Saturday, June 04, 2005

North-south divide: what divide?

If you thought you knew Great Britain, prepare to have your expectations blown away. This is the view of the co-ordinating author of an updated guide to Britain.

Urban regeneration in key cities has dispelled the myth that it’s 'grim up north'. Everywhere in the new North you’ll find dynamic architecture, designer hotels, cutting edge cuisine and buzzing bars and clubs, said David Else, one of the authors of Lonely Planet’s new edition.

The best-known attractions of the South are better than ever, says the guide to Britain. London has always been, and will continue to be, one of the greats with its world-class museums and galleries, vibrant nightlife and rich history. Other perennials include ever-popular Brighton, Bath and Windsor. The guide lauds the region, saying the South "has a sophisticated dynamism that belies its ‘old-style’ appearance. Inside sloping, half-timbered Tudor buildings you may find an Internet café with high-speed connections, a trendy Asian-fusion restaurant or a hip boutique hotel with the latest wallpaper."

But the North-South divide is a thing of the past. According to the authors there are equally compelling destinations beyond the Watford Gap. David Else said, "When it comes to great destinations, the North-South divide is a myth. Great Britain is now comparable to fine countries such as Italy, which boasts an array of unmissable cities like Rome, Venice, Florence, Turin and Milan."

Leeds is described as "an almost perfect reflection of the contemporary British zeitgeist" and admired for its "cutting edge couture" and "contemporary cuisine".

Manchester is described as "one of Britain’s most exciting and interesting cities" whilst Newcastle-Upon-Tyne is "supremely elegant and one of the most compelling examples of urban rejuvenation in the entire country".

Liverpool is applauded for its "great sense of spirit and togetherness at the core of the Liverpool experience… it’s hard to visit and not be affected". Glasgow is praised as one of the "few cities in Britain to have the contagious energy that you’ll find bubbling away on its streets and in its justifiably famous pubs and bars. Glasgow is a highlight of any trip".

Elsewhere the book finds the greatest appeal of the country to be the friendliness and warmth of the British people the authors encountered, stating that 'they're uninhibited tolerant, exhibitionist, passionate, aggressive, sentimental, hospitable and friendly. It hits you like a breath of fresh air.'

The introduction states Britain is a banquet, a feast of delights to make your mouth water. It's hard to believe that Scotland's snow-capped mountains, the azure waters on Cornwall's sandy beaches, the tranquil village pubs of Wales or the high energy clubs of Manchester are all in the same country - a country that takes just 12 hours to drive end to end.

The views of the authors are a world away from those of the last edition, which characterised the UK as a place of misery and rain.

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