A day in…Hull

By | Category: Travel destinations

Distinctive Hull Telephone Kiosks

If you travel into Hull by train, you’ll see one of the engineering feats of the twentieth century, the Humber Bridge which this year is 30 years old. For the last few miles you’ll follow the River Humber and then just before Hessle you’ll go under the bridge. Between the train and the mudflats or the water is a path which seems to stretch for miles. Even when the train goes a little inland, the Humber still seems a wide expanse of water reminding you of how important the Humber and the North Sea beyond has been in the development of Hull or Kingston upon Hull as it should properly be called.

At the station which is light, airy and big, they practise integrated transport so a large canopied bus and coach station is adjacent. You don’t even have to brave the elements to get from one to the other. And if you want to explore the city and the surrounding area by bus, a day ticket will cost you £2.90. (as at November 2011) If you prefer your own power then there are a number of bicycles that can be hired to take you around the 84 miles of cycleways that have been set up around the city.

But whether you arrive in Hull by train, bus or car, it is probably not the impact of the sea that first hits you. It’s the shopping. 50 odd feet from the station and the buses is the first of the shopping centres, St Stephens. Opposite is the Prospect one. And this is before you get into the city centre as a whole for there is another one there, even bigger, the Princes Quay. Linking them is a pedestrianised shopping area. And this is all before you get to Trinity Market, the indoor one that sells meat, veg and, yes you’ve guessed it – fish. Just as a shopping destination, Hull would be on most people’s lists to visit. There are 13 car parks in the inner city part plus park-and-rides outside the city so parking shouldn’t be any problem. The inner area seemed pretty quiet apart from the large number of buses bring or taking shoppers away.

The Sea is Never Far Away

To the left of Trinity Market and up the street a way is a Parish church. The difference is that this one is huge. Holy Trinity dominates the square that it is in despite the fact there are a number of buildings of interest as well as the square itself. A striking white building is Trinity House which reminds you of the impact of the sea on the city. Opposite is the old Hull Grammar School which dates back to the sixteenth century and which today houses the Hands on History Museum, a place where the recent history is made to come alive. And that includes WWII which saw Hull become the second most bombed city in the UK after London. Why? The feeling is that it was due to the importance of the docks to our economic survival. Some of that is listed on a piece of public sculpture which looks like the peel of an apple hanging down cylindrically. In brushed metal, punched out of it are events in Hull’s past. One is that the poet Andrew Marvell was a son of Hull. And outside Holy Trinity is a statue of him. Another local was the anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce and his house can be visited in Hull as well.

But as Hull is so connected with the sea, stop at Queen Victoria Square, an open area surrounded on three sides with typical Victorian buildings each proclaiming that solid, over-the-top architecture that we associate with them and when Hull might have been at its most influential. For Hull had the largest whaling fleet in the country; its fishermen brought back so much of the country’s food and it was one of the largest ports for exporting our goods. And this can be seen in one of those buildings, the Maritime Museum. Incidentally, museums in Hull – all eight of them – are free. This museum which is in the old dock offices has sections on whaling and fishing as well as the all-important safety aspect; that of the lightships that used to make life a little bit less hard for those who went to sea. There are some intriguing things there like a wooden dog that was the figurehead of a sailing ship. As was a heavily painted figure of Benjamin Disraeli. Or the model ship carved by an Anglo-German who was arrested as a spy by the Germans three years before the beginning of WWI and stayed in prison until after it had ended. How wealthy and important the industry was can be seen by just gazing at the ornate ceiling on the top floor where currently there is an exhibition honouring Poles who served in WWII.

The Newfoundland Dog Figurehead from the "Sirius"

While I was looking around, I talked to the guide about the importance of the Poles during the war, a role that is sometimes underestimated. He was a volunteer. He was unemployed but rather than do nothing he volunteered not only at the Maritime Museum but the Art Gallery and the Hands on History Museum. He also knew a lot about what to see and where to go in the town as I found when I walked on. He is exactly the sort of person one would pay for a guided tour of the city. If the tourist board is listening… He didn’t wear a name badge but he knows who he is.
Also in the square are the Ferens Art Gallery which houses a very wide ranging collection of art and is one of the best regional galleries in England and the City Hall from which the Christmas lights will be turned on next week.

For other maritime matters you can either go the Marina and see the Spurn Lightship or go up the High Street to see the Arctic Corsair, a trawler that was rammed by an Icelandic gunboat during the Cod War of the 1970’s. But that’s not all either. Walk down Posterngate and look at the pavement you’re walking on. Every so often you’ll see a brick with an embossed fish on it. In Hull, you can’t get away from the sea!

But Hull is also known for entertainment largely though two things, the annual month long comedy festival and the Hull Truck Company and John Godber. Continuing a long British tradition in farce, most of Godber’s comedies have been premiered at the Hull Truck Theatre next to St Stephens. And the theatre company has toured throughout our countries in both Godber plays and others. For younger visitors, The Deep, the huge aquarium in the city and the Dinosaur Experience are probably more up their street. But for each of these there is an entrance charge.

Prince Street

But, apart from the museums, you don’t need to pay to see some of the best sites. Take the terrece of Georgian houses in Prince Street and the Queen’s Gardens for instance. If you get through all of that in one day, you’ll be doing well. Or you’ll have missed a lot. And I haven’t even mentioned the mummys (not on show now) in the Hands on History Hull Museum one of which belonged to the Victorian coal magnate, Sir George Elliot who acquired it when he was in Egypt and which was supposed to have inspired Bram Stoker to write The Jewel of Seven Stars. Or the fact that Hull makes a good base for venturing into the Yorkshire Wolds. So forget just a day in Hull. Take a few.

For more on Hull click here


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