Going Higher: Venture to the North for a brave new world

Old industrial cities have re-invented themselves, while outstanding wilderness areas like the Pennines are still just a short drive away. Maureen O'Connor takes a trip up the M1

Okay, so Manchester, Bradford, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Hull and Liverpool sound like a roll call of dinosaurs from the Industrial Revolution. All black stone or grimy brick, mill chimneys, oily canals and decaying docks. And it is true that most universities in the north of England have their roots in that gritty manufacturers' paradise that the Eighties pretty well wiped out.

But do not be fooled. The great cities of the north, where universities sprang up in the 19th century to serve local industries, have found remarkable and imaginative ways of reviving themselves to face the future. The Coronation Street terraces and heavy industrial sites have begun to disappear. Regeneration has brought the Tate Gallery to Liverpool's Albert Dock, yuppie apartments to Salford Quays, a national festival of contemporary dance to Newcastle and a host of projects that have improved the quality of life in a region where the cost of living is mercifully lower than in the overheated South- east. Small wonder that a couple of years back more Old Etonians signed on at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne than at Cambridge.

So if you are not a northerner by birth (which guarantees a deep bias) what has that great swath of England that encompasses Lancashire and Yorkshire and the ancient kingdoms of Cumbria and Northumberland got going for it apart from cheaper beer, sometimes impenetrable accents and chippy self- confidence?

The simplest answer is contrasts. Although most of the northern universities are in cities or fair-sized towns, with plenty of reminders of the industrial past, most are also close to areas of outstanding natural beauty.

After all, most of the great wildernesses of England are in the north and many of its cities claim that they are not only great places to be in, but also easy places to get out of.

Sign on with the University of Sheffield or Sheffield Hallam and you are a mere bus ride from the Derbyshire Peak District. Go to Teesside in Middlesbrough, where industry undoubtedly still smokes, and you will find the beaches of Redcar and Saltburn are 20 minutes down the road.

The sprawling West Yorkshire conurbation, which includes universities such as Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan, Bradford and Huddersfield, still allows you to be climbing on the Cow and Calf Rocks at Ilkley or potholing near Malham Tarn in less than an hour. And on the other side of the Pennines, access to the hills and moors above Manchester, to the Lake District or north Wales is no problem from Liverpool, Manchester, Preston or Bolton.

And then there is sport. Cricket is still taken seriously in Lancashire and Yorkshire, where local leagues flourish. Football fans are spoilt for choice in a region where Manchester and Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield may be less than 30 minutes away. And for those who like to participate as well as watch, many universities offer superb facilities.

Then there are the things which come as a complete surprise. An annual poetry festival, for instance, in Huddersfield; the best - and probably the cheapest - curries in the country in Bradford; the Hull Truck Company, a seedbed for innovative theatre, in Hull. Or you can see the spectacular and award-winning glass buildings of the University of Sunderland at the mouth of the Wear or window-shop at Harvey Nichols and a host of other Knightsbridge trendies right in the heart of Leeds.

Not all the region's universities have their roots in the the 19th century. It is never wise to favour Lancastrians over Yorkshire folk, of course, and the Sixties expansion of university places prudently gave both counties a new campus university - in Lancaster and York. Both are architecturally modern - even brutalist - but offer the advantages of collegiate living. So, too, does Durham, which has the added advantage of a situation at the heart of the mediaeval city. In the Red Mole survey of student opinion, the northern universities did spectacularly well.

Durham came top overall, with the best accommodation and architecture, and Lancaster won the poll for the most attractive students of both sexes. In the night-life league, Leeds came top, with Northumbria second, and Manchester and Umist come in these days at a mere ninth and tenth.

The Hacienda is now truly only a distant memory.

Not that night-life these days need be confined to one city for pleasure- seeking students. Some of the northern cities that remained resolutely Labour-controlled through the long night of Thatcherism have bequeathed to poverty-stricken students decent, and often cheap, public transport.

Manchester and Sheffield boast modern tramway systems, while Tyneside has its metro. If it is not happening for you on the doorstep it is generally not too difficult to get yourself somewhere where it is.

The north of England is not really a homogeneous region. Cosmopolitan Manchester is not the same as Hull, which is less isolated since the opening of the Humber bridge but still something of a world apart. That bridge means that Hull is now home to a campus of the newest university, Humberside and Lincolnshire, as well as the University of Hull.

Booming Leeds, which has turned itself into a major financial centre, is very different from Bradford with its substantial Asian population.

The north-east has a proud tradition of its own. But what many newcomers find is that one of the myths, at least, is true. Northerners have remained friendly folk, still given to chatting in bus queues and startling the politically correct by the endearments they use to strangers.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick