  One pint each and we met a nice couple from Levenshulme who wished us luck on our intrepid quest and took our picture while we were still fairly sensible.

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Onto pub No 2 – the Grey Horse on Portland Street, passing a poor woman having a seizure on Chorlton Street while being attended to by an ambulance crew.  Different feel here, a bit cramped as there were a few City supporters warming up before the match, but the landlady Jackie was very welcoming and helpful giving us directions to the rest of the pubs while she held the front door open to let out some of the heat.  Not as trendy as the Molly House, but it had very genuine feel to it as a real Mancunian pub.

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Pub No 3 – City Arms.  Managed to get a table in the corner, which was lucky, considering how busy it was.  People were friendly and seemed interested in our adventure.  Mark and I felt it was important to supplement the beer intake with some balanced nutrition at this point to aid our endurance (athlete tip there), so two large bags of crisps were included at this point.

Now we had a bit of a walk across Manchester to get to pub No 4 – the Marble Arch, but that was probably a good idea at this point .

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This was probably my favourite pub of the night.  Bit of a struggle to get a seat, but lots of loud coughing seems to help clear people away.  This pub has it’s own micro-brewery so it offers it’s own range of award-winning beers.  Ended up with a lovely couple from Huddersfield, on a day out in Manchester, and another young couple  up from Birmingham with their own list of pubs to complete.

Cheeseboard and a chat, boosted our morale as we set off for pub No 5 – The Fringe Bar.

Very different mood in the Fringe Bar as it was very busy but we could only see about three women so there was a lot of testosterone in the air.  What there wasn’t much of though was hair.  Mark and myself were probably the only blokes that weren’t bald/shaven-headed in there – made us feel positively foppish!

Got talking to a couple of red-faced people next to us who were drinking bright orange cider which they told us was 12% alcohol.  They advised us to avoid the Northern Quarter as it was very expensive, but that was where we were headed for pub No 6 – The Port Street Beer House.

The Northern Quarter of Manchester is renown for being the trendy, fashionable end of the city, with more of a cafe society and the Port Street Beer House fits right in.  The clientele were noticeably younger and cooler, and the range of beers was so large they had a beer menu.  Luckily the bar staff were more than happy to advise you based on your taste and preferences.  I ended up with a strong dark beer with a chocolate/chilli flavour, very nice but I wouldn’t want more than one.

We managed to squeeze into a booth where we were quickly joined by a young couple from Salford University and a group of middle-aged people who had a tray of smaller glasses of beer which turned out to be a taster selection – something we’ll have to try another time.  Great conversation and lovely people.  The young couple came to Manchester as students and are now living the Manchester dream with a city centre apartment and the all the bars and restaurants of the Northern Quarter right on their doorstep.

Officially, that was the tour done, but Mark wanted to show me one more place – the Soup Kitchen.

Walking past the bouncer through a little doorway we entered, what looked like a large student cafeteria.  Long benches fill the room with a bar at one end and a kitchen adjacent.  They offer a wide range of soups and beers and we went for both, but after six pints, I’d reached my limit and left most of my drink to concentrate on the lovely tomato soup in front of me.

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The Soup Kitchen is a bit quirky but had a nice feel to it and I’d definitely visit it again.

Walking back into the cold night air we walked back to Piccadilly and off back home.

We finished at about 9pm, so we’d blown our time limit, but it was a great afternoon/evening out.  We saw a fresh perspective on Manchester and met a lot of interesting people.  It does raise the question, though about the last four pubs on the list – it’d be a shame not to leave the list unfinished wouldn’t it?

Here’s the route we followed:



This is from my filmmaking blog, Shining Tor, but I think it qualifies as another little adventure.

Shining Tor

Learning about lighting and camerawork has reignited my interest in photography lately and I’ve grown especially interested in portraiture. If you’re interested there’s a free offer at the end of this post by the way.

It sounds pretty easy doesn’t it, stick someone in front of a camera, say cheese (cheese works, I have a hideous school photo where the photographer got me to say sausages!) and hit the button? Well the short answer is yes, if all you want is a snap or memento of a someone. We all do that from time to time.

The challenge is trying to capture the essence of a person and express something artistically at the same time (does that sound a bit pretentious?), and that’s what I’m trying to learn at the moment. I hope the more I develop in my photography the better the cinematography in my videos will…

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Blackstone Edge

With half the country under water and biblical levels of rain and gales coming our way we decided it was a good day to go for a hike in the hills north of Manchester.

