It’s Yorkshire Day, so here’s a definitive ranking of the best towns and cities in God’s Own Country

Tour d'Yorkshire, 2014. Image: Getty.

It’s Yorkshire Day, a.k.a. the best day of the year, which warrants an excessive consumption of pints and a dose of Indie music taken from the 2003-07.

God’s Own Country is an idiosyncratic mess, a white rose that should be watered into full bloom by the people who know it best. Anyone from Yorkshire bleeds Yorkshire, and the pride of its people is out in force on this, the holiest of days.

So the celebrate, here’s an official ranking of the socioeconomically vulnerable yet beautiful cities that make up this county, produced by a Yorkshire native.

14) Ripon

Ripon, I hear you cry. Does Ripon even count? Does Ripon even know it’s born?

Ripon, which is basically Harrogate, betrays Yorkshire by being a painfully Tory stronghold. Go visit the cathedral for a day trip, but pay no attention to the plummy accents that taint an aesthetically pleasing city. You have entered the Bermuda triangle of Yorkshire. I fear it might be ruining our reputation.

13) Grimsby

Rivals. Cod heads. Bastards. If I push it, I suppose I could say thanks for not burning down your side of the Humber Bridge.

The Humber Bridge. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Editor’s note: Grimsby was historically in Lincolnshire but is now in the Yorkshire & Humber region so still qualifies for this ranking. By the same token, Middlesbrough has been excluded. Sorry, but I don’t make the rules.)

12) Harrogate

Same as Ripon, but with worse tea-shops.

The Harrogate Cenotaph. Image: DS Pugh/Wikimedia Commons.

Fucking Betty’s.


11) Rotherham

Rotherham gets a hard rap, and is often framed in right wing sensationalist rags as the epicentre of obesity, teenage pregnancy and depravity. Jamie Oliver used to frequent it to make himself look good.

Rotherham, in all honesty, doesn’t give a shit what you think of it, and I believe will exist in humdrum monotony when the apocalypse has taken the rest of us down.

10) Huddersfield

Hudds is weird, man. I don’t feel like I’ve given Huddersfield the time it deserves, but then I think most people don’t dwell on Huddersfield and it’s generally for good reason.

Huddersfield. Image: Richard Harvey/Wikimedia Commons.

Huddersfield doesn’t have a grand identity like the rest of the cities on the list. It’s the kid that got the fourth places badge in the egg and spoon race. Huddersfield, try harder. You have it in you.

9) Doncaster

Doncaster, aka God’s Waiting Room, is a purgatorial space that people only visit because of the connective powers of its train station. Gains several points for its nickname, Donny, which sounds like a teenager who got sacked from their weekend job for trying to sniff boot polish in the store room.

8) Sheffield

Sheffield likes to pretend it isn’t really a part of Yorkshire proper, like it stands alone somehow, and it sometimes feels like it shits on its less hilly cousins in order to get there. People set comedies in Sheffield when they don’t understand the rest of Yorkshire. It pisses me off.

Sheffield by night. Image: Benedict Hunjan/Wikimedia Commons.

It did spawn Pulp, mind, and in recent times, its local politics have shunted it up the list. Its current lord mayor is the brilliantly-named Magid Magid, a Green party rep who invites his constituents to come see Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again with him. Coincidentally, he is the only man I am willing to marry.

While we’re here, I should remind you that the Tory government took the Northern Powerhouse jobs stationed in Sheffield, plonked them in London and told Sheff’s employees that they could commute. Will you kindly fuck off, London.


7) Halifax

Halifax is all about the Eureka! National Children’s Museum. Go there, watch an electronic Archimedes shout ‘Eureka!’ In the bath, produce some counterfeit money, and leave again. 

6) Wakefield

Wakefield is pure Yorkshire, in the way that the city that spawned The Cribs would have to be. The Hepworth Gallery is an obvious win, but as the city’s main attraction it is a bit of an attention seeker.

Wakefield Westgate, c1900. Image: public domain.

