Sunday 22 September 2013


After our extended trip to Headingley we headed into Leeds city centre.  We’d been here once before many moons ago, so I only had a sketchy memory of the place.

Whilst it’s only a 10 minute drive into Leeds, parking is tricky.  We spent another 10 minutes circling around the city centre looking for parking.  Eventually we found multi storey parking at the St Johns Shopping Centre.  City centre parking can be rather expensive and this place is no different.  £7.80 for three hours – I was not impressed.
It was a busy day in the city centre, especially as the football was on and Leeds were playing at home.  We really didn’t have a clue where we were going and kept getting lost.  I had to keep in the back of my mind that the St Johns Centre was up a hill.  One thing is for sure is there is plenty of shopping that can be done in this city.  There are some high end shopping opportunities at Harvey Nichols, House of Fraser and John Lewis so some serious damage could be done to your credit cards here.  Unlike Manchester, Leeds doesn’t have one big shopping centre.  There are so many little shopping centres dotted all over the place.  Intercut between all these centres are the beautiful Victorian shopping arcades with some high end shops like Vivienne Westwood and independent boutiques.  I much preferred wandering through the arcades as they were more interesting than the main shopping areas as well as being pretty.  Admitted for pure shopping experience I do prefer Manchester as the Arndale Centre has most shops under one roof, whereas in Leeds it’s very confusing with all the little shopping centres.
On our previous trip I remembered that Leeds had a Corn Exchange building on the edge of the main shopping area which had lots of independent shops.  More by luck than design we found it.  At a distance Leeds Corn Exchange looks like the entrance to a large Victorian train station.  It’s quite a vast building and on entering the place it’s rather stunning with its expansive domed ceiling.  It does put the Manchester Corn Exchange (Triangle Centre) in the shade with its magnificence.  Since our last visit the place has been spruced up and it’s quite lovely.  There are some interesting places to eat and if we hadn’t eaten already the Hot Dog café would have certainly taken our custom.

Further down the road from the Corn Exchange is Leeds City Markets.  The building is epic!  Honestly the Victorian building is vast, ornate and beautiful.  We went inside and the owners have retained much of its Victorian features and light flooded in from the glass atrium that covers it.  I have never seen an indoor market this big ever.  Unfortunately with time pressing we couldn’t fully explore it.  Whilst it did your usual stuff I did notice the odd deli, craft stall and cake place.  I like a market that can mix up the traditional and the modern.  It’s just worth visiting this place to appreciate the scale of the building.
Neil had been inspired by Headingley’s charity shops and wanted to do a full expedition of Leeds offerings.  Unfortunately, after a look on the Yell app, I had to break the news there were only four nearby.  The trouble with a lot of city centres is that there are not that many charity shops due to the high rents.  There are only two in Manchester – Oxfam Vintage and Oxfam Emporium, both on Oldham Street (cheap rents) whilst Barnardos on Deansgate (higher rents) has just closed down.  In Leeds I did like the Scope as it had a sofa I could sit on whilst Neil was browsing.  However the animal collection box outside the RSPCA looked as if it had been mugged. I do think the better charity shop pickings can be found in the suburbs of Leeds.  Next time I will find out where the classier neighbourhoods are and Google their charity shops.
Unfortunately, due to our earlier exertions in Headingley, we were knackered and all we were fit for was a coffee from Starbucks.  The branch we found was next to one of the Victorian arcades and it still retained some of its original features.   It was so nice just to rest my weary feet and watch the world go by.
There are lots of pubs in Leeds and they were full with football supporters.  It was only four in the afternoon and it was already getting a bit messy.  I reckon Leeds could be a very lively night out and definitely a little bit of research is needed for a newbie to safely navigate the pubs.
Leeds does seem to have an active music scene.  We found two independent music shops: Jumbo in St John’s shopping centre; and Crash Records on The Headrow.  However there are more record shops to be found in the city centre.  They seemed to be well stocked and did new vinyl.  It was also good to find some free music newspapers in the shops on the local music scene.  I’ve only ever been to the Leeds Festival, but I reckon it would be worth investigating the local music scene.  Manchester’s music scene can be a bit too cool for school, where there is almost a fight to watch a band from the back wall rather than the front row.  I can’t help but think as a student you would have a fab time in this city.
The one thing that struck me about Leeds was the scale of the place – it’s big in a proper city sense.  Some of the buildings reminded me of the Victorian architecture of London.  You really don’t get a full sense of this until you start walking around the city, as driving into Leeds all you see are modern office blocks and University buildings.
We were knackered from our trip to Headingley and this did temper our view of Leeds.  I would definitely come back as I think we missed quite a bit, but Neil isn’t so keen.  The charity shop situation was a little off putting for him.  Leeds does demand a level of time and energy we were unable to give it on this visit.  So here are my top five tips for anyone visiting Leeds for the first time:

1.       Go by train.
2.     Use a map.
3.       Bring a credit card.
4.        Look up at the amazing architecture.
5.     And most importantly spend a whole day there.

