Escaping Mad-chester: Here are 4 Restorative Days Out Away from Manchester City Life

When the term ‘Mad-chester’ was coined in the 90s to describe the drug-fuelled acid cult emerging around Factory Records and the Hacienda, it referred to more than just a subcultural scene. Because Manchester has always been a city infused with a frenzied ‘work hard, play harder’ ethos to which it owes its night-owls’ sanctuary reputation. However, this pace of life can be difficult to keep up with, even to the most devoted twilight disciples. Sometimes a restorative odyssey beyond gothic Manchester is needed, does the spirit some good. And so we’ve here compiled a look at four of our favourite destinations just a train journey outside the city to escape Madchester life, even if only for a fleeting moment. Medieval cities, indomitable wilds, and Michelin-star eateries, savour in your solitude and discover life outside.

Escape the city.

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One hour from Manchester.

Chester’s legendary Eastgate Clock, built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

- © Tanasut Chindasuthi / Shutterstock

Chester is an architectural whirlwind of a town. An abandoned brutalist housing block juts from the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre that then elides with the grounds of an 11th-century Norman abbey and the gorgeous Victorian gardens of Grosvenor Park on one side of the town. In the city centre, meanwhile, an Art Deco clock built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee sits perched on the ancient city walls, keeping a watchful eye on the ersatz-Tudor, half-timber Rows that line cobbled Eastgate Street. This stylistic orgy is but one aftermath of the town’s equally harlequined history as a Roman fort then a medieval aristocrat’s playground then an industrial stronghold then a Victorian aristocrat’s playground. Locals will be quick to tell you of another such aftermath, the popular rumour that a never-overturned Tudor by-law makes it legal to kill a Welshman with a longbow within the city walls.

Chester sits scenically on the banks of the River Dee.

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Most famous for its shiny designer shops and zoo which ranks among the best in the world, Chester has been steadily amassing a reputation as the North West’s culinary capital in recent years too. The Flower Cup is a botanical (read: hipster) brunch spot on the legendary Rows that leaves vegans spoilt for choice. The banana, coconut milk, and blueberry pancakes and Biscoff French toast are neck-and-neck for their best bite. Hanky Panky Pancakes is another local phenomenon, with a rolodex of toppings ready to be served on both American and French style pancakes among zanily kitschy decor. For a more fine dining experience, Da Noi is the Michelin-recommended Italian Eden under the loving care of superstar chef Valentina Aviotti, while The Forge is a stylish brasserie that wears its heart on its sleeve: Adonis-like slabs of beef hang drying behind glass windows for guests to salivate over as they watch chefs prepare their meals in the open kitchen.

Stone Villa Chester Manchester

Stone Villa Chester

Nestled on a serene street, Stone Villa stands a mere 5-minute stroll away from Chester Station. The accommodation offers complimentary parking, rooms equipped with flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi, along with a diverse breakfast menu for guests to enjoy.
£90 /night


One-and-a-half hours from Manchester

The York skyline, dominated by York Minster.

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Rumour has it York is England’s most haunted city. And it’s true that a certain uncanny medievalism echoes throughout the city, spilling out from the seismic Gothic nave of York Minster (one of the largest cathedrals in the Western world and called minster because it pre-dates the word ‘cathedral’) and into the city’s handsome ancient alleyways, an eclectic den of commerce since the early Middle Ages. It can be hard for towns like this to safeguard their identity and character from the monopolising demands of the tourist economy, yet York has one of the most vibrant independent undergrounds in the UK: two theatres, one of the finest art galleries in the North, and a cult of home-proud locals revolutionising its culinary and shopping scenes.

High Petergate Street, York.

