Like so many of us, Paul Grogan spends most of his time at home these days.
With three kids being home-schooled by his wife Marian, they have had to get better at multitasking – sharing the chores whilst running two businesses.
On this particularly wintry January afternoon in Radcliffe, Paul’s got the phone in one hand and cutlery in the other, making his youngest son’s lunch as he talks.
“Working from home with three kids here… there’s always a lot going on as you can imagine,” he chuckles.
For a man who’s spent a huge chunk of his life exploring the outdoors taking photos, the past year has been quite the adjustment for Paul.
The pandemic has domesticated even the biggest nomads – but it’s been particularly challenging for photographers who ordinarily rely on the freedom to roam in return for a paycheque.
“[COVID] has impacted everything quite significantly for me,” Paul tells us.
“I’m quite fortunate in that I own a branding and web design agency, so I have income from there. But I know a lot of photographers who have really struggled.”
“Ever since the tiers were brought in, we haven’t been able to leave our boroughs.
“I know it’s technically work, but I still shouldn’t be going from Manchester to the Lake District just to take some photographs, should I?
“We need to stay local.”
Due to the ongoing national lockdown; Paul is confined to his market town in Bury for the foreseeable future.
For a photographer, there are much worse places to be, of course.
“There’s plenty of really cool buildings knocking about in Radcliffe,” Paul says.
“It’s a place that’s stuck in time a bit.
“It doesn’t have the clamour of Prestwich and Whitefield. That will change eventually, I think, but for the time being we’ve still got these interesting 70s and 80s vibes that make it quite an interesting looking place… especially when the light catches it just right.”
Paul has grabbed some snaps of his local town and the surrounding greenery on his weekend lockdown walks, but many of his most famous images were captured pre-COVID nine miles south in the rainy metropolis of skyscrapers and lights.
For the past twenty years, Paul’s been taking the kind of landscape photos of Manchester city centre that strike a chord with locals and out-of-towners alike – selling hundreds to people right around the world.
Paul’s prints have been sent to addresses in the States, Canada, Australia, States, Spain, Norway and Germany; and copies of his hugely-successful Made of Manchester Photobook were even purchased by airline Virgin Atlantic for passengers taking flights to Manchester.
It’s the kind of track record that puts Paul among the top local photographers of current times.
But his biggest project is only just getting started.
Paul has been given the great responsibility of producing a Manchester edition for Fotovue – one of the most popular, widely-published city and country guidebooks available.
“The book will include lots of things for people to look out for in Manchester,” Paul explains.
“It’s a proper guidebook.
“The whole thing will be done over a longer period of two or three years and it’ll involve going to certain spots at certain times; for example Salford Quays at sunrise or Ancoats in the evening when the sun is coming down the streets.”
Paul refers to these types of areas as ‘Honeypot locations’ – places where there are lots of opportunities for good photos, or ‘more honey for the bees’.
It’s a fitting statement to describe Manchester. Worker bees are a symbol of unity in adversity here; with Mancs prideful hanging images of the yellow and black insects up in their homes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Paul’s most popular photos is a shot of a bee statue taken from the Town Hall.
“I’d been attending a wedding as a guest, and thought ‘oh, that looks nice’, shot it and carried on,” Paul says.
“I didn’t think it was particularly exciting at the time.”
But this simple shot – dipped in a honey-glazed hue – has become iconic; with copies being shipped off to all four corners of the globe.
A few years prior, Paul also saw huge demand for his bee prints in the midst of the Arena Bombing. But on this occasion he refused to take the money.
“I decided I can’t profit off this,” he stated.
“I donated all that money to the charity set up by Manchester City Council.
“It’s important to do these kinds of things.”
Paul’s career as a photographer has taken him to almost everywhere in Manchester; up to the roof of Piccadilly Tower; into the city’s nooks and crannies; and even onto book pages alongside the Tony Walsh poem ‘This is the Place’.
But when it comes to defining what makes Manchester quite so photogenic, Paul doesn’t think there’s any single right answer.