Wakefield, however, does well for its size, and its close connection with the Pennines (a range of hills unfortunately shared with the north west, boo hiss) is somewhat of a plus.


5) Barnsley

Barnsley is home to one of the best accents in Yorkshire. A small, post-industrial town often forgotten thanks to Sheffield’s peacocking, it is a place that has struggled and is often misunderstood.

I have a lot of time for Barnsley’s working-class credentials, and like any other city struggling to be seen in a country in the grip of London-centrism, believe that you should visit it to understand how the other half live.

Broke: screaming “Kes!” at its civilians.

Woke: realising that Kes is fifty-years old and the city desperately longs for new working-class representations to depict its idiosyncrasies and socioeconomic struggles.

4) York

Tourist trap. Got a mighty soft spot for it, though. Stunning and feels like Hogsmeade every day of the year. (For those who don’t understand: Harry Potter reference that denotes a city that looks like Christmas all-year round, except for basic bitches.) Roam around the Shambles. Get shouted at by the owner of Mr £wich, who creates the best sarnies in town. Most people leave York knowing that they will never feel that happy again.

The Shambles. Image: Peter K. Burian/Wikimedia Commons.

York loses a few points because awful people go to university there. Despite that, it’s a town for 40-somethings, and now that Willow, it’s Chinese restaurant-cum-karaoke bar has shut down, all nightlife has ceased to exist. Go to Leeds like a normal person.

3) Bradford

Bradford is fantastic. Not only are the curries perfect and the Wetherspoons conveniently located (sorry, I’ve been in London too long, please visit some independent pubs), its aesthetic power lies in the fact that it hasn’t given way to a series of homogenous shop fronts that haunt the city centre with corporate sterility.

Bradford, however, is not an entry-level Yorkshire city. The rag ’n’ bone men, complete with horses, still tour the streets, and people WILL attempt to speak to you. Bradford is authentic Yorkshire, however, and gets extra marks for the way it’s embraced multiculturalism with open arms.

The National Science & Media Museum. Image: Dupont Circle/Wikimedia Commons.

(Note on the author: once got chucked out of the National Science & Media Museum for snogging my boyfriend at the time too passionately in the stairwell.)


2) Leeds

Leeds, the city of the cities, is a hard contender for first place in the list. Leeds absolutely has it all: the architecture, the shopping, the music venues, the art galleries, the cheap eats, the nightlife, maaaaaybe not the transport networks (come on Northern Rail, get your act together) but the people. Top accent, too.

Life starts and ends at the Brudenell Social Club, and The Bridge in Kirkstall is the best pub on earth. I don’t know how a city manages to seamlessly flow between rural landscapes and the packed excitement of the city so well. As you can tell, I dream of living in it again one day. Full marks.  

1) Hull

This cheap, cultural tour de force undoubtedly deserves the number one place on the list. Hull is a phoenix, rising from the ashes of some poor op-eds written by idiots who have never stepped foot out of the M25.

The River Hull Tidal Barrier: Phwoar. Image: Andy Beecroft/Wikimedia Commons.

Despite having recently been known as the shittest town in the UK, the once-thriving maritime hub is now the cultural epicentre of Yorkshire. I mean, don’t just ask me, Hull’s least favourite daughter: ask its Capital of Culture title, which it holds until 2020.

Oh, and it’s cheap. Where else can you pay £60k for a four-bedroom house these days? What other city serves chips in its nightclubs to sober you up after you’ve drunk a £1.25 pint? Hull is home to no-nonsense, friendly, hardworking characters that do not care whether you’re from London or Lyme Regis – as long as you’re not from Grimsby. Every man in town is named Dave, Lee or Paul, and not a single Pret A Manger exists in its confines.

Move Parliament to Hull. Move yourself to Hull. Honestly, it’s great.

Jasmine Andersson is a freelance writer based in London. By coincidence, she is originally from Hull.

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Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.

 

Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.

 

The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.


The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.