My adopted city is known the world over – a sprawling capital of over 9million people, once the centre of a vast empire that covered a third of the earth’s land surface, it is the seat of the British Royal Family and home to an array of national museums and galleries, from the Natural History Museum to the Tate. “When a man is tired of London,” according to Dr Johnson, “he is tired of life.
In contrast, my home city of Bradford gets a bad rap. Once a wealthy city at the centre of a thriving textiles industry, today it is more often associated with race riots and poverty than with culture and innovation – Wikipedia points out that some areas of the Bradford district “suffer from the highest levels of deprivation in the country… Infant mortality is double the national average.” Where Bradford appears in popular culture – and it does, often – it is generally as the setting for Rita, Sue and Bob, Too, or, in more recent years, the unrelentingly depressing films The Arbor and The Selfish Giant.
I got a wonderful taste of this contrast recently running two 10k races in two months, one in Bradford and the other through the centre of London, where I can vicariously claim to live (in that my address is just inside a London postcode, out on the edge by the M1 that takes me back home again in 4 hours). Before the London run we were sent a fabulously glossy guide of the route with elaborate descriptions of what we would see along the way: “as you round the corner you will see on your left St Paul’s Cathedral, built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. On your right, on the other side of the River, you will be able to see the Shard – Europe’s tallest building – rising majestically above the skyline.” The final 500 metres took us along the Mall, finishing directly in front of Buckingham Palace.
The Bradford 10k was not accompanied by such a guide, perhaps because it took us past boarded up Pound Shops, scrapyards and finished in front of a branch of Nando’s.
In summary, Bradford is probably not on the top of anyone’s travel list. And yet it should be. Its short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful bid to become Capital of Culture in 2003 apparently off the back of Gareth Gates and Bombay Mix made me laugh and cry in equal measure, because, actually, there is easily enough to do in Bradford for a long weekend, for a tiny fraction of what you’d pay for an equivalent break in London. So in the hope of tempting you, here are a few things you can do
- The National Science and Media Museum. This is utterly, fantastically brilliant, and was probably my favourite place as a child, in part because it had a little booth where you could read the “news”, and buy the video afterwards. (Yes. Video. That’s how old I am.) I went back recently and found to my delight that this feature is still there, though they’ve updated the news stories. (For years budding teenage Hugh Edwards got to relate the horror of the Ethiopian famine as part of a fun day out.) Still completely free, the museum still features an array of interactive exhibits, with endless buttons to press and levers to pull. 30 years on it’s still one of my favourite places in the world
- Saltaire. I want to retire here. This glorious “village” was built by industrialist and philanthropist Titus Salt at the height of the Victorian era when Bradford was a manufacturing powerhouse, arguably because he didn’t want his workers to die off as quickly as they did elsewhere in the City, but either way it’s an astounding feat of social planning and now a World Heritage Site. The Mill at the centre of it all is also home to the largest collection of David Hockney paintings in the world – while Andrea Dunbar was introducing the world to the general goings-on of Buttershaw, fellow Bradfordian Hockney had hotfooted it to California and was busy painting young men leaping into swimming pools.
- Everything Bronte. The Bronte sisters were actually born in Bradford, though sadly their birthplace is once again a café rather than the museum you might expect. The more famous Parsonage, however, is just a short drive out from the city, and well worth a visit, with all the rooms eerily restored to their original décor from c1840.
- The Peace Museum. One of the lesser-known but glorious pieces of trivia about my alma mater, King’s College London, is that every year its War Studies Department plays a football match against Bradford’s Peace Studies department for the Tolstoy Cup. (It should be noted that Bradford usually wins.) Bradford University is also home of the Peace Museum, which is small and quirky but just so uniquely positive and so very Bradford in its idiosyncrasy that it’s worth a visit.
- Finally, a trip to Bradford just wouldn’t be complete without a curry. Much as Bradford’s famed cuisine might be the butt of jokes, there is a very good reason why the city was crowned Britain’s curry capital for six years in a row. There is, of course, a mouth-watering plethora of places to choose from, but my favourite are Omar’s Balti House, where the naans are as big as the table, and The Three Singhs, because, well, you have to respect a pun of such quality, and actually the curries are pretty good too.