Anyone that holds the view that it is all grim up north clearly hasn’t done very much travelling. This ridiculous prejudice that many people have is completely unfounded when you consider what’s on show in great cities like Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool. You’ve got beautiful countryside like the Lake District, the Peak District and the North York Moors. Perhaps those in the south making sweeping generalisations are just jealous.
I’ve just got back from spending a few days in the ultra cool city of Manchester. It’s a place that is full to the brim with chic bars, top live music venues, classy hotels and interesting museums. Even on a week night the streets are lined late into the evening with people out enjoying themselves. You can get a bird’s eye view of the illuminated skyline on the giant big wheel (slightly smaller than the London eye) that has a permanent fixture in the centre.
Manchester was completely transformed by the Industrial Revolution. It grew from little more than a village in 1750 to be a thriving manufacturing city at the centre of the world’s cotton trade. The profits were invested in transforming the city’s civic architecture. Towering Victorian Gothic buildings still dominate the today. Take the town hall; it’s unlike anything you see elsewhere around Britain.
But just because Victorian buildings dominate doesn’t mean that Manchester is stuck in the past. Far from it; from the 1950s the city’s economy was in decline and buildings were left abandoned. It was an IRA bomb in the centre of Manchester in 1996 that proved to be the engine of change. Planners started on an ambitious scheme to totally transform the centre and Manchester hasn’t looked back.
This theme of a glorious past, present and upbeat future of the north is captured in a new book called True North: In Praise of England’s Better Half by Martin Wainwright, the Guardian’s northern editor. It’s a wonderful account that celebrates all that north has to celebrate.
Wainwright gives a crisp overview of the north’s manufacturing past; he talks about the immigrants that helped economy’s thrive; he meets the students that wouldn’t want to study anywhere else. Of course, not everywhere in the north has been as successful as Manchester, Liverpool and the like. Wainwright has reported on riots and the like in some very deprived areas. But there are still plenty of places to enjoy in the north which the book captures so well.
True North has a strong emphasis on celebrating the northern countryside: “the sweep of the Pennine moors, the beetling cliffs at St Bees and Flamborough and the majestic summits of Lakeland.” Wainwright loves his patch so the book comes across as almost like a love story. As he writes on Twitter, True North is “full of Northern joy and also urges fellow Northerners to be cheerful, optimistic, innovative etc.”
Perhaps one day people will realise that it is not all grim up north.
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