Hull Hits the Headlines

hull-startHull offers groups a big welcome and in preparation for its year as UK City of Culture 2017, the city is being revitalised and transformed. Brenda Watkinson discovers the choices for groups in the months ahead.

Located on the  coast in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Hull was founded on the banks of the River Humber in the 12th century. It soon established itself as a thriving port through which wool was exported to Northern Europe, and raw materials were imported from the Baltic countries. Trade declined during the 16th and 17th centuries and since then Hull has been a market town, military supply port, trading hub, fishing and whaling centre and industrial metropolis. Its rich past and many contemporary achievements led to its designation as UK City of Culture 2017, and as a result the city has been transformed thanks to the City Council’s huge investment programme aimed at improving the public realm. During 2017 there will be new public art installations – many will use the city’s impressive maritime architecture as a backdrop to add to the experience – and an innovative artistic and cultural programme of events will run throughout the year.


Exploring Hull

Hull is a great city to discover on foot with its historic Old Town, Fruit Market and shopping zones all within easy reach of each other. A guided tour is an excellent way to learn about the city’s fascinating heritage and for groups of 10 or more, there are several to choose from. In fact, Visit Hull and East Yorkshire offer six Shop Ahoy! packages, each following a standard itinerary but with options available for each element of the visit allowing GTOs to tailor the trip to their groups’ requirements. Packages include coach parking, welcome on arrival, morning coffee, a walking or coach tour with an English Heritage accredited guide, and lunch. For first time visitors, the original Shop Ahoy! package is a good choice taking in the Old Town – home to the Museums Quarter – Hull Marina, Victoria Pier, Trinity Square and many hidden alleyways and courtyards. After lunch, your members will be able to spend the afternoon at leisure exploring either Hull’s free museums in the Museums Quarter, which connects via a pedestrian bridge to the Marina and Hull’s premiere attraction, The Deep, or in the Fruit Market where galleries, restaurants and attractions can be found. For a little retail therapy, head to one of the modern shopping centres or wander through the Hepworth Arcade, a Grade II Listed covered arcade, where Messrs Marks and Spencer opened one of their first penny stores. It’s still home to local traders including the famous, 80-year old, Dinsdale’s Joke and Trick Shop.

As you tour the city, you will undoubtedly hear about William Wilberforce, an MP for Hull and Yorkshire, who was responsible for leading the fight that led to the abolition of slavery. His birthplace is now the Wilberforce House Museum and his former school, Hull Grammar School, is the Hands on History Museum. To find out more about Hull’s important son, the tour Walking with Wilberforce is also offered as a Shop Ahoy! package.
Full-day itineraries are available such as the Craft Odyssey package, which starts with a tour of the Yorkshire Brewing Company and a chance to taste some of their specialist beers. After lunch at the Mission Public House, the two-hour guided Hull Ale Trail takes in the city’s most historic and architecturally important public houses including Ye Olde White Harte, Ye Olde Black Boy and The George. It’s also worth noting that the CAMRA Real Ale Festival Hull will take place from 27th to 29th April 2017. Other full-day itineraries include Discover Larkin, Fishy Foray and Ecclesiastical Architecture.


Maritime Hull

At the heart of Hull Marina is the spectacular aquarium The Deep, which tells the amazing story of the world’s oceans through stunning marine life, interactive and audio-visual presentations, and is home to 3,500 fish including magnificent sharks and rays. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more.

Continuing on a maritime theme, the whaler’s craft of Scrimshaw is told at Hull’s Maritime Museum. The Museum is housed in the beautiful Victorian Dock Offices in Queen Victoria Square, designed by Christopher G Wray, and originally opened in 1871. The collections are divided into three main categories – whaling, fishing and the merchant trade – and concentrate on Hull’s maritime activities from the late 18th century to the present.

hull-truck-thaetreHull 2017 – UK City of Culture

Hull 2017 is a wide-ranging, multi-art form programme, which will bring 365 days of transformative arts and culture to neighbourhoods citywide. National and local artists, performers and cultural organisations will create an extraordinary variety of work aimed at all audiences whether from Yorkshire, Britain or overseas. There’s something for groups and independent visitors alike and it will re-enforce Hull’s status as a first rate destination for culture lovers and for those wanting to experience something a little bit different.

