Category Archives: Northwest

Damson Days in the Lythe Valley

Hit the North was never a big fans of damsons. That is, until we spent time over Easter in Cumbria’s Lythe Valley.

Damsons are, we discovered, more than just a plum-like fruit. They’ve inspired a festival, a host of local chefs and a rather fine line in damson gin.

They are, most of all, the true taste of spring.

Read my story from the Independent here.

Damson blossoms in full bloom


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Filed under Northwest, Travel writing

The Flaming Lips at Jodrell Bank: photo blog

It was a night of Pulsar Astrophysics and psychedelia, headlined by The Flaming Lips.

We started with a touch of cosmology, the study of the origin and evolution of the Universe.

And did some experiments: infra-red sensors and recreating sound of the Big Bang.

Then Wayne Coyne turned up in his giant space bubble and we went to say hello.

By sunset I was turning into a robot while the crowd cheered, “Science, science, science.”

But the Lovell Telescope, our eye on the sky since 1957 and now bidding to become a Unesco World Heritage Site, was gearing up for action.

The Flaming Lips were about to take to the stage. That is, after Dr Tim O’Brian did his Brian Cox audition.

But it was the encore that really stole the show. Science meets psychedelia.

Here’s a taster.

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Filed under Northern England, Northwest, Uncategorized

Tourism Northwest – a follow up

Blimey. Hit the North must have touched a nerve somewhere with Monday’s post, a wake-up call to readers after my extended hiatus.

Judging by the flurry of phone calls, emails and Twitter messages I fielded on Monday morning, this blog is not about to be consigned to the recycling bin of history anytime soon.

Thanks to everyone who did get in touch. We’re all busy and I appreciate your efforts. But what have we learnt from this – apart from some people are rather touchy about their brand yet reluctant to post a view-by-all comment on the blog?

No much so far. I’m still looking for inspiration from across the region, although an autumn visit to Lancashire is looking increasingly likely. It’s early days but I suspect this idea will turn out to be a good story.

Does anyone remember them?

Personally, I’m not bursting to read yet another top ten round up of catch-all lazy journalism, nor swooning over another nicey-nicey review of a free cream tea the writer scoffed on the way to their spa treatment.

I like reading real stories. Or is that just me?

I still think the best travel stories are not about places but the people who live in them. But they also need a bit of proper journalism, human interaction, research, a timely hook etc.

It’s easy to appear belligerent but I’m trying to be practical. So I’m planning to post some examples of recent assignments I think made good stories over the next few weeks.

Then I’ll shut up.

Waiting for the ferry at Rampside

First stop: Piel Island, Cumbria.

Get those comments ready.

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Filed under Northwest, Tourism, Travel

Does anyone still care about tourism in England’s Northwest?

Hit the North returns from a somewhat enforced break with a question: did we give up on tourism around the Northwest?

After all, when I first started this blog’s latest incarnation in January 2010, the central theme was exploring my own backyard – the diversity of the area from Cumbria to North Wales and all those in between. I found plenty to celebrate and met others who shared my enthusiasm.

But during my recent hiatus I’ve noticed a decline in efforts to keep the tourism momentum rolling. Should I call time on Hit the North?

Filthy lucre

The issue is, of course, money. The Northwest Regional Development Agency had its funding withdrawn under Government spending plans and is currently being wound down. It will finally close its doors around Christmas; read more here.

Responsibility for tourism promotion has been handed back to the five regional tourism associations. They, in turn, have suffered those now-infamous swingeing budget cuts despite a pledge by Prime Minister Cameron to make Britain one of the world’s top five tourist destinations in the world.

I know for a fact that Cumbria Tourism still has a marketing effort, albeit a reduced one. I’ve worked with them recently and you can read about the trip here next week.

But I haven’t heard a peep out of Visit Chester & Cheshire this year, nor Visit Lancashire or Marketing Manchester.

I’m not looking for a red-carpet fanfare but I am keen to find new angles on familiar destinations and uncover real stories behind the mundane.

Is money tight, or have they just run out of ideas?

Short sighted

Either way, I think silence is a mistake. The diversity of the region is as rich as ever and tools available to tourist boards are cheaper, more user friendly and more readily available than at any other time. 

So I’m not  throwing in the towel. Over the next few months Hit the North will be staying vehemently close to home and trying even harder to uncover stories from across the region. I may be ploughing a somewhat lonely furrow at times but at least I’m trying.

Join me.


Filed under Chester, Lake District, Manchester, Northwest, Tourism

Conquering Offa’s Dyke – eventually

It was a case of third time lucky. Commissioned to write a feature for a walking magazine about the Offa’s Dyke National Trail, I had attempted to walk a section of the trail from Oswestry to Llangollen several times.

