Celebrating Seventeen Years Living in England's Iconic North
Where: Leeds & Yorkshire region, Newcastle-upon-Tyne & Tyne & Wear region, Manchester & the North West region.
England, United Kingdom, Europe.
When: August 1999 - March 2016
Highlights City & Region: Angel of the North, Tyne Bridge, Transporter Bridge, Tyne Tees TV, River Aire, Leeds Town Hall, Leeds City Hall, Leeds City Markets, CIS Tower, Granada TV, Coronation Street Tour, BBC North West Tonight, Palace Building, The Toastrack, Beetham Tower, Rochdale Canal, Morecambe Bay, Blackpool Tower, Jodrell Bank Telescope, The Liver Building, Superlambananas, The Humber Bridge.
Illnesses or mishaps: Adjusting to the brutality of northern honesty; acclimatising to northern winters; contending with Manchester's incessantly grey skies.
The weather-worn stereotype of Northern England is of a region characterised by dark satanic mills, intractable unemployment, pollution and red brick back-to-back terraced housing. It's also appreciated as a region of liberating honesty and friendliness, of cups of tea and freshly baked bread, of chats over the garden fence and fish and chips on a Friday evening. A London fish out of water, I opted to spend seventeen years here during which I learned much about the region and, indeed, about myself. There were reminders throughout my days here that I did not belong - not really. My accent was an obvious barrier - reminding myself, and others, that I was 'not from around these parts'. I experienced Northern England's sights and sounds through London eyes and London ears. I took interest in the things which differentiated this oft maligned region of England from the one where I grew up and, I suppose, that was the whole point of living here in the first place. I adored its evocative Victorian architecture, took great pleasure listening to its strikingly dissimilar accents and marvelled at its wild, windswept landscapes. I'm not originally from The North and so living here always felt like a tourist experience. I was destined to be a tourist in The North - whether I liked it or not.
In hindsight it's difficult to ignore the significance: my life living in England's North, the North East and North West foreshadowed my more adventurous international journeys which were to come later and which now comprise the bulk of this site's content. This page falls, technically therefore, within the realms of travel. Welcome to Northern England - a region I called home for nearly half of my life and the place where my travels began; the nomadic precursor to all that followed and symptomatic to my never staying in one place too long.
Leeds became my home in 1999, where initially I moved in to a one bedroom apartment in Burley opposite the famous studios of Yorkshire Television. Out of necessity it was not long before I moved out to the plusher district of Roundhay, then the grittier inner-city Kirkstall where I rented the attic room of a traditional back-to-back terraced house overlooking a graveyard. From my window skylight at the top of the house I could see the spire of the local St. Stephen's Church, still evocatively blackened by soot from the days when Leeds was still a city belching smoke from factories and chimney stacks. I loved the view from this window. I loved it simply because it spoke so much of Northern England; the sooty church spire, the spines of terraced housing built of red brick on the hills looking out towards the city limits. At night, comfortingly, the church would toll a single strike on the hour, every hour.
I also loved this view because it was a world away from that where I'd grown up. I loved everything Yorkshire and anything which spoke of Northern England because Leeds was the place where I struck out on my own. To return home to my parents' house 'down South' would be giving in and nothing short of a personal failure. I had to make it work. In the early days I juggled two jobs: one started at 6am, the other at 6pm. What I earned was just enough to pay my rent and my bills - and enough to keep my independence. Over the nine years spent living in Yorkshire's capital, I also lived in various parts of the cricket-famous Headingley district.
My time in Leeds, the challenging early years and beyond, was life affirming and life formative. Leeds holds lots of firsts for me which is why I'll always think fondly of the city. But, after nine developmental years, it was time to cash in my chips and move on.
The wonderful view of Calls Landing across the River Aire to Leeds Parish Church, seen from Leeds Bridge. This bridge was the location where the world's first ever moving images were filmed in 1888 (watch here).
The neo-Gothic masterpiece that is Leeds Town Hall, rendered even more dramatic by the soot stains of yesteryear.
Northern England is a region home to several incredible cities with strong identities underpinned by their own iconic landmarks, cultures and, indeed, unique accents. This is no more the case than Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England's North East. It's a city famous for its iconic bridges lining the River Tyne, its love of football and its wonderful Geordie accent which is musical, utterly charming and more often than not utterly impossible to understand - even more so when mixed with local dialectical words.
