I have just spent 5 days sojourning in the North of England (2 days in Newcastle (conference), 3 days in Sunderland (visiting friends), including a trip to Edinburgh). It was a good experience and it got me thinking about the North South divide. According to Wikipedia: “In England, the term North–South divide refers to the cultural, economic, and social differences between: Southern England: the South-East and South-West, including Greater London and the East of England; Northern England: the North-East, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North-West including Merseyside and Greater Manchester. The status of the Midlands is often disputed; geographically, most areas of the Midlands are Northern.”
As a Southern ignoramus, it is tempting to wrongly look upon our Northern brethren as culturally, economically and socially backward. During my Newcastle stay, I was based bang in the centre of the city, and in my first of three walks in and around where I was staying it was quite clear that these were false stereotypes. In fact, if anything, things appeared more expensive, people seemed to be doing well if the number of posh shops and well filled restaurants were anything to go by, and as for culture, given the number of serious buildings, statues and historical memorabilia, there was a lot of fascinating stuff to see. The people were friendly but not overly so and Geordie accents could be heard everywhere (and it was nice to be called “pet”). It didn’t strike me as overly multi-cultural and if anything multiculturalism was as significant as it was because of a large student presence. It was pleasant wandering around and crossing the River Tyne in a number of places. As a city it was bristling with buskers and people pushing their thing, which was on par with other big cities. I noted a good deal of homelessness, both at night sitting in doorways and selling “The Big Issue” by day, indicating the rich poor divide is a national phenomenon. Our hotel stay was pleasant and comfortable and, looking back, our overall Newcastle experience was positive and pleasant.
While Sunderland is also a major city, quite close to Newcastle, it doesn’t have the same city centre features, not that it was an issue as the purpose of our visit was to spend time with our friends. The most memorable place in our city stay was a country park with a miners theme, which we visited one day, which I can only describe as naturally beautiful and awesome and well worth return visits to explore all the nooks and crannies. Our big outing was to Edinburgh (Scotland being surprisingly close to where we were). It has been many a year since I visited Edinburgh and my first time to Holyrood, home of the Scottish Parliament. The highlight was walking the nearby hills with fantastic panoramic views at the top, along with many other visitors. It so happened the Scottish Independence people were out in force, stating their claim. Leaving Sunderland, we decided by way of a small detour to visit Birmingham (Bull ring), arguably also in the North. Another pleasant wander around although the reason for the visit was to spend time with our son who is studying there. Then we headed home (1000 miles covered), pleased with our Northern adventures, and if there were any doubt before it was quite evident that “the North” has a lot going for it.