Fifteen minutes from Manchester if the motorways are quiet, 25 direct by Metrolink tram, Bury has managed to retain its identity and agreeable homeliness.
Bury means black pudding, steam trains, Sir Robert Peel and… Bury FC.
Bury FC were formed at around the same time as surrounding clubs from similar mill towns, such as Preston North End, Blackburn Rovers and eternal rivals Bolton Wanderers. The local Wesleyans and Unitarians who co-founded Bury at the White Horse Hotel in 1885 did so for altruistic reasons – such had been the unhealthy housing conditions for millworkers that the average age of death had been as low as 13.
Peel, himself from a mill-owning family, not only set up the police force – he brought in the Factory Act to protect children and establish basic safety standards.
Bury FC were soon provided land beside the local cemetery, south of town beside the Manchester Road. And Gigg Lane is where the club has stayed ever since, while so many, Bolton included, have moved over to new-builds. Tradition and longevity are the cornerstones here.
A mainstay of the Football League since 1894, third only to Preston and Notts County, Bury enjoyed unprecedented success soon afterwards.
The Shakers, so called because a club chairman of the day claimed that his Bury side would ‘shake oop’ the opposition, twice won the FA Cup by thumping margins, one a record 6-0 that stands to this day.
Since then, while the town has changed – no more mills, no more squalour – Bury FC haven’t. Players of the quality of Colin Bell and Neville Southall began their careers here before being sold on to the big clubs of Manchester or Liverpool. Last seen in the top tier in 1929, The Shakers battle on, Saturday after Saturday, season after season.
And though clashes with Bolton have been few and far between since Bury took up near permanent residency in the lower two flights from the late 1960s onwards, 2016-17 brought the two together again in League One. 2018, however, brought relegation for Bury FC.
Bury is at the northern terminus of lines A and G of Manchester’s Metrolink tram network, directly connected with Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria stations (every 12min, 32min/23min journey times).
From Manchester Airport, it’s quicker to get the frequent train to Piccadilly (15-20min journey time) then change onto the Metrolink, overall journey time 1hr. An adult single all the way from the airport to Bury is £4.70 – from Piccadilly or Victoria it’s £4.10. Buy your ticket from the machine at the stop.
Bury Interchange, the transport hub on the south side of the town centre, is for Metrolink trams and buses only. To connect by train from London (3hr, £85 online) or Birmingham (2hr 30min, £45 online), you have to change at Manchester Piccadilly then onto the tram. Gigg Lane is less than 1km/15min walk from there.
Buses also run from Bury Interchange – from Manchester to Bury, it’s at least 40min by bus. Bury town centre is mainly pedestrianised/filled with retail space.
For a taxi, Elton Bullitt (0161 764 6666/0161 797 1444) is a reliable local firm with airport transfers.
The nearest lodging to Gigg Lane, halfway between the ground and the town centre, is the Rostrevor Hotel, two late Victorian houses tastefully converted to provide a handful of comfortable en-suite guestrooms. Affordable rates – the full English breakfast is extra.
Also close, just outside the southern fringe of the town centre by Bury Interchange, the Premier Inn Manchester Bury differs from the average budget-chain hotel thanks to its striking, quirky design. Walking distance from Gigg Lane.
The only other lodging close by town is the tidy Castle Guest House, a family-run, eight-room B&B tucked away on Wellington Street west of the centre. An enclosed courtyard and private garden complement a fine breakfast and stylish furnishings. It’s a 10min walk into town or take infrequent bus Nos.98 or 471.
Outside town, 1km down the Rochdale Road on the Waterfold Business Park, the urban Village Manchester Bury brings in the business crowd with its gym, pool, spa and bar, restaurant, and in-room coffee machine.
On the other side of Bury, the Bolholt Country Park Hotel in the Best Western group is a similar idea, an urban retreat in its own grounds, this time beside a small lake. Popular for weddings and conferences. Nearby is the Victoria Hotel, a traditional inn in Walshaw with a handful of simple, cheap en-suite rooms. Landlord Dave is a former bar manager at Bury FC so will have a few tales to tell.
From here, the hourly No.510 bus runs into town or Elton Bullitt taxis have their office nearby.
Three miles north of Bury, the Red Hall Hotel deserves more than its three-star rating, its 37 rooms stylish and comfortable, its restaurant a cut above. Four buses run from right outside down Manchester Road into Bury – although none continue onto Gigg Lane.
Half of Bury town centre might be malls and shopping centres but you’ll still find a few decent pubs here and there.
Key venues include The Knowsley, a traditional street-corner alehouse on the south side of the centre – match days might see it busy with home fans, though the rowdier elements may have been scared off since management upped the ante on the menu, 28-day aged steaks and the like.
Near the Robert Peel statue, the Two Tubs is a homely Thwaites venue, with 3am closing at weekends and a beer garden. Close by, The Robert Peel is a Wetherspoon with views of the landmark from its windows. Closer to Bury Market, the Art Picture House is the town’s other Wetherspoon that fills an elegant 1920s’ cinema and a grade II listed building.
If Bury has a don’t miss bar then it’s The Trackside, set on platform 2 of Bury Bolton Street station, filled with steam-train enthusiasts at weekends. Open until midnight and 12.30am Fri-Sat, this classic spot (note red phone box outside) does its setting justice with at least half-a-dozen real ales and award-winning ciders, plus home-made pies.
For something contemporary, then the Automatic Café on Market Street is refreshingly independent, offering quality coffees and snacks by day, sassy cocktails and sought-after beers by night.
A short distance from Bury, you’re in countryside. The Garsdale, in a wooded valley on the banks of the Irwell, is a rustic inn known for its food – mainstream live acts play on Saturday nights. Nearby, across a bend in the water, the Brown Cow, right in a country park, is equally bucolic. If you’re visiting by day, the Nos.477/478 run hourly to/from Bury Interchange.
Also north of town but with regular bus connections with Bury, The Sundial is a real community pub, with decent food to match the Thwaites ales.