Amongst highlights is the reopening of the Ferens Gallery, one of Britain’s finest regional art galleries, and it will feature the newly renovated panel painting by Pietro Lorenzetti – Christ between Saints Paul and Peter. Located in the heart of the city centre, the gallery’s forthcoming shows will include five of Francis Bacon’s Screaming Popes series as well as the Turner Prize.

The 2017 line-up of classical and popular music at Hull City Hall and at the refurbished Middleton Hall, part of Hull University, will suit a range of tastes. The Hallé, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic Orchestras will all perform in the city and Opera North will premiere a new commission – and musical installation – that turns the iconic Humber Bridge into a piece of music.

Theatre lovers will be able to enjoy new work at Hull Truck Theatre, including the world premiere of The Hypocrite by award-winning Hull born playwright, Richard Bean (of One Man, Two Guvnors fame), which is a co-commission with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a new production of Richard III.

The 2017 artistic programme is entitled ‘A City for all Seasons’ and has four phases, each with something distinctive and intriguing to say about Hull and its place in the world. The year-long celebration of history, connections, culture and diversity will conclude with a view of Hull’s future as a ‘city reborn’ in the Northern Powerhouse. The first season, ‘Made in Hull’, runs from January to March, and will welcome the world to the city with the aim of shaking up people’s preconceptions.Curated by award-winning documentary film maker Sean McAllister, it will see artists using large scale projection on buildings, illuminated skylines, soundscapes, shop windows and live performance to mark the last 70 years of the city.

hull-cocThis will be followed by ‘Roots & Routes’ (April to June), which will explore Hull’s unique place in a constantly changing world. The summer season ‘Freedom’ (July to September) is an excuse to rip up the rule book, allowing people to create, debate, reflect and re-imagine on their own terms, while ‘Tell the World’ (October to December) looks to the future.

Christmas market News



Manchester’s Albert Square transformed into a winter wonderland.


CELEBRATING its 15th anniversary this year, the Manchester Christmas Market will once again see the streets and squares of the city adorned with beautifully festooned wooden chalets, creating a magical festive scene.

The main site will be in front of the town hall, in Albert Square, with the market then weaving across the city via St Ann’s Square at the heart of Manchester’s shopping district, where groups will find the original German market from Frankfurt that started it all back in 1998.

The market concludes in Exchange Square, near Manchester Cathedral. With over 200 stalls stocked with all manner of unique gift ideas, the market will provide a one-stop-shop for all festive needs.

Fabulous food and drink is also on offer, from traditional European Christmas market flavours of Glühwein and bratwurst to top quality cuisine from Italy, France, Hungary and Spain.

The Manchester Christmas Market will take place from 15th November to 22nd December 2013 at various locations throughout the city centre.

Visit Manchester can provide help to GTOs organising a visit.

For further information telephone 0871 222 8223



BATH Tourism Plus has announced that this year’s Christmas Market will take place from 28th November to 15th December.

Set in the picturesque streets and squares surrounding Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, the market will include over 150 beautifully decorated stalls selling high quality festive wares, as well as seasonal food and gentle entertainment.

GTOs who plan to take their group to the market by coach are required to register with Bath & North East Somerset Council.

For further information telephone 01225 322431



Gloucester’s impressive, historic docks and Gloucester Quays Outlet will act as the magnificent backdrop for a very Victorian Christmas experience from 21st to 24th November.

A Victorian character near the carousel.

Visitors will be able to browse more than 130 decorated stalls selling artisan crafts, fine food and drink and unique Christmas gifts, while a huge cast of larger than life Victorian characters, including street urchins, flower sellers, a little match girl and Fagin-style gang masters wander among the crowds.

Other entertainments will include brass bands, choirs, street entertainers and a beautiful traditional carousel.

A range of benefits are available to groups who book in advance, including a meet and greet service and Gloucester Quays ‘Book of Treats’, which has discounts for various stores and attractions around the docks.


For further information telephone 01452 338933




PROMISING a strong continental flavour, Carlisle Christmas Market in Cumbria will be set in pedestrianised area in the heart of the the city centre, around the sparkling 10-metre Christmas tree and near a traditional nativity scene.

