Go Higher: The North - The call of the North

The North: Think civilisation ends beyond the M25? Far from it. The North is booming.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you choose one of the northern universities or colleges, you won't ever feel far from a student culture. Even smaller places - Warrington, Bolton, Lancaster, Chester, Sunderland, Durham - are no more than 15 or 20 miles at the very most from one, if not two, of the huge student cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Hull, Liverpool and Manchester. Each of those cities has two universities, an FE college or two and specialist colleges for postgraduates or vocational qualifications.

And with the Lake District, Northumbria, the Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines practically on your doorstep wherever you are, it's not hard to get away from the urban theme at weekends. There are deserted swathes of moorland in Yorkshire and Lancashire, empty beaches (even on the hottest June days) in north Northumberland, and the highest points in England in the Lake District.

You can enjoy more crowded days off in some of the UK's traditional holiday spots, such as Blackpool (in easy reach of Manchester), Southport, Whitley Bay (a thriving club and pub scene on weekends, just 15 minutes by train from Newcastle) - and Scarborough is close to York and Leeds.

Transport links with the rest of the UK are probably best in the North- east. GNER runs one of the few jewels that remained in the old British Rail crown, and the fast rail service from Edinburgh to London still stops at Newcastle, Durham, and York. Newcastle to London is 21/2 hours on the fastest trains. While travelling cross-country has never been quite so convenient (you can end up having to change once or even twice to get from the North-west to the North-east), links from the Midlands in either direction are frequent and quick.

At the region's other corner Liverpool is two-and-a-quarter hours from London, 45 minutes from Manchester, and two hours from Leeds.

National Express has good - and cheaper, though slower - links North to South and cross-country.

All the major cities in the North have good public transport from the surrounding suburbs. Newcastle's metro service - with trains every five minutes from the student areas of Heaton and Jesmond to the city centre and both universities - is cleaner, quicker and a lot cheaper than London's tube. Sheffield's Interchange - formerly known as Pond Street Bus Station - is a largely successful attempt to make it easier and pleasanter to use public transport to reach all the city's areas.

The North-South divide still holds, and living and studying in the North can seem a big step if you think south of Watford is where civilisation and sophistication begin. Most students in the North come from the region originally, and there seems to be as much of a psychological barrier preventing them going South as there is in the opposite direction.

But remember it's not really much of a leap. The biggest culture shock is more likely to be the difference between living in a small- or medium- sized commuter town or village, and moving to an area of urban sprawl where perhaps 30,000 students swell the local population in term time. This isn't geography, but demographics.

Much of the North became prosperous on the back of its industrial success. Indeed, not a few of its seats of learning owe their foundation and later expansion to it. The darker days of industrial decline that hit their lowest point in the mid-Eighties are largely over. The once-desolate and mothballed ship-building areas on Merseyside, Teeside, Wearside and Tyneside have all been transformed and are now good to look at, pleasant to live in, and boast plenty of new businesses to make talk of a revival a reality. Places like Albert Dock in Liverpool, and Newcastle's Quayside, actually restore the areas to more like what they were in the 18th Century, with small marinas, landscaped river dwellings and cottage industries - today it might be cyber cafes and print shops rather than cordwainers and wheelwrights, but the air's cleaner and the water a lot clearer now.

Call-centres, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and financial services are the main expansion areas of the North of the late Nineties, opening up great opportunities for students.

The growth of tourism throughout the region means that catering and other service industries are still expanding - good news for the ever-increasing number of students who have to work during term to survive.

Entertainment of all sorts, including live music and other performing arts, is where the North probably scores higher than any other region. The proximity of almost all the big universities to towns and cities which compete between themselves for the best partying reputation means that student unions themselves are under intense pressure to maintain their customers in a like manner.

The result is a gregarious social atmosphere in most places, where you'd find it hard to avoid having a good time, even if you wanted to.

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