in 2017, kingston-upon-hull succeeds derry/londonderry as the uk's city of culture. for those of you who've either never been, or have been a very looooong time ago, this will no doubt come as a surprise. for the more open-minded, or ignorant, among you, you mayyyyybe won't entirely understand what a massive honour this title bears - especially for this port city, that has absolutely had its share of drama. but, to put a bid in for - and then win, such a prestigious award, there's got to be something worth shouting about right?
right. so, aside from the roster of daily arts, music, and cultural activities happening around the city from the 1st of jan next year (full itinerary here!) - which cannot be the be-all and end-all of tourism to this water-side city, there are at least another six reasons you should definitely visit hull next year. like...
there are a bunch of notable characters known to be "from hull". among them are amy johnson - the first woman to fly solo around the world in her plane "the gipsy moth", william wilberforce - a passionate politician who helped abolish slavery in the uk, and - perhaps their most recent northern son, mick ronson, of "david bowie and the spiders from mars" fame.
but that's not all. hull was the second-most bombed uk city outside of london during the second world war, but you'll not read that anywhere except in hull. why? they never told anyone. they didn't want rubber neckers up from london to report on the damage, so they kept it to themselves and cracked on getting it fixed. and they did get it fixed, and now it's a bloody beaut. war wounds are visible on street corners and down alleyways, and it gives the "old town" an added element of charm that totally regenerated and gentrified cities lose. you know what they say about scars: they're sexy.
hull has one of the uk's first urban walking trails, as well as one of the most fun ones. the "find the fish" trail allows visitors to explore the city by following hull's unique pavement of fish; an a-z of fish images engraved into the footpaths around the old town, creating an easy-to-follow tour. the trail was opened in 1992, and each piece is a true-to-size representation of all 26+ fish; a tiny anchovy to a 10ft stingray. the creator's sense of humour shines through, when you realise the electric eel is located outside the power station, and the great white shark outside the main bank...
the second trail worth noting: the ale trail. this one will take you to some of the oldest pubs in the city, including the george - home to the smallest window in england, ye old black boy - hull's oldest pub, dating back to 1377, and ye olde white hart - hull's most historic pub, allegedly where the civil war started, following charles the first being turned away from the city by parliament at the time.
billed as the world's only submarium, the deep is a public aquarium sitting atop the meeting point of the hull and humber rivers, at the edge of the city's old town. it opened in 2002, and now contains thousands of sea creatures (including seven different kinds of sharks!), over 2.5 million litres of water, as well as the very first penguin chicks born into conservation in the uk. as a landmark centre for marine research, staff marine biologists look after the animals in the deep's collection as well as carrying out research into maintaining environment.
there's a freaken glass elevator that takes you down inside the ten bloody metre deep tank, past the sharks, rays and sawfish, down to a marine museum that spans the millennium. i mean, it's a great big bloody nightmare if you don't like being submerged (me), but when else will you get an opportunity to get up so close and personal with some of the most dangerous of sea life, outside of the open seas?
the fruit market
what once was an actual fruit market, will soon be a thriving hub of music, street arts, and local food and drink merchants, in a pedestrian-only cobbled street running through the city's old town. currently under heavy reconstruction, the fruit market still exists on a literal "market" basis, selling local produce on the street on the third sunday of every month.
next year, when the festivities start, there will be craft breweries, music venues and independent traders moving into the currently-empty buildings, massively reinvigorating the area, and bringing some colour and life back to the streets. the few traders that are currently open are already thriving - despite the constant roadworks, and i for one am excited to see it all opened next year.
the original shops
some of the shops inside the trinity and hepworth arcades date back as far as a hundred years, and their original facades aim to prove that. from spin-it records' impressive collection of "golden oldies" vinyls, to original hmv merchandise, and enough rock-and-roll memorabilia to give graceland a run for its money, to dinsdale's joke shop, that quite literally sells jokes (from almost 85 years ago, according to the shop owner!), the three-pronged arcade certainly has a few stories to tell.
the fresh food portion of the indoor market has everything one could need for a week's worth of groceries. from a fish monger to butcher, baker and even a quality chocalatier, the trinity market is the locals' first stop for quality produce in the city. and i tried the chocolate... it's extraordinary.
it's a known fact that the minute you leave london, the people become nicer, but this town is a whole 'nother level friendly. more than 2000 of the town's locals have volunteered to become hosts and guides for the festivities next year, and they're already out and about, and wearing their uniforms with pride. everywhere i went i was stopped and asked if i needed help with directions, or suggestions of where to go, and not one of those volunteers seemed put out by the sheer volume of out-of-towners who had descended on their town for the night.
in fact, it started on the way up; hull trains are regularly named as the uk's favourite service, which might have something to do with the fact they a) are always on time, and b) trained by the same people who train flight attendants. as in: perma-friendly and efficient. the town is immensely proud of their big win, and are wholly behind the regeneration plans that are currently taking over their city. when asked "how annoying the roadworks must be", not one didn't reply with "it's all for a good cause", which means they've all either been media trained, or... are genuinely excited by the opportunity that's coming their way.
whatever the reason, they're certainly a massive part of the charm that this port-city holds. i for one, was blown away by the original architecture, the well-maintained marina, and the well-stocked pubs around the city - there was something to see and snap on every street corner. i hand on heart maintain that i was shocked to my core at how much i enjoyed my few days there, and am sooooo excited to get back next year, to check out some of the amazing events that are planned for the year-long festival. will you be joining me?
big thanks to Visit England and Visit Hull and East Yorkshire for a fab intro to next year's City of Culture! special thanks also to Holiday Inn Hull Marina for the comfiest bed I've had in a long time, and Furley & Co for getting me suitably drunk on excellent local beers, then helping mop it all up with a hull delicacy: chips with chip spice. can't recommend either more highly!