I was lured here by the city's iconic bridges and strong regional identity; when looking at where to live next I was searching for a city with a story to tell. Newcastle is a working class city full of friendly, fun-loving folk. It's the kind of place where people hold the door open for you when they pass, where women call you "pet" and where seagulls sing mournfully as you saunter the city centre. People here are fiercely proud of their city - as they should be.
I took up home in a Tyneside flat, a terraced house split into ground and first floor separates in Sandyford near Jesmond with two others. Weekday mornings were spent getting the Metro across the Tyne and a connecting bus out to the city of Sunderland where I worked. There was many a morning when I enjoyed the sights of the legendary "fog on the Tyne" from the warmth and comfort of my Metro window seat. Even though this was a daily work commute, I looked forward to the journey; that moment when the train broke out into the open air and crossed the River Tyne were thrilling. This was iconic England at its best and I was part of it. I took particular delight in the fact that the announcements on-board were delivered in a strong local accent (something like, "stan' cleyarh ov tha doorz pliz"). Newcastle is anything if not a little provincial - a city for locals and not really the visitor - although visitors always get a warm welcome. Occasionally, and just occasionally, I was known to go jogging along the Tyne on a Saturday morning: wonderful views of beguiling bridges on crisp, sunny days.
I always remember where I've been, where I came from and the people that helped me along the way. I may have been in Newcastle for just a year but I learnt life-changing things from the Geordies and the Mackams; lessons upon which my entire life is now built.
The Tyne's many bridges stack themselves silhouette fashion.
The Angel of the North just across the Tyne at Gateshead.
My favourite spot in Newcastle: the Quayside along the River Tyne.
Manchester lured me because of its size, its history and its music. It is a city of firsts: the world's first train station is here, Alan Turing, from the city, built the world's first ever computer, and it is also the home of the world's longest running soap-opera: Coronation Street. Think Manchester, and among the things which spring to mind are Granada TV, the Hacienda nightclub, Manchester United, rain and Oasis. It was, without doubt, Manchester's unique music sound which lured me to the city: The Stone Roses, The Charlatans and Joy Division to name but three.
My move to Manchester came about because of an inner restlessness to move on and see - or be - somewhere else. Manchester was the obvious choice for me; I didn't want to leave the Northern region and this, to all intents and purposes, was England's second city. I was in search of big city urban grittiness - and I certainly found it in Manchester. My first home became an apartment in an area called the Green Quarter - a development a stone's throw from the bustling city centre. Indeed, craning my neck rightward over the balcony just about gave a city centre view of the Manchester Wheel and Urbis. More rewarding, however, were the balcony doors which faced a typically Mancunian scene: a span of disused railway arches built of red brick (what else?) beyond which ran the distinctive yellow-coloured trams of the Manchester Metrolink. This view from the balcony was the perfect place to just sit with a tea and watch the trams make their way to and from the city. I suppose I had to have the apartment-city-centre-living experience even if it was only for one year.
I moved from the city centre, becoming a true Manchester local for a further six years, by taking up home in a red brick terraced house in Burnage, South Manchester - the district most famous for being the childhood home of the band Oasis. Six years after calling Burnage home, a removal truck from the Anglo-Pacific shipping company would arrive. It was there to pack everything we owned and transport it on giant containers across the seas and oceans. To Sydney, Australia. My seventeen year journey living in Northern England was drawing to a close. I was now facing the mother of all moves.
A Manchester Icon: the iconic red lettering of the Granada TV studios on Quay Street before their removal. Such an innocuous exterior belies the importance that came from within. Soon to be demolished.
The glorious Palace Hotel on Manchester's Oxford Street, one of the red brick glories of Granadaland.
A new Manchester rises above the old and reflects in the waters of the Rochdale Canal.
Somehow I made it into the television news studio of BBC North West Tonight.
The country's most famous pub: the Rovers Return on the set of the world's longest running soap opera Coronation Street.
The gloriously modernist CIS Co-operative Tower flanked by trees.
travel tips, links & resources
- The large part of England known as "The North" is a fascinating one full of character and diversity. So many people visit London - and then return home. Give Northern England a bit of time on your itinerary.
- For glimpses of the past in relation to the Industrial Revolution head to Manchester and the North West.
- For glimpses of maritime history head to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the North East.
- For windswept scenes reminiscent of the Bronte sisters' novels, head to West Yorkshire.
- For a sense of how the average Englander spends their leisure time, head to Blackpool in the North West or Whitby in Yorkshire.
- Also in the North West is Liverpool and Merseyside - a truly vibrant city of Beatles fame and stunning architecture. A trip to the 'pool would not be complete without a trip on the 'Ferry on the Mersey' (and yes, they do play the song).
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