The event will include around 50 stalls and visitors will be able to sample culinary delights including traditional food from as far away as the Seychelles alongside local produce and a large range of hand crafted goods and gifts.

The market will run over five days between 4th and 8th December, and during the weekend it will include stalls from Made in Cumbria traders, showcasing goods epitomising the region’s traditional quality crafts. Each day will see different Made in Cumbria traders.

For further information telephone 01228 625600



Founded in 2006, the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is recognised as one of the best in Europe, renowned for its unique location, high quality exhibitors and bustling atmosphere.

Inspired by traditional German Christmas markets, it showcases Christmas gifts, decorations and festive foods in pretty wooden chalets situated in the cathedral’s historic Inner Close, surrounding a large open-air ice rink.

The exhibitors have been hand-picked for their interesting, high quality and unique products many of which can’t be bought on the high street.

GTOs visiting the Christmas Market are asked to contact the Cathedral’s Group Visits Coordinator on 01962 857 225.

Those who wish to organise a tour of the cathedral itself, to coincide with their visit to the market, can make use of the attraction’s ‘meet and greet’ service, and refreshments for groups can also be organised in advance.

The 2013 Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market will be open From 21st November to 22nd December 2013.

For further information telephone 01962 848 556


News in brief

Bury St Edmunds

Between 29th November and 1st December, the Angel Hill area of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, will host over 300 stalls from all over the world, alongside two stages of entertainment, a traditional funfair and many free activities. Groups visiting on Friday and Saturday will also be able to sample Bury St Edmunds provisions market on the Buttermarket and Cornhill while, this year, the date also coincides with the Cathedral’s Christmas Fair and the Medieval Fayre in Moyse’s Hall Museum. Free coach drop off points will be available for groups on all three days.

For further information telephone 01284 764 667



Set in quaint, narrow streets, Durham City’s Traditional Christmas Festival will offer traditional entertainment throughout the city centre from 6th to 8th December. On all three days, the Craft and Gift Marquee on Durham University’s Palace Green will house 190 stalls selling a wide range of Christmas gifts by local independent retailers, and the Regional Food Producers Market including 30 further stalls, will also run in Durham Cathedral Cloisters on the Friday and Saturday. Free coach parking and a free meet and greet service is available for all pre-booked coach groups.

For further information telephone 0191 301 8531



Following last year’s successful event, Brixham’s 2013 Christmas Market will once again be held in the Scala Hall of Brixham Town Hall, South Devon, on 23rd and 24th November. There will be stalls filled with children’s books, handmade wooden artefacts, jewellery, beauty products, handmade bags and gifts as well as homemade cakes and preserves. On the second day the market will expand into Fore Street. The market is conveniently situated for groups, with nearby coach drop off points.

For further information telephone 01803 296296



Brilliant Birmingham


A diverse industrial and commecial heritage, makes Britain’s second city a rich place to visit.


LEFT Victoria Square is at the heart of the city centre
RIGHT Birmingham Art Gallery Wash-Ka-Mon-Ya Fast Dancer
© The Smithsonias


Abundant attractions and sparkling entertainment make Birmingham a gem of a destination for groups, Val Baynton finds out more on a recent trip.

I was a student living in Birmingham for around four years, and, naturally, I have a great affection for the city, but it was great to have the chance to return to appraise its offer as a destination for groups. My initial impression was how easy it was to travel around the centre, with attractions all well signposted, and once the development work on New Street Railway Station, the Metro and city bus interchange is completed, (all due by 2015) access both into and around the centre will be further improved. There are a number of coach drop off points and a map showing coach parking is available online, see details below.

Birmingham’s evolution into one of the premier cities within the UK is the result of its leading role in the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century Birmingham was a ‘city of one thousand trades’ and was ‘deemed the workshop of the world’, and so it is fitting that groups, when visiting today, can explore aspects of this past – from the businesses themselves to the housing and social conditions of factory workers, and from the art and culture that industrialists invested in, to the canal network that wraps around the city.


