Tuesday, May 25, 2010


My arrival in Manchester promised so much. The city was beautiful, the hotel in the heart of Manchester was lively with a nice indoor bar and a view overlooking a tiny market square, and the weather was gorgeous. Checked in on a Saturday evening, the city seemed to have a vibrant nightlife. The next morning I walked around the centre of the city and headed to Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United and the Imperial War Museum. The guided tour took me through the ground, the changing rooms and to the trophy room. It’s here I found out how important this great club is to UK, and indeed, world football. The stadium was impressively modern, which they keep expanding to a capacity, which is just shy of 76,000 now for a match. To go behind the scenes at Old Trafford, as this tour does, is a treat and is like being part of the club. By the way, I also got to sit in Beckham’s corner of the change room, where he used to sit.

The guides have a good sense of humour, though if you don’t like football, some of the jokes and history might go over your head.

This is a region that greatly rewards the visitor who grabs a map, not that you can ever really get lost in the ordered grid of roads here. So as hunger pangs struck, I caught a ride from Piccadilly to Bury. From Bury I stepped onboard the East Lancashire Railway for a journey back in time until the town of Ramsbottom (where my lunch reservation was).

This line, operated usually by volunteers, runs through the Irwell Valley along the edge of the West Pennine Moors to the town of Rawtenstall, and is so very Harry Potterish, more so with the Thomas and Friends engines and open cars for the special kiddies’ trains.

It was soon time to get off my steam engine journey and a short walk later I reached Ramsons Restaurant Lancashire, a small, intimate and very personable restaurant serving a modern British menu. I’d say it was a fantastic experience, decor was interesting and service very attentive without being intrusive, including the legendary owner Chris Johnston himself, who was very helpful. The wine list is exceptional and Chris’ knowledge is phenomenal.

Chris selects all the wine himself and is probably the only importer in the UK of his wines. The cooking is probably even better with a real flair for quality and precision. My scallops were excellent and the venison was succulent.

After wandering around in the local market, my last stop at Ramsbottom was at the chocolate café owned by baker and entrepreneur Paul Morris, and his wife Emma. On offer was a wide range of local and luxury European produce with a warm Lancashire welcome.

I ordered myself a real hot chocolate which was decadent to the core and a happy me caught the steam engine train back to town.

Published in The Asian Age on 23-05-2010