While the debate about the unfairness in funding between London and the English regions continues, I am making my contribution by focusing this month on what’s going on outside the capital!

The new Stonehenge is almost here….

If you had waited on the windy Salisbury plain for the new Stonehenge visitor centre, you would have turned into one of those stone pillars by now! But now it’s finally happening. From the 18th December, visitors (preferably pre-booked) will arrive at a new Visitor Centre, located some 2km from the Stones. Here they will enjoy a new exhibition telling the story of Stonehenge through a 360 degree “immersive experience” (not sure whether this is just an AV or something more exciting) but it means that you are apparently “standing among the stones”. The exhibition will features archaeological finds from the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, the Wiltshire Museum and other collections on public display for the first time.

Having absorbed all that, you board your shuttle bus for the short ride across the plain and over the crown of the hill. The plan is (and I have walked this a few years ago and it works) that Stonehenge emerges magically as it would have done when people approached it to worship in pre-historic times. You can then walk around the site (but not among the stones) before walking back or boarding your shuttle. The new Visitor Centre itself is fully equipped with “ample” toilets, a large café, plenty of parking for cars and coaches, as well multi-lingual audio guides.

So farewell to the disgraceful concrete bunker and to the busy road which is now being grassed over! Work continues on the £27 million project through next year to improve the landscaping and adding Neolithic houses being built by volunteers – future bed and breakfast accommodation, perhaps?

Visit the English Heritage Site for more information

Hull becomes City of Culture

My money was on Swansea but it was Hull who beat the others to the coveted title of City of Culture 2017. I will admit that I was not enamoured on my one and only visit to Hull many years ago. But I know that it has already changed and becoming City of Culture will raise its profile and change our perceptions, and hopefully mine. They won the bid on a series of spectacular opening events as well as an ongoing programme for the year on a budget of £15m, including national and international commissions, artists’ residencies; festivals; major community participation projects; a programme of conferences and major broadcasting events; plus programming activity across 365 days with an estimated 1,500 special events.

City of Cultures can work as we know from the results of Liverpool’s huge success as European Capital of Culture in 2008. And it’s ongoing and it’s being measured. Londonderry will be concluding its year this coming month with a Lumiere – lighting up the City’s buildings – and a masked Ball.

Gallery in the Park – topped out

Some visitors to Manchester don’t make it out to the brilliant Whitworth Gallery at Manchester University but a lot of people do, including your blogger! And the Gallery decided it had to expand to meet this growing demand and its ambition to do more. So a major development is under way with a topping out of the new build already this November. The £15 m project (funded by HLF, University of Manchester and others) will see the building transformed, making more of its parkland location. At the heart is the creation of an elegant glass, stainless steel and brick extension including two new wings, facing the park and the street, which will extend into Whitworth Park from the back of the existing Gallery building, doubling the public space for exhibitions, café, shop, workshops and events. The Gallery is best known for its outstanding collection of British watercolour paintings from the 18th and 19th century but there is lots more including modern art. The Whitworth is now closed and the grand re-opening date is already set for Saturday 13 September 2014.

Topping out Ceremony at The Whitworth

Topping out Ceremony at The Whitworth

Kenwood – not quite out of London

Kenwood at Hampstead is of course in Greater London but as it’s not in the heart of the capital, I am including it. This is one of the finest Adam buildings in London and a popular visit for Londoners on their weekend walks around Hampstead Heath. Now it’s reopening (28 November) after a major refurbishment to show off the restored Adams interior and to provide a more authentic setting for the Iveagh Bequest – the collection of Old Masters with some great favourites, Vermeer’s Guitar Player and Rembrandt’s Self Portrait – just to mention two. So take the trail across the Heath, enjoy the new displays, and a cup of coffee in the Brew House café.

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