The Jewellery Quarter

This part of Birmingham has been home to jewellers as well as allied crafts and trades since the 17th century when local artisans began to fulfil King Charles II’s and aristocracy’s demands for fancy buttons and shoe buckles. Making these ornaments from steel, silver and burnished gold inlaid with coloured glass and gems, the craftsmen also began to make ‘Brummagen toys’, (small decorative objects) and jewellery. During the 18th century development continued; famous industrialist, scientist, inventor and Lunar Society founder, Matthew Boulton, campaigned for the city to have its own Assay Office, and this opened in 1773 adopting an anchor for the its hallmark, which ever since has denoted Birmingham made products. The following centuries saw the jewellery trade expand, and other industries especially pen nib making, coffin furniture manufacture, watch, gun, lock and silver making all become established in this unique area. Many of these skills can now be discovered by groups on a visit to the quarter, which is centred on the Chamberlain Clock , built to honour the former mayor of Birmingham, Joseph Chamberlain.

Museum of the Jewellery Quarter.

The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is the perfect way to start this experience with displays about gems and where they come from as well as a tour around the former Smith & Pepper factory that is little changed since the beginning of last century. The guides – many of whom are practising jewellers –offer an insight into how the factory would have worked. Groups of 10 or more should book in advance and larger parties will be split into groups of 15 to ease access around the site. There is a special discounted rate, coaches can park nearby for free, (first come first served on the day) and GTOs are welcome to visit in advance free of charge. If you wish to travel by rail, the area has its own station – the Jewellery Quarter – with links north and south. Heritage walks around the quarter and workshops run throughout the year.

Groups can also visit the Assay Office, J W Evans Silver Factory, now run by English Heritage, and The Pen Museum. From the summer of 2014, the Coffin Works will open. This will allow groups to tour the former Newman Brothers coffin fitting factory, another step back in time giving a glimpse into a business that supplied fittings for coffins for the likes of the Chamberlains, Winston Churchill and Diana Princess of Wales. Tours must be pre-booked at all venues. Walking distance between the furthest apart of these attractions is around 10 minutes, but, with plenty of eateries in the area and many enticing jewellery shops to explore, there’s much to keep your group occupied throughout the day.


Celebrate Birmingham’s culture, history and art


In the city centre of the city, groups can explore the imposing Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which offers free entry except for exhibitions in the Gas Hall. The collections of metalwork, textiles, and ceramics formed from the late 1860s onwards with the aim of inspiring Birmingham’s craftspeople and industrialists. It also has the world’s largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, a striking collection of stained glass windows, and is one of the permanent venues for the Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard, which is undergoing extensive conservation at the museum. Tours available to groups include ‘Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Makers: Birmingham Trades in the 18th century’, the ‘Pre-Raphaelites’, and tours of the museum collection stores There’s a maximum of 25 people per guide, although two parties can tour at the same time. Upcoming exhibitions include ‘George Catlin: American Indian Portraits’, a National Portrait Gallery exhibition running from 12th July to 3rd October and ‘Photorealism: 50 years of hyper realistic painting’ running from 30th November to 30th March 2014.


Year round shopping

The German Christamas Market
takes place each year in the city centre.



There’s much retail therapy to enjoy in this city too, from the famous Bullring shopping centre to the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market that is the highlight of the festive calendar. With around 200 stalls, selling gifts, jewellery, decorations, handmade toys as well as delicious delicacies, this is one the UK’s largest German Christmas Markets. This year’s market takes place daily from 15th November to 22nd December. What makes the market so attractive is its small village feel, yet it’s within the heart of the bustling city centre in Victoria Square. Visitors can enjoy German specialities such as beer, Glühwein (mulled wine), traditional sausages, meats, sweets and marzipans. Live music every lunchtime and evening adds to the seasonal feel.




Birmingham’s Little Treasure


Having looked at and understood the history of some of the many objects made within the city, why not take your group to discover the cramped housing conditions in which many workers lived by visiting the Birmingham Back to Backs. This complex of 11 houses with outbuildings arranged around a central courtyard is typical of the back to back terraced housing dating from the early 19th century, and is the only example of its type remaining in Birmingham. The Back to Backs have been restored and renovated by the National Trust, and they reveal a lifestyle that’s in great contrast to the grand country houses and stately homes the Trust is more usually associated with. In the 1831 census, 60 residents lived in the 11 houses and there were three outside privies for them to share. Three of the houses have been restored to show conditions, furnishings and decorations typical of the 1840s, 1870s and 1930s, and, to bring each era to life, the story of a family who lived there during each of these decades is vividly told by the guides who lead tour parties around the buildings. The buildings were declared unfit for domestic habitation in 1966, but businesses continued to be based there until 2002, and a tailor’s shop, along with the story of its owner – one of the last businesses to close – also forms part of the tour.