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For the best shopping we recommend Bishopthorpe Street (Bishy Road, to locals), stuffed with trinket stores, antique emporiums, and some of the city’s best cafes (Tinacria’s family-made Sicilian selection feels hand picked straight from Palermo, the Pig & Pastry is the charismatic community renegade with one of the best breakfasts in the country). The Rattle Owl, located in an award-winning 17th-century restoration on historic Micklegate Street, has a sophisticated tasting menu inspired by local produce, including some foraged by the kitchen team themselves, and which rotates regularly to stay in season. Roots is the Michelin-starred, Art-Deco son of double Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks, where dreamlike reimaginings of gutsy Northern grub are prepared with goods from a tight-knit chain of small regional suppliers and Banks’ family farm in the Yorkshire Moors.

The Grand, York Manchester

The Grand, York

Within the historic Grade II listed former railway headquarters, the Grand Hotel presents guests with a luxurious experience, boasting elegant rooms and an opulent vaulted spa.
£202 /night

Hebden Bridge

Half-an-hour from Manchester

The River Hebden running through Hebden Bridge.

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A smart market town whose grey-slate architecture hypnotically ebbs with the glacier-carved curves of Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, Hebden Bridge quietly amassed a reputation as a creatives’ sanctuary in the 60s and 70s that has lingered ever since. Anchored by the tragic legend of American poet Sylvia Plath, whose body lies in the windswept graveyard of ruinous St. Thomas A. Beckett Church on the town’s hilltop periphery and whose gravestone somberly proclaims “even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted” (a quote taken from one of Hinduism’s holy scriptures), this reputation never slipped away and the small town is revered nationwide as a bohemian enclave with some of the best independent shopping the country has to offer.

The Old Mill at Bridge Street, Hebden Bridge.

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Take the hike to medieval Heptonstall to visit her resting place then wander the Hardcastle Crags, the monumental wooded valley whose body is scarred with remnants of its industrial path and which gave its name to a haunting poem from Plath’s first poetry anthology, Colossus (1960). Then, head for the Hinchliffe Arms for some Northern soul food courtesy of Rob Owen Brown who puts an innovative spin on classic pub grub (some of its more idiosyncratic delicacies include black pudding Scotch eggs and blue cheese bhajis). Leila’s Kitchen is an adorable veggie and vegetarian cafe-bar serving British breakfast and lunch classics as well as a lovingly-prepared selection of Persian dishes.

The Lake District

One hour and twenty minutes from Manchester.

Verdant pastures above Lake Grasmere in the Lake District.

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For a true escape into Nature, consider journeying to Lakeland, 2362 sq km (912 sq mi) of UNESCO-designated wilderness that has inspired generations of poets, writers, and artists and which launched the Romantic movement, so stirring is its beauty. You’ll never run tired of things to do in the gargantuan national park: hike to the Castlerigg stone circle to feel the timeless limerence of what is believed to be one of the oldest human structures in Britain; meander Ullswater aboard a heritage steamer, one of which was once a royal yacht for Kaiser Wilhelm II, while drowning in the mountain scenery; or amble about Grasmere, the somnolent lakeside village described by William Wordsworth as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”.

The village of Hawkshead.

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For food indelibly inspired by the formidable natural architecture and fecund emerald pastures of the Lake District, the Old Stamp House in Ambleside, a dynamic market town famous for its quirky fluvial buildings, is a breathing homage to the blessed ground it stands on. Offering a “Journey Through Cumbria” tasting menu whose ingredients include North Cumbria tomatoes, hand-churned butter made from Winter Tarn dairy, and Herdwick hogget, a specialty lamb reared on one local uplands farm, this is a culinary ode of the same grandeur as Wordsworth’s famous poems. Askham Hall, meanwhile, is a Grade I-listed 14th century manor home whose restaurant, curated by locally-born luminary Richard Swale, has an extremely concise to ensure masterful, refined flavours: only two options are offered for each course, usually garnished with herbs and aromatics grown in the hall gardens.

The Old Stamp House Apartment Manchester

The Old Stamp House Apartment

The apartment comes with two bedrooms, a kitchen complete with a dishwasher and an oven, as well as a washing machine. It also features two bathrooms furnished with slippers and a hairdryer.
£130 /night
by Jude JONES
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