A bicycle ride, lots of butterflies and a big tick on the ‘must do’ list.

You know how you can live in a place for years and years and never visit the good stuff right on your doorstep? Well I’ve decided it’s time to tackle my ‘ooh must go there’ list, especially with autumn drawing in and weekend yomps in the Peak District suddenly look a little less appealing.

Top of that list has to be the Manchester Museum. It’s slap bang in the middle of the University campus, and in three years as an undergrad I never once managed to actually get in the place. Ah, the apathetic, lazy student… (I did pop in the cafe once though, excellent chocolate cake as I recall) I must have passed it thousands of times in journeys up and down Oxford Road on a bike or bus.

Having picked an appropriately rainy day, the bike came out and the waterproofs went on. Ironically the sun put in an appearance as soon as I left home, but it gave me a chance to get this snap of lots of brollies in trees in Whitworth Park outside the gallery. Pretty, and very Manc.

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Encouragingly, the Museum’s website suggests that the best way to get there was either by public transport or by bike, so with this vocal support for the pedal-powered visitor I rather optimistically hoped for plentiful bike racks right outside the front door…

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No? Oh well, I’ll just have to park down the street then.

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Talking of the website, it’s never going to win any awards for great design is it? Yep, that’s got ‘academic institution’ stamped all over it, I’d like to see a little bit more ‘quality day out’ please…

After a less than promising start, the museum turned out to be quite the gem.

Sprawling over three floors in one of the oldest and prettiest bits of the university campus, this is a veritable treasure trove of artefacts from around the globe, both natural and man-made. Where else could you see beautifully decorated Native American moccasins, a stuffed Emperor penguin, and a (live) green tree python within a few steps?

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a narrative from room to room, or any sense (in a way that many modern museums do) of forcing you to follow a set route around and swallow lots of ‘education’ on the way. Which I liked.

The place has a rather endearing academic air, relying heavily on lots and lots of stuffed animals in cases and  rows of archaeological specimens, which could get a bit dull eventually, but there are also some really striking, more creative displays, and a vivarium full of live beasties.

And the building itself is a great blending together of the Victorian and the modern, by turns light and airy and gloomy and mysterious.

Being half term and rainy, the place was packed with families (read – noisy, but that’s OK with me), and while the galleries themselves are perhaps not brilliant for kid-friendly hands-on displays, there’s a great play/learning area on the bright top floor, which makes a great contrast from the gloom of the lower exhibition spaces.

All in all, a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. You never know, you might uncover a lifelong passion for African beetles, or ancient Egyptian necklaces or Japanese longbows.

It was just a shame the cafe was too packed out for me to check the chocolate cake was as good as I remember 😦

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