Hayley Flynn is a multi-award winning tour guide, researcher & place writer. Join Hayley on one of her Skyliner Tours in learning about the creation of the Northern Quarter as we know it today.

My Manchester is one of alleyways and backsides; peering into the unknown and looking for ghosts. I particularly love the edge lands of a city, the spaces where the natural world reclaims former industrial sites such as the concrete island of Pomona, a former botanical garden and palace, replaced by dirty dock lands, and now in a transitional phase once more - having established itself as the urban wilds where birds of prey squat on lamp posts whilst bee orchids spurt from the cracks in stone, it's now being developed upon and residential towers replace much of the scrubland. After Pomona the Ship Canal becomes the River Irwell and the city opens up before it. If industrial design is your thing then pop into In Situ, an architectural salvage warehouse in an unlikely setting which sells some of the best interior design treasures in the city.

Along the east arm of the city, roughly following the path of the River Irwell is what I think of as the backside of Manchester. Geographically its the physical edge: the river serving as the boundary marker between Manchester and Salford, but more politically it’s where the industrial city turned its back to its crimes: where it dumped waste upon waste until the river was unlovable. The legacy of that is its impenetrability; the Victorian buildings rearing up on Deansgate are designed to hide any trace of a river. Weaving across the Irwell will lead you to Chapel Street, a street that flickers with hope, and ponders the possibility of one day inheriting the Northern Quarter's cool crown, it's a viable option at least. Visit of an evening and be sure to check out a gig at live venue and art studios: Islington Mill. 

On the Manchester side I like to follow a narrow sort of meander parallel with Deansgate. Cheek by jowl with Spinningfields, the newly opened Manchester House, and The Lowry lies an unassuming part of the city that I'm drawn to. There's the square with no name and its very Berlin sort of civic ordinariness, the Victorian backstreets that branch away from this like unkempt roots (where you can dance late into the night at Liars' Club), the Butter Lane street sign mounted on a wall coincidentally painted the colour of butter, alleyways that deviate from the rigid ruler line of Deansgate (a true Roman road in that respect) and strangely alluring yet brutal concrete walkways in the sky connecting car parks with department stores (and beneath them disused tunnels). It's not exactly a secret but it feels like this side of the city is hurried past. The route I take brings me to Parsonage Gardens where white-hot Arkwright House and Kendals abut the majestic National Building. There are traces of a lost city here: the bottom half of an emerald green centuries-old lamp post hewed to the wall around the garden, and a rare pathway to the river that has no through route - a strange dead end with a great view of Blackfriars Bridge. Cut away from the gardens through a passageway besides the Wetherspoons to see its huge stained glass window then cross over Deansgate and into the Barton Arcade. The first (and only remaining) steel and glass arcade in the city now houses Lunya and Pot Kettle Black (hit the former for a chunk of Murcia Al Vino cheese from the deli, and the latter for a chat and a coffee). 

Heading over to the Northern Quarter now. On High Street a row of ornate fishermen sculptures cast their nets above the gates to a former fish market, this street carries on past the cat cafe and you hit Porter + Cole, a serene little coffee shop and store with two resident dogs, well worth stopping in for a cake if the bustle of neighbouring food hall Mackie Mayor is too much. 

It hasn't even opened yet but Trove in Ancoats will become a new haunt of mine (having taken two buses to get to their original cafe in Levenshulme many a time), and many new bar and restaurant openings on the cards for this year suggests this will become a real hot spot for dining. Make sure to look out for the Ancoats Peeps whilst you're there - peep holes into former industrial buildings by artist Dan Dubowitz. 

Behind a seldom opened door on Edge Street a tiled staircase leads up to Majolica Works pottery studio, faced with the kiln and the intimate workshop it feels like trespassing but look around - there’s some beautiful pottery for sale.  From time to time when the sun shines one of the owners has been known to take his piano down the stairs and play it out on the pavement whilst milkshake-sipping patrons in the window of Home Sweet Home look on. The studio is a vital landmark in the city’s story too in that the artists are the founding members of the Northern Quarter Association who, through a series of public artworks in the 90s, in a round-about sort of way, created the Northern Quarter as we know it today - even down to its name. In recent years its hot pink exterior has become a burgeoning Instagram hotspot for tourists with a keen eye for colour.


Peel off to the left towards NOMA and around the Shudehill area for a mix of 60s architecture (the iconic CIS tower) and some old warehouses and pubs. It's just up here where you can take your picnic to Angel Meadow, a rare hill in the flat city and find yourself not too far from a great traditional pub in the Marble Arch. It's fairly isolated but it's worth the walk.

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