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Blackstone Edge is part of the Pennine Way and can be found just off the M62 near Rochdale.  It’s a beautiful, if somewhat bleak, spot.  A dark gritstone cliff looking down over the motorway and Hollingworth Lake.

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I’ve walked up here before and carried on to the old roman road (as opposed to all the new roman roads!) and round back towards Saddleworth Moor to make a great circular moorland walk, but with gales forecast for 3pm we decided to just sprint to the trig point and and back again.

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My wife Clare is a runner, and as such she doesn’t really get the idea of sticking together in case something happens, so when I stopped to take pictures, Clare just walked off into the distance.  It’s always interesting for me to see just how far she can get before she realises she’s on her own.  I’ve often wondered if something did happen to me if she’d bother to come back at all?  Days could pass before Clare would start to think, “wait a minute, where’s Chris?”

What’s slightly more disturbing is the realisation that her highly developed survival instinct doesn’t apply to our two dogs.  If they wandered away from her she notice in a heartbeat, and would do everything she could to make sure they were okay.  This gives you some indication of the family hierarchy and where I am in it.  I suppose I should just count myself lucky I’m allowed to sleep indoors.

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Once at the trig point, we noticed a dark cloud, and what looked like rain, coming straight for us, we were also passed by a lone fell runner sprinting in the opposite direction (never a good sign) so we packed away the camera and set off back to the car.

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Just as we’d predicted the rain and howling wind hit us a few minutes later but we’d wrapped up in the right gear and managed to fight our way back without much fuss.

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Here’s a few more photos of the hike.

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Deer Stalking at Dunham Massey

Brief respite in the terrible weather meant a quick trip to Dunham Massey near Altrincham, for a bit of photography.

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Dunham Massey is a National Trust deer park so it’s good to get a few wildlife shots of something bigger than a squirrel.

Getting there though, we found that everyone else in the area had the same idea, so the place was heaving with noisy families trudging through the mud.  Not exactly the peaceful country estate I was hoping for.  

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I think that as I get older, in some ways, I’m becoming more and more anti-social, craving solitude and peace and quiet over crowds and excitement.  Is this an age thing or am I just a grumpy old sod? – I’ll let you be the judge.

We’re lucky enough to have a few stately mansions near us and I often wonder what the original owners would make of the hordes of ‘ordinary‘ people wandering around the grounds, eating ice creams and filing through their bedrooms and bathrooms pointing at all their personal artefacts.  You’ve only got to imagine a coach load of modern tourists stumbling into the world of Downton Abbey to see how much has changed.

Nowadays the stables have been converted into a cafe and gift shop, and instead of shooting the deer with rifles we now shoot them with telephoto lenses.  As much as I can appreciate the progress, there is a small part of me that yearns for the romanticism of the old world – not that someone with my background would ever make it into the big house as a guest.  The nearest I could probably have hoped for would be as a valet or under-butler (whatever that was?) or something.

Anyway, after a lovely walk through the estate we finally found the deer, relaxing in the woodlands, enjoying the sunshine and ignoring the procession of brightly coloured people pointing cameras at them as though they’d just discovered a new species – me included!

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You do see some funny things though, like the guy who walked past all the ‘Deer Sanctuary – Keep Out!‘ signs only to be surprised when all the deer ran away when he got a bit too close.  And then even more surprised to be glared at by all the people who had been photographing them from the right side of the signs and were now miles away from the fleeing deer.

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Here’s a few pictures from the trip:

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Mr Thomas’s Chop House

Social adventure this time.  Lady Hughes and myself ventured out into the bright lights of Manchester City Centre with friends Andy and Jacqueline (apologies for the quality of the pictures – taken on my phone).

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Going out for a grown-up night out still seems like a treat to us as we had our children when we were fairly young, and for many years the only restaurants we went to were the ones where they give you crayons on the way in, and a good table was the one near the ball-pit.

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So we went out to a favourite of ours, Mr Thomas’s Chop House on Cross Street.  This Victorian pub/restaurant has a great atmosphere and the food and service are great.  The glazed tile décor is a remnant of the industrial revolution where glazed tiles were used to combat the grime from the factory smoke permeating the brickwork – very clean today though, thankfully.

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Highlights of the food included ham hock terrine with treacle pickled egg (I know, treacle pickled egg! but honestly it was great – in a weird way), black pudding with scallops and the best corned beef hash you’ve ever tasted.  Manchester tart and 20 year old tawny port to finish.

Walking out into a windy, winter night in Manchester, surprised to see the Town Hall lit up  in red to commemorate Chinese New Year, then back to the car and back home for a cup of tea – great night, great company and not a crayon or bouncy castle in sight.

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Chris Hughes