In 2008, when Liverpool was European Capital of Culture, the influx of visitors did much to elevate the city’s profile and, crucially, its economy. A good time was had by all into the bargain. What Europe can do, we can do on a local basis, surmised the Government. And so the UK City of Culture (CoC) was born.
2017 saw Kingston-upon-Hull as the CoC. Or simply Hull. This was a celebration of an unsung city on the North Sea coast and the year-long programme of events was an eclectic series of dance, music, spoken word, art, food and theatre – a strong tradition in the area, home of pioneering Hull Truck Theatre Company.
While the announcement of Hull as CoC took many by surprise, some 340,000 turned up for the opening in January, and the inventive 365-day programme is pulled in the crowds. From Little Mix at a pop festival to community events, it promised something for all tastes – see our pick, below.
Hull, however, is more than just the festival. The CoC theme may have been ‘coming out of the shadows’ but, following the demise of the fishing industry, major regeneration was signalled in 2002 with the dawning of the age of aquarium, the opening of The Deep.
Visitors can walk underneath the massive tanks and gaze at exotic rarities – sawfish, several types of shark and, the latest addition, a brace of loggerhead turtles. Show the world a penguin and the world will come, so Gentoo penguins have been installed in their own Kingdom of Ice, where they enjoy a view of the Humber and its magnificent bridge. Longer than Golden Gate, at 7,283ft it’s one of the longest bridges in the world you can walk or cycle across.
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But hang on to your hat. It gets a bit windy in these parts, which blows a lot of good in the way of wind power: a 250ft turbine blade rests in the city centre – part installation art, part reminder of industrial change.
There are great galleries (the Ferens has works from Hals to Hockney) and no visit to Hull is complete without exploring the Maritime Museum.
For a fun walk, follow the Fish Trail through the old town as you search for 41 life-sized sculptures of fish, from a shark all the way down to an anchovy! Given Hull’s history you’d think cod or plaice would be the local delicacy. In fact, it’s the pattie – deep-fried mashed potato with, traditionally, a pinch of sage.
There is a strong sense of community, but there is one divide that will not be bridged. Rugby League reigns and you’re either Hull FC, west of the river, or Hull Kingston Rovers, east side. The Hull Derby is not for the faint of heart, but it is an experience.
You might fancy a pint after. Like all great seafaring cities, you’ll not want for good pubs. Ye Old Black Boy claims to be the oldest. And do call home from one of Hull’s unique cream phone boxes!
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What was on in Hull in 2017
Bill Bailey’s Cabinet of Curiosities
The comedian brought his inventive talent to imagining the stories behind some of the Maritime Museum’s more quirky exhibits, including a unicorn’s horn (narwhal tusk) coat stand. May 27-Sept 10
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Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra appeared at the KCOM stadium and rattled their way through their greatest hits, from Roll Over Beethoven to Telephone Line, Mr Blue Sky to Livin’ Thing.
Grayson Perry: This Frail Travelling Coincidence
The Philip Larkin Society’s guest lecturer examined how the great poet and Hull University librarian’s work ‘bumps up against’ his own.
Folk and Maritime Festival
A long-established celebration in song and dance of the region’s seafaring history saw free performances throughout the city over four days. Hull in a musical nutshell.
The Royal Ballet: Opening the New
Principals and soloists from The Royal Ballet performed new work, along with local dancers and artists, opening the refurbished New Theatre. Choreographed by the company’s director, son-of-Hull Kevin O’Hare.
Contains Strong Language
Aptly titled poetry festival from the city that gave the world Philip ‘They **** you up, your mum and dad’ Larkin. New works, readings and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra thrown into the mix too.
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This article appeared in the April 2017 edition of Saga Magazine, and was edited in 2018 to reflect the passage of time.
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