The Northwest Part II: More than just The Lake District
Although the Lake District might be the major draw for those who want to see some epic scenery, the Northwest is much more than Lakeland.
As in the case of Stratford-upon-Avon and the Midlands, the intense magnetism of the Lakes has diverted attention from the rest of the region which is surprisingly interesting and attractive, though not without industrial scars around Liverpool and Manchester, its two principal – and dynamic – cities.
To the north of the region there is another and very different city – Carlisle, the sentinel city near the Scottish border and a one-time fort on Hadrian’s Wall, which ended some 12 miles to the west. In the picture above, part of the wall can still be seen. Park at the Town Dyke Car Park (54.893349, -2.938881), walk along West Walls to the Cathedral and on to the Castle itself.
Hadrian’s Wall once stretched unbroken from coast to coast; starting at the Solway Firth, encompassing Carlisle and the Cumbrian fells, across Northumberland to the North Sea.
Carlisle is the centre of a wild and solitary, though fertile, region flanked by hills to the south, such as Lonscale Fell…
…by Pennine moorlands to the east, such as the fells surrounding Alston…
…and by the racing tidal waters of the Solway Firth to the west.
All down this Cumbrian coast, except for the industrialized strip between Maryport and Whitehaven, there are deserted sandy beaches where the only sounds are the drag of retreating waves and the plaintive cry of sea-birds.
Inland from Blackpool and north towards Lancaster lies one of those stretches of countryside that, to the southerner at any rate, is unexpected in Lancashire: the Forest of Bowland, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); a green and brown wilderness of high pasture and fell stretching from close to Clitheroe almost to Lancaster.
The only road across the Forest climbs through the Trough of Bowland, a stream-bordered, tree-lined valley sheltering under the steep flank of Blaze Moss, a 1700-foot high hill.
For those blessed with the ‘seeing eye’ there is much beauty to be found in the harbour bustle of Liverpool. In keeping with its maritime significance, Liverpool has allowed some of its most prominent buildings to occupy the waterfront behind its seven miles of docks and its half-mile (800 m) of floating landing stage (it can rise and fall as much as 30 feet (9 m) on a good spring tide).
Two of these buildings…
The Port of Liverpool Building…
…and the Cunard Building, make up the ‘Three Graces’ and dominate Liverpool’s dock-front.
However, it is the most prominent of these three, the famous Liver building, that is the most characterful. A monumental office block of anonymous architectural style, ten storey’s high, with two towers that allow the ‘Liver’ birds perched on the domes to survey the Mersey and all the shipping on it from a height of some 250 feet (76 m) above high water mark. The birds have become Liverpool’s emblem but their ancestry is something of a mystery. They are of no known species. One theory is that the Liver bird was a seventeenth century invention to explain the derivation of the city’s name but that seems unnecessary for, according to the gazetteer of the ‘Reader’s Digest’ atlas of the British Isles, it means ‘pool with thick water’. A more logical explanation is that the twigs they are carrying in their beaks are, on closer examination (and who could do that but a helicopter pilot?) fronds of a species of seaweed called ‘lyver’.
Seen in this photograph, going from right to left are the Port of Liverpool Building, the Cunard Building, and the indestructible Royal Liver (to rhyme with ‘diver’) Building. Collectively known as the Three Graces, they make up one of the most stunning city waterfronts in the world.
It isn’t just Liverpool’s dock front that oozes charm; the two cathedrals are both of the 20th Century; the Anglican, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and begun in 1904, had to be modified because of escalating costs. It is elegant both outside and in.
The second of Liverpool’s Cathedral’s is the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, consecrated in 1967.
First settled nearly 2000 years ago, Liverpool was firmly established on the West Indian trade, it is the only city in the country which can claim to have two cathedrals both built in the present century.
In the Liverpool Philharmonic, the city has one of Britain’s front-rank orchestras and, in the Walker Art Gallery, one of the foremost collections of European and English paintings.
Although Liverpool is probably more widely known as the birth-place of the Beatles from whose rocket like careers the whole ‘pop’ idiom in Britain seems to have sprung.
Liverpool shares its estuary – the Mersey – with Manchester via the Manchester Ship Canal which penetrates right into the heart of Trafford Park, the city’s main industrial Zone. Although it is 35 miles from the sea, the port of Manchester handled more cargo than either Bristol or Glasgow. As you can see from the picture above, the area has undergone significant redevelopment.
Yes, there is plenty to see and do in the north-west outside the Lake District where, as an old Yorkshireman once remarked, ‘there’s nowt but scenery’.