Every time I stepped off the train in Shropshire it snowed on me. Heavily.

World Heritage

Still, the story was worth pursuing. The earthwork bank, which stretched for 80 miles along the English-Welsh border, is bidding for Unesco World Heritage List. The accompanying long-distance walking trail celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer.

“Offa’s Dyke is very strong in ‘outstanding universal value’, the basic test for Unesco to consider the project,” says Ian Bapty, Secretary of the Offa’s Dyke Association. “The path helped to create English and Welsh identity.”

High wire

So myself and the assigned photographer tried again. And again.

Eventually the snow subsided and we got some images of me striding purposefully over Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Thomas Telford’s engineering masterpiece some 127ft above the River Dee near Llangollen.

Non runner

While sitting around, waiting for a break in the weather, I was reading I Wouldn’t Star From Here, a collection of travel writing by Andrew Mueller.

What I enjoyed most was the behind-the-scenes stuff – when the jobbing writer finds his assignment untangling before his eyes through no fault of his own, or battles against common sense to fulfil an editor’s impossible brief.

Here’s his take on Jerusalem:

… to suggest to a mainstream readership that they might enjoy a holiday in a place which had, in preceding years, been at best slightly dicey, at worst an outright war zone … My cheerful travel feature on Jerusalem is yet to run.

As freelance writers, we are judged on results. Come ice storms and political crisis, we have to deliver.

That’s a freelancer’s lot and I accept it as such. But it’s great to find a writer willing to explode some myths about the process to arrive at that final printed version.

Your shout

Shropshire was a minor delay and we eventually got the story. You can even read the final version when published in walk magazine in March.

But I’ve had stories spiked, trips fall apart and angles shot down in flames plenty of times before.

As we stare hopefully down the barrel of another year, maybe I’ll share some behind-the-scenes insights on this blog.


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Filed under Northwest, Travel writing

Hit the North is one

Thanks to for mulling over how Hit the North did in 2010. Post below what you’d like to read more of here in 2011.

Meanwhile, we start the new year with a high-level summary of its blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Number crunching

Featured image

This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2010.

In 2010, there were 44 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 45 posts. There were 98 pictures uploaded. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was February 8, 2010 with 70 views. The most popular post that day was Manchester Airport’s new mile-high club.

Referring on

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for chris ofili, duncan barkes talksport, darryl lonsbrough, and father ted.

Top five posts

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

Manchester Airport’s new mile-high club February 2010

David Atkinson December 2009

Straight talking at Travellers’ Tales February 2010

When Hilton gets it right – and wrong February 2010

On the heritage trail in Leeds August 2010

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Filed under Northwest, Online writing, Travel

Coronation Street celebrates 50 years of Mancunian kitchen-sink dramas

To Manchester. Not for sparkling urban regeneration, nor pop-culture heritage, but a lowly street with a corner shop, a local pub and a cast of everyday folk.

Coronation Street celebrates its 50th birthday on December 9 and ITV will mark the big day with what is alleged to be the most expensive shoot in soap history.

Urban renewal

Me? I’m a lapsed Corrie viewer. Lapsed since I was a teenager in the Eighties, to be honest, although I do remember coming to the now-defunct Granada TV Studios tour as a child.

But I’ve come to Manchester to see how – or if – the story reflects the way Manchester has changed since the gritty, monochrome days of industrial decline in the early Sixties.

Manchester is a pretty different place to the city where three TV producers gathered in 1960 to work on ideas for a new programme called Florizel Street, just commissioned for a 13-week run.

The Beetham Tower is Europe’s tallest residential building, MediaCityUK will come alive at Salford Quays in May next year when the BBC moves into its new premises and the Manchester International Festival returns in 2011, attracting European visitors to its high-profile cultural events.

Walking tour

But does Corrie accurately reflect Manchester life on the screen? To find out, I joined a walking tour this week led by Ed Glinert of New Manchester Walks.

His Corrie anniversary tour is a two-hour spin around the city, revealing Corrie-fan anecdotes and uncovering nuggets of showbiz gossip at each location we visit.

“It’s still compulsive viewing but I yearn for the great characters,” says Ed, who loves what he calls “the golden age of Coronation Street” – that’s 1975 to ’85.

Read more

Where did we go? What happens behind the Checkpoint Charlie facade of the studios? And what inside gossip do I know about the storyline this December?

You can read more in my stories over the next couple of months. I’ll be posting links up here and to my Twitter account.

Meanwhile, how do you feel Manchester is portrayed by Coronation Street? Post your thoughts below.


Filed under Manchester, Northwest, Travel writing