I had two trips to the county of Lancashire this week, including a visit to Wallace and Gromit’s home town of Wigan. Apparently, they live at 62 West Wallaby Street but strangely, I couldn’t find it on any map:-
Monday: Nissan Juke 1.2 DIG-T Envy, Leicester to Wigan, Lancashire
Tuesday: two Ford Transit Customs, Doncaster to Nottingham
Wednesday: Audi A1 Sport 1.4TFSI, Syston, Leicestershire to Grantham, Lincolnshire; Bentley Continental GTC Speed W12 (2015), Grantham to Syston; Volvo XC60 D5 Power Pulse R-Design Pro AWD (auto) in and around Leicestershire; Bentley Continental GT W12 (2008), Syston to Rugby, Warwickshire, Peugeot 2008 Active 1.2T (82hp), Rugby to Birmingham to Syston.
Friday: Range Rover Velar D180 S, Derby to Colne, Lancashire
From what I saw of Lancashire, it certainly lived up to an image. Victorian towns built in a uniform, yellowy grey stone, hidden amongst the hills of an imposingly bleak countryside, made bleaker on Friday’s visit when grey clouds crept ever lower and blew drizzle across the landscape. Remnants of those dark Satanic Mills from the days of the Industrial Revolution can still be seen, some starkly empty and haunting, others put to more modern uses. When the trains eventually arrived, the trip from the small town of Colne in the Red Rose county of Lancashire across the Pennines to the White Rose county of Yorkshire was fascinating. The vista alternated between the grand but often grim Victorian industrial architecture and nature’s daunting best.
So, from the perspective of an ignorant non-Lancastrian, what characterises Lancashire which, historically, included the great cities of Manchester and Liverpool until 1974? I have done a little research:-
– Industrial Heritage. Although most of the county is rural, Lancashire was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Liverpool and Manchester grew and dominated world trade. Many folk swapped a hard life in the fields for what was arguably a harder life in the cotton mills that sprang up in many Lancashire towns such as Accrington, Burnley, Blackburn, Bolton and Colne (there are places in Lancashire beginning with letters from further on in the alphabet by the way). By 1830, 85% of all cotton manufactured worldwide was processed in Lancashire. If you are interested, The Road To Nab End, an autobiographical book by William Woodruff, is a very readable and vivid insight into the grinding hardship and miserable poverty endured by those living in the Lancashire mill towns as late as the 1920s. Lancashire also boasted one of the country’s most important coalfields, Britain’s first proper canal (the Bridgewater Canal) and the world’s first properly signalled and timetabled inter-city railway. This line between Liverpool and Manchester was opened in 1830.
– Rivalry. With neighbouring Yorkshire that is. This reached its bloodiest peak during the War of the Roses when the House of Lancaster and the House of York were constantly at each other’s throats. Think Game of Thrones, subtract a witty dwarf, a Wildling or two and a bit of incest and you get the picture. This bit of medieval fisticuffs lasted about 30 years and culminated in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 when Lancastrian Henry Tudor won the game (and the throne) after the infamous Yorkist king, Richard III was stuck with a few pointy ends. He lost his horse and his life. In more modern times, battlefields became cricket pitches and Yorkshire tends to get the better of things (33 County Championship titles to date versus Lancashire’s 9).
– Comedians. Has any other county in the UK produced so many top class comedians? Stan Laurel, Eric Sykes, Arthur Askey, Ken Dodd, Eric Morecambe, Les Dawson, Peter Kay and Lee Mack to name but a few. I guess there is a joke in there somewhere about needing a sense of humour to live in Lancashire. And no, I haven’t forgotten the utterly brilliant Victoria Wood who is now, sadly, beating angels on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly.
– Food. Lancashire hotpot (lamb stew with a crispy, sliced potato lid), Lancashire cheese (a white, creamy cheese which comes in hard or crumbly varieties), black pudding (a blood sausage), Eccles cakes and the similar Chorley cakes (both flattish sweet pastries filled with raisins and/or sultanas). All good hearty, no nonsense stuff.
– Sport. A hot bed of Rugby League (13 rather than 15 men running around with odd shaped balls); many old and famous footballs clubs, several in the Premier League (Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Burnley) and others dreaming of past glories (e.g. Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End). And cricket, with Lancashire County Cricket Club having been founded in 1864 and managing to finish as runners-up in this year’s County Championship. England’s best ever Test bowler hails from Lancashire – the Burnley Express a.k.a. James Anderson. Jimmy is generally more reliable than the trains in Lancashire. Hopefully, he can work his magic this winter in Australia and help England retain the Ashes (but I must confess, I’m not optimistic!).
– Countryside. I suspect Lancastrians would say that Lancashire has it all (except the weather to go with it): rambling countryside, hills, deep valleys and challenging moorland some of which is covered by two officially designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Forest of Bowland and Arnside & Silverdale. And there’s coastline too, including that most famous of old seaside resorts, Blackpool.
And what of the cars? I had not driven the new Volvo XC60 before Tuesday. The old one was a worthy car but a tincy bit unrefined. So the new one has that sorted, right? Well, I’m not sure. It was unmistakably a diesel and road noise was more noticeable than I expected. The much cheaper VW Tiguan is quieter. However, the Volvo definitely feels more upmarket and is something a little bit different. I quite liked it. And it has the best 360 degree camera I have come across so far (i.e. where the touchscreen gives you a shot as if you are actually looking down on the car). How do they do that? I even stuck my head out of the window to see if there was a camera drone hovering above the car. To see what I think of the other cars (and van), click on the links in the list above. The Juke was still bumpy but I liked the 1.2 turbo petrol engine. The Peugeot 2008 was still horrible.
By the way, as well as being grey, damp and cold, Friday was also one of my worst days travel-wise. En route to Colne, the M6 was closed which resulted in a lengthy detour and over an hour’s delay in delivering the Velar. Plan A for my return trip was scuppered by a bus which didn’t turn up – another hour’s delay. Then a train cancellation caused yet another sixty minute delay and all five trains needed to get home ran late. But at the end of the day, many people in this world have far bigger problems than coming home to a congealed curry. So, am I bovvered? No, I count myself very lucky.