Bolton, Lancashire, is one the northern edge of Greater Manchester, the city of the Industrial Revolution but of much more beside. Bolton has an interesting history, including being “Worktown“, the name given to the first site investigated by the techniques of Mass Observation. Material relating to this can be found in both the university and the City archives. Dai Griffiths has written of the city in his personal guide, so I will not write more.
Bolton is placed pretty near the centre of gravity of the UK. Although it is likely many of us think of it and Manchester as dark cities of industrial power and pollution (William Blake ends the first verse of his poem “Jerusalem” “And was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic Mills?” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_did_those_feet_in_ancient_time)), it has been reborn in recent years as a cultural centre of international significance. The Museum of Science and Industry includes a section on the development of computing–Britain’s not inconsiderable contribution was centred here. Manchester Art Gallery is well worth a visit, and has an outstanding collection of Pre-Raphaelite painting from the period of Manchester’s industrial expansion.
Close to the Art Gallery are two of the greatest Nineteenth Century buildings in the gothic style in the UK, Manchester Town Hall and the extraordinary John Rylands Library.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Rylands_Library_12.jpg. Also from the same period is the Royal Exchange, the former cotton exchange built to echo imperial Rome. It’s now a theatre, but you can go in to see the impressively extravagant building. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Exchange,_Manchester
British avant garde music began here with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and later, bands such as Joy Division lead in another musical genre. It is the club capital of the UK, and we should not forget football: Manchester City, and the rather inappropriately named Manchester United. Housed next to United, also in Trafford, is the home of Lancashire County Cricket Club, Old Trafford – one of cricket’s epicentres in the UK. Attached to Manchester is the city of Salford, now the site of much of the activity of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Both cities have outstanding universities.
From Manchester, the Ship Canal goes west. This turned an inland city into a major port. There are cruises along it, emerging in the Mersey Estuary. Just a little further down river, you will find Liverpool, city of the mop heads (Beatles) and of the inimitable scouse accent. Liverpool has not yet managed the renaissance Manchester has, but the docklands show a new face. Here, Britain’s premier modern art collection opened its first regional gallery: the Tate Liverpool, which boasts wonderful shows. The area of the old docks and around the Royal Liver Building is bustling with new life and new aspirations (http://www.liverpoolwaterfront.org/albert-dock.aspx). Liverpool also boasts 2 football clubs, Everton and Liverpool, almost within spitting distance of each other. The Grand National, king of steeplechase races, is run at Aintree (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool). A little along the coast is Crosby beach, where Anthony Gormley’s installation “Another Place” consists of 100 life sized figures that get drowned as the tide comes in: a wet version of the same artist’s “Inside Australia”. The locals dress the figures with spectacles and “willie-warmers”, and at night demon knitters may knit clothing round one of the figures.
Across from Liverpool through the Mersey Tunnel (or on the ferry) is Port Sunlight, the ideal workers’ village built by the Lever Brothers. This is one of several such idealistic settlements that British industrialists built in the Victorian era. This area is a peninsular between the Mersey and the river Dee, called the Wirral. You can travel south to Chester, a 2000 year old city with many mediaeval buildings, Roman Walls, and a splendid cathedral (look for the coat of arms of Ranulph (de Glanville)). Cheshire is a land of farms and orchards.
The North Welsh Coast, Snowdonia, Anglesea, Llyn
From Chester you can follow the road along the north Welsh coast, a rural area skirting the northern edge of the mountainous Snowdonia National Park. There are small seaside towns including Rhyl, where the last murderer hanged in Britain was chased down, and the remarkable castles of Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Conwy and Harlech (http://www.gonorthwales.co.uk/attractions/attractions.aspx). A selection of walks can be found here. The north eastern extreme is Anglesey Island (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglesey) with Holyhead, for long the major port for those going to Ireland, which is connected to the mainland by some remarkable bridges and which boasts the longest place name in Europe: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, meaning St Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantystilio of the red cave. Passing beyond Anglesea is the Llŷn peninsular (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llŷn_Peninsula) with some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the world (many with Snowdonia as a backdrop) and with the extraordinary architectural fantasy, Portmeirion, created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, used as the set for the cult 1960’s tv show, “The Prisoner“. Sir Clough’s daughter Susan founded the Portmeirion pottery. Just nearby is Pwlheli, source of the stones from which Stonehenge is built: north Wales has a rich and important geological history. The always present Snowdonia itself is an area of great beauty, with good climbing and hiking. It also has the Ffestiniog (mountain) Railway.