A view of Hurst Street and Inge Street, enclosing Court 15 of the
Birmingham Back to Backs. © National Trust Images/Robert Morris


The Back to Backs can only be visited as part of a guided tour, and because of the room sizes and narrow and steep stairways, numbers in each tour party are restricted to eight. However, tours depart every 15 minutes and there’s plenty in the vicinity to keep your group occupied – including a small museum telling the fascinating history of the wallpaper found on the walls of the houses as they were restored, as well as numerous cafes and restaurants nearby for a drink or snack whilst you wait for your tour time. Disabled visitors can tour the ground floors of the Back to Backs and there is a special audio visual room with films to show the upper storeys and exhibits in each house. Coach drop off points are close by and there are discounted rates for groups, plus one free place in every 10 – outside of National Trust membership. For rail travellers the Back to Backs is ¼ mile away from New Street Station.


Canal Heritage

Canal Trips offer an insight to hidden BIrmingham.



One part of Birmingham that has been developed in recent years is Brindleyplace. Now a vibrant area with a wide choice of restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world, it’s also the place to board a traditional canal barge and explore some of the eight miles of canals, dating back to 1769, that wind their way through the centre of Birmingham and out into the countryside. Away2Canal’s trips, for example, use heated boats with pre-bookable catering and on-board toilets.  An informative commentary whilst you sail along, ensures your group will find out more about the hidden waterways of Birmingham.





Extended stays and evening stays


Find out about chocolate
at Cadbury’s World.

There’s lots more reasons to extend your stay in  Birmingham as within a 20 minute coach journey there are a host of other attractions from the sweet temptations of Cadbury’s World and the tranquil haven of Birmingham Botanical Gardens at Winterbourne House to museums such as the Jacobean mansion of Aston Hall, the Barber Institute of Fine Art at the University of Birmingham, the Warwickshire Cricket Museum, Sarehole Mill – an old working watermill with links to famous author, JRR Tolkien – and Matthew Boulton’s former home, Soho House, which contains important collections of ormolu, silver and furniture.  Thinktank at Millennium Point is Birmingham’s science museum, where visitors can discover the city’s rich tradition in technology and science through iconic exhibits such as The Smethwick Engine – the world’s oldest working steam engine dating back to 1778. Regular exhibitions and hands on activities make this a good destination for groups of all ages.

If you are looking for an evening visit then your group can sample some of Birmingham’s spectacular night life. As well as the acclaimed, and recently renovated, 2,000 seat Birmingham Hippodrome, home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet and hosting the best West End shows, there’s the Edwardian New Alexandra Theatre, which welcomes many of the UK’s top touring companies. Meanwhile, Birmingham Repertory Theatre celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and is due to return to its base in Centenary Square following refurbishment of its building as part of the Birmingham central library development. Opening the debut season in the renovated theatre, will be the National Theatre’s production of Alan Bennett’s play People, which will run from 3rd to 21st September and a varied programme follows on for the remainder of the season. Birminghams’ theatres offer a range of group discounts and special offers including dining options and meet the cast and backstage tours. The city’s Symphony Hall is regarded as the finest concert hall in Europe and its resident orchestra, the CBSO, performs regularly. The Town Hall also has an extensive music and recital programme and its historic 6,000 pipe organ is impressive to hear, while there’s a varied programme of events and shows at  the National Indoor Arena. If movies are more your group’s style then the Electric Cinema, the oldest working cinema in the UK, could be the place to while away the night hours. You can even chose to watch films from a luxury sofa where you can order refreshments by waiter service by text, so you don’t have to miss any part of the show. And, if you want an overnight stay, then Birmingham has a wide choice of hotels from budget options to boutique, luxury accommodation.


Further Information
To find out more and for help with itinerary planning,
opening times, which do vary for attractions throughout
the year, coach parking and booking tickets.
Telephone 0844 888 38­­83