P.S. I've been nominated in the Blog North Awards for Best City and Neighbourhood blog.  If you like this blog and want to show your support please spare a couple of mouse clicks and vote here by the 1st October 2013:

Thursday 19 September 2013

Blog North Awards 2013

Amazingly Life in Northern Towns has been shortlisted for this year's Blog North Awards in the Best City and Neighbourhood blog category.  The Awards are part of the prestigious Manchester Literature Festival and never did I think I'd be involved in such an event. 

I've been writing this blog for four years now and it's wonderful to receive this recognition for all the writing and travelling I have done.  Special thanks goes to my partner Neil who has been both travelling companion and proof-reader for my tales of Northern Life.

I would be truly grateful if you could spare a couple of mouse clicks to vote for my blog.  Here is the link:

Thanks for all your support!

Friday 6 September 2013

Headingley, Leeds

A fact of life living in the north of England is that when rain is predicted in Manchester, then odds on the weather will be better in Yorkshire.  So we decided to test this theory once again and travel over to Leeds as it’s a place we’ve rarely explored.
As Leeds is a city we thought it would be good to check out one of the suburbs first.  After a shout out on Facebook, Headingley was the top recommendation.
So off we trotted on the M62 to Leeds.  The awful roadworks that have plagued the M62 for the past year or so have finally finished - I punched the air with excitement!  Normally at this point I would give the directions to Headingley, however truth is we got there more by luck than design.  I never use a satnav, although on this occasion I would definitely recommend using it.  Headingley really isn’t that well signposted, although we eventually picked up signs to Headingley Cricket Ground. 

Parking in Headingley is really easy – on street parking, it’s free and without time limitations.  Yay!
All we knew about Headingley prior to the trip was that it had something to do with cricket and it has a student population.  The suburb itself is rather unassuming with modest Victorian built shops, a modern parade with a high rise building and some funky looking purpose built student bars.  The trick with this place is to have a good wander and then you begin to discover the interesting things this place has to offer.
As it was the first Saturday of the football season all the pubs were packed with people watching football.  We had fancied a pub lunch, however we didn’t want to jump out of our skins each time the bar cheered.  In the end we found Brett’s Fish Restaurant.  It looked like a normal house with a long garden.  We thought there would be no one in, however we were surprised as four tables were taken already.  There were two young Japanese women paying their bill; an American father with his two children teaching them manners; an older couple having a good cup of Yorkshire tea; and couple of middle aged ladies talking about a lodger who they think has a drugs problem.  We ordered fish and chips from the young chap who seemed to be running the restaurant singlehandedly.  The restaurant was a little old school in decor with some wooden panelling and magnolia walls.  There were some photos on the wall of a couple of actors from Emmerdale, Vera Duckworth from Corrie and some theatrical lady who I recognised but could not remember the name of.  The food itself was lovely and it was the best fish I’ve had in a long time.  It definitely lived up to the sign outside proclaiming it to serve the ‘Best Fish and Chips in Leeds’.
Headlingley is jammed packed full of interesting little independent shops, cafes and restaurants.  I liked classy wool shop housed in a lovely Yorkshire stone building.  If my hand wasn’t indisposed from my mammoth knitting project earlier this year, I would have bought loads of gorgeous Yorkshire made wool here.   There were lots of lovely looking cafes here selling artisan cakes and coffees.  I liked the look of the Bowery, which also doubled as an art gallery and did art classes.  The Caliente Café had a menu that seemed rather interesting with its Mexican and American South West food and had good reviews in the window.  I would definitely try this place if I came here again.  If you are a carbs fiend, then there are two bakeries that will cater for all your needs: Costello’s and the Artisan Bakery.
The best thing about Headingley are the charity shops.  There are loads and they have some interesting stuff.  Headlingley is a student area and charity shops are always a popular haunt with students.  The Sue Ryder’s here has a vintage section upstairs.  They do seem to be the pricey for a charity shop, but definitely an interesting shop especially for a size 10 lady.  I found a stack of old magazines such as Smash Hits and The Face from the 80s.  It was nice to flick through them, but I wasn’t going to pay £3 for an a Smash Hits with Neil from the Young Ones on the cover.  Maybe if it had been The Smiths on the cover I would have picked it up.  As Headingley is a University suburb the Oxfam books was ace.  It was a double shop jammed packed full of good books.  I could have spent hours in there.  The other Oxfam had vinyl records and I left Neil in there for ages to browse through the records.  Weirdly he actually found stuff here he had donated to the Swinton branch of Oxfam.  They must move stock around to the relevant branches where they know they will have a good chance of selling it.  Samaritans had a random Japanese album that Neil picked up for a £1 on the off chance it was something interesting.

We had no expectations of Headingley and we were genuinely surprised how fab it was.  We spent way more time than we anticipated here and probably could have spent another hour browsing.  I know Neil will definitely jump at the chance at coming back here.  Maybe in a few months, when the weather is bad in Manchester, we'll make a return trip here.

P.S. My theory was proved right - the weather was better in Headingley than in rain soaked Manchester.