Due south from Manchester is another area of exceptional beauty and geological interest: the Peak District. Here you can find limestone caves and spas amongst the steep sided valleys. The Peaks marks the transition from the rolling farmlands of southern Britain to the more mountainous, moorlands in the north. Buxton, founded by the Romans and the highest market town in the UK, is a cultural and health centre (home of what may be Britain’s most famous bottled water) with a famous opera house and festival, and many a significant English author has worked there. The Peak District is a wonderful place with enormous variety, truly showing the speed of change of the British landscape. Chatsworth house (http://www.chatsworth.org), backdrop to many a tv historical series, is nearby. Michael Hohl offers 2 walks, which bring more detail of the landscape.
To the east of Manchester and the mill towns like Bolton, Accrington, Burnley, Preston and so on, the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution), are the Pennines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennines). Named after the mountains that form the spine of Italy, the Pennines run down the spine of northern England. Bleak indeed in winter, they’re gorgeous in summer. On the other side is Yorkshire: competition between Yorkshire (heraldic symbol, the white rose) and Lancashire (red rose) lies deep in English history where the rivalry between the two is captured in “The War of the Roses” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Roses). The M62 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M62_motorway) is a scenic motorway across, but there railways are other, smaller roads that pass into the Yorkshire Dales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkshire_Dales_National_Park), for instance Wensleydale (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wensleydale), home of a distinctive cheese, many beautiful villages and the picturesque town of Richmond. Yorkshire is the biggest county in England, Spa towns abound, as well as cities such as Leeds of vast civic pride. It has a collection of magnificent ruined abbeys of which the grandest is Fountains (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey/). The City of York (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York) has a magnificent Minster (seat of the junior Archbishop of the Church of England) and an ancient Viking history (the north east has strong Viking connections, as can be found in place names and local dialect). The North York Moors are renowned for their scenery, leading up the the industrial Teeside, Newcastle and the Tyne (a whole other story) and one of the most extraordinary houses in the UK: Cragside House, in Rothbury (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside/), was built by architect Norman Shaw for the industrialist William Armstrong, who designed a domestic electrical system and many new household gadgets (such as a washing machine) for his new home.
Going North: Morecambe Bay and the Lake District
Across the other side of the Pennines, Lancashire runs north through its own dales. On the west are holiday towns, of which Blackpool is the king. Above Blackpool is Morecambe Bay, a vast sweep of sand facing Ireland at a tiny incline, so the tide traverses miles of sand, and of quicksand. No one should venture out on the Bay without a guide. The county town, Lancaster, is further north, marking the beginning of the Lake District. Here exquisite lakes are surrounded by tall fell hills. Wordsworth wrote his poem about daffodils here, and Beatrix Potter created her world on animals. Donald Campbell died here, crashing his speed boat in an attempt on the world water record.
The Scottish Borders
Further north you reach the high plateaus of the frontier country, slipping down, in Scotland, to the the Borders. This is a distinctive area of Scotland, south of the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with old families such as the Scotts and the Elliotts. The A 701 road from Moffatt to Broughton passes the source of both the Clyde (running west, on which Glasgow is located) and, 6 miles on, the Tweed which runs east into the North Sea in England. There are magnificent views and, just outside Broughton you find the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens at Dawyck (http://www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/dawyck) and, going west, the market town of Biggar and, a little further on, Lanark. Visit the nearby ideal mill town of New Lanark (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Lanark: remember Port Sunlight). New Lanark is also the home of the Clyde Falls: a good sized waterfall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falls_of_Clyde_(waterfalls)). There is a fine walk to be enjoyed.
Onwards and Upwards
Almost any road you follow will reveal beautiful views. Eventually you will arrive either in Edinburgh or Glasgow. They are very different cities, and each deserves more than I can give, here. We are in another country. To the north are the Highlands and Islands.