“Manchester’s definitely got something special… but there’s so much about it,” he says, racking his brains.
“We’re the first industrial city. We invented the global economy. A lot has changed here since the late eighties early 90s with the music which obviously started it all. But it’s retained a lot of its decrepit, decaying stuff, too.
“If you go to Spinningfields at the right time of day you can pick out the juxtaposition between new and old; a shiny building close to a shutter that hasn’t been open for 30 years.
“But then, there’s the industrial heritage in Ancoats, too, and the gorgeous old buildings still standing. St John St Hotel is one. And the Hatters Hotel – that’s a stunning building. In another city it would be a boutique hotel that locals couldn’t afford to use. It’s great that it’s retained a degree of its authenticity.”
Hopefully, it won’t be too long before Paul is allowed to venture back out into the city and snap more photos for the world to feast their eyes upon.
When he does, he’ll be considering the same ingredients as always: Looking; lighting; and luck.
“Getting good photos is a mix of knowing what you’re looking for and getting the right light,” Paul tells us.
“That photo caught on the corner of Deansgate – Manchester in the rain – is a perfect example of right place, right time. It’s a fantastic photograph.
“That’s the thing about Manchester. There are proper little nuggets you can find everywhere.
We tried Greater Manchester’s first eight-course pie-tasting menu and it was absolutely unreal
Every now and again the opportunity to eat something genuinely new and different and which pushes the envelope when it comes to the kind of food you ever even thought you’d enjoy — sitting down for the inaugural ‘PieSessions’ was one of those such occasions.
This month, we had the privilege of being invited along to one of the most exclusive and highly-anticipated dining events in Greater Manchester: an eight-course pie-tasting event created by pie-pros Ate Days A Week, Scotty’s Pies and a number of other collaborators.
Hosting a true first for the region, Notion Bar over in Stockport was packed out with over 50 guests who were all eagerly awaiting to taste pies from the local favourite, MasterChef contestant turned meat and pastry specialist Scott Eckersley-Bell, as well as Wigan staples Baldy’s Pies and Harwoods Patisserie.
At first glance, the popular SK Deep South-inspired dive bar might not look like the place to offer up a gourmet tasting menu, but what it did have was an accessible charm and a bunch of hungry people not only willing to keep their minds open but who simply love all things pie. Who doesn’t?
At the top of the bill was probably one of the most interesting things we’ve eaten all year: a Japanese-inspired ‘Pie-Scream’ which delivered the exact savoury spin as it promised on the tin. A malt-crust cone stuffed with smoothly pipped mash, katsu curry sauce and crispy Teriyaki bacon in place of a flake.
We believe we call that ‘making a good first impression’. From that moment on, we knew we weren’t just going to be eating any old meal and that it wasn’t just going to be plate after plate of what you normally consider a pie; everything was different and we can honestly say everything was good, if not amazing.
Next up we had probably one of our standouts from the entire night which was a garlic, ginger and soy pork mince tartlet with a perfect piece of honey-glazed pork belly next to it, as well as a light edamame and spring onion purée to balance out the strong flavours.
Following on from the opener, the pair delivered all of the tried and tested Asian flavours in a method most will have never experienced them in before and, in truth, we could have even taken some extra spice with that virtually perfect tartlet but they were careful not to thrash our palettes early doors.
Two down, six to go and when we tell you it was plate after plate of precise pie-based ingenuity, we’re not exaggerating. From the short rib slider, which was almost like an elevated Wigan kebab, to the gentler poached cod pithivier which kind of reminded us of a seafood twist on a Cornish pasty, there was a single thing we didn’t like.
The way the menu was also carefully constructed not to beat you over the head with non-stop meat, pastry and gravy but to fluctuate between smaller bites and more substantial courses was already pretty impressive, as we managed to make it to the end of the meal at the perfect level of full.
We were even pleasantly surprised to see how the team tackled the issue of pudding, with a sweet and just sharp enough take on parfait with fresh orange, stem ginger and brown sugar, as well as a much richer chocolate, salted caramel and hazelnut brownie for a big finish.
To be honest, we loved the tiny little lemon madeleines they surprised us with as an after-dinner treat even more than the desserts (the two of us in attendance are lemon fiends, to be fair) but the best course of the night has to go to the ‘Big Jim Volume 2.0’.
Speaking to Ate Days A Week Founder Andy James on our way out, you could clearly see how his passion for the concept had translated amongst his colleagues, into the excitement of the guests and then back onto him after he saw how well the whole thing went down.
There was a real buzz about the place that was nothing like we’d ever experienced before with other tasting menus and we think it’s because those in attendance had never sat down for a meal that was as experimental as this one whilst also being that accessible.
Yes, it might be a touch posher than pie, mash and gravy but it never stayed too far away from that simple British pleasure and while there were certainly a few thrills to give you that tasting menu feel, nothing felt out of place and neither did the diners.
Pulling off one of the best teas we’ve had in a long time from a tiny kitchen inside a rough-around-the-edges late-night drinking spot, we already know there will be a sequel to PieSessions not only because Andy told us so but because it was such a massive success. Count us in for the next one.
Manchester Christmas Markets 2023 — dates, locations, prices and everything you need to know
Rejoice, Manchester it’s that time again — famously the most wonderful time of year, and you know what that means: we’ll soon be filling our faces with bratwurst, cheersing steins of Bavarian beer and filling our houses with far too many festive trinkets because the Christmas Markets are back.
We’re not even tooting our own horn when we say this, it’s just a fact that the Manchester Christmas Markets are some of the best and most popular on the planet and this year we celebrate 25 years since the seasonal stalls first opened up in 0161 and started a legendary annual tradition.
It doesn’t matter how many years roll by, we still await their arrival like little kids waiting for Christmas morning and set our schedules for what time we’re going to head out on which day to cross off the must-haves on our markets checklist.
With that in mind, we thought we’d help you put together your own plan of attack this holiday season and give you all the info you need to know to make the most of the 2023 Manchester Christmas Markets. You can thank us later.
Manchester Christmas Markets 2023 mug design and price
Every year the Manchester Christmas Markets has a limited-edition mug design, and this year the collectable souvenir has taken inspiration from the Nutcracker.
There are two different sizes and 2023 designs to collect when the markets officially open next week.
When you order a hot drink at the markets you’ll be charged a £3.50 deposit for a mug (that’s up from £3 last year).
You can then return your cup when you’re finished to get your money back, or take it home as a memento.
Last year, the Manchester Christmas Markets mugs were so popular they ran out before the markets had even finished – but they’ve ordered extras this year to be on the safe side.
Travel advice and how to get to the Manchester Christmas Markets 2023
Transport for Greater Manchester has urged people to use public transport wherever possible to travel in and out of the city centre for the Manchester Christmas Markets.
That’s because of all the events running alongside the festivities, from huge football matches to gigs at the AO Arena to Black Friday sales.
The Bee Network app will help you to plan your journey and you can read all the latest travel advice here.
The best hotels to stay in for the Manchester Christmas Markets
Now, for those of you travelling into town to sample our world-famous markets — as literally thousands do every single year — you might be in need of somewhere to lay your head after a few too many steaming mugs of Glühwein.
Fortunately, since this city continues to be such a popular tourist attraction all year round, there are plenty of hotels to suit whatever your budget is.
In fact, you’re so lucky that we already put together a list of the best hotels in Manchester a little while back, so you’re welcome in advance.
And that should do you for now and your guide to the 2023 Manchester Christmas Markets — we’re sure most of you know the score by now: it’ll be a big, cold, a bit busy but utterly wonderful as it always is.
We’ve found the trick is to try out a few days during the week if you want to beat the rush and then come back at the weekend for the full-bellied crowds brimming with festive cheer.
There really is nothing like it in our opinion and we’ll be sure to keep bringing you plenty of updates on all things Christmas Markets-related going on in Manchester over the next couple of months.