An Alternative Tour of Northern England
October 2, 2014 5:20 AM   Subscribe

Let's start with Fred Dibnah (RIP) whose house (complete with a mine in the garden) is now a heritage centre. His TV career gives an idea of the sheer scope of his interests.

We also have the Williamson Tunnels, a veritable maze of tunnels underneath large parts of Liverpool, built for no reason that anyone can tell. While you're in Liverpool, you can stop by the Lawnmower Museum.

If you're a fan of underground expeditions, in Yorkshire you can visit the Devil's Arse which regularly hosts all manner of gigs as well as historical tours. Not far away is the National Coal Mining Museum where ex-miners give tours of a disused mine, and a little further north you can visit Mother Shipton's Cave and its associated petrifying well, as well as the Forbidden Corner.

Finally I give you the smallest manned navy in the world and the only family-owned motorway service station in the UK.
posted by emilyw (19 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Can I suggest a detour to the Pencil Museum in Keswick?
posted by sobarel at 5:23 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember Fred's shows fondly. His mantle has been taken up somewhat by Lincolnshire bike racer, engineering enthusiast and Wolverine lookalike Guy Martin (SLYT)
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:24 AM on October 2, 2014

If I want cheese, really good cheese, cheese I would fight tooth and nail to protect, then I get it from a motorway service station. Best. Cheese. Ever.
posted by vbfg at 5:25 AM on October 2, 2014

I was inspired to post this by this comment from gadget_gal. Apparently, during the years when the Williamson Tunnels had been forgotten about, houses were built over them, some of which developed holes in the cellars that the inhabitants would sweep their rubbish into. Years later these enormous mounds of Victorian rubbish have been found a hundred metres below and are proving quite fascinating.

There's also a kind of accidental concrete sculpture down there, caused by contractors pouring concrete footings for some building overhead and wondering why it was taking a lot more concrete than they expected.
posted by emilyw at 5:30 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the YSP - one of my favourite places! Not far away is the Hepworth which is well worth a visit too, and recently served as the futuristic lair of the bad guys in the TV show Utopia.

The Williamson tunnels are on my to-do list, but I've done the tunnel tour in Manchester (there's also another network of BT tunnels and nuclear shelters that aren't accessible to the public) and the caves in Stockport that were used as air-raid shelters.
posted by sobarel at 5:40 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait, there's stuff to do?

Well now what am I going to do with all these "It's Grim Up North" T-Shirts?
posted by aramaic at 6:01 AM on October 2, 2014

Guy Martin is indeed the new Fred Dibnah. He's also completely mental.
posted by emilyw at 6:06 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember Fred's shows fondly.

Yup, this would be a fantastic FPP if I hadn't watched all the shows repeatedly on TV. Great for someone who's never been exposed to Fred before though.

The Lawnmower museum is pretty shit though. Skip Southport altogether and go to the Peak District instead. I always liked the Blue John Cavern.

My daughter was a tour guide at the Williamson Tunnels before she went off to University. She's a mefite, but I'm damned if I can remember her user name. Perhaps she'll chip in at some point.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:15 AM on October 2, 2014

Actually, I misworded that last comment. This is a fantastic FPP whichever way you cut it.

Flagged as such.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:20 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sheffield has a network of rivers and brooks that run directly underneath many built-up (or built-over) areas. There's a point of convergence under the central railway station, where arches and pillars support a man-made cavern known as 'the megatron'. It's a place that lots of cave-divers and pot-holers visit when they're not out in the limestone caverns of the Yorkshire Dales. Lots of different photo-reports up on 28DL, the urban exploration forum (also other Northern Cities feature quite prominently there).
posted by Joeruckus at 7:33 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

So I was watching Scott & Bailey last week and typed in the name of one of the mills shown in the intro and read a bit in Wikipedia about how the chimney was taken down a brick at a time by steeplejack Fred Dibnah. Now I get to follow up, thanks.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:18 AM on October 2, 2014

Great post!

Now do one for the Southwest.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:24 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I spent a couple of years in Yorkshire as a teenager, and now I'm interested in taking my husband there in a couple of years once the Richard III business is safely settled. Mostly I wanted to take him to historical sites I'd visited, but this is a fascinating list, and I want to take him ALL THE PLACES now. Thanks!
posted by immlass at 9:25 AM on October 2, 2014

immlass in a couple of years once the Richard III business is safely settled

Makes it sound like you're worried the Wars of the Roses are about to kick off again!

aramaic Well now what am I going to do with all these "It's Grim Up North" T-Shirts?

It's bloody lovely up here and don't let anyone tell you different.
posted by sobarel at 9:29 AM on October 2, 2014

I took my other half to the Forbidden Corner a couple of months ago as I believe it's impossible to describe it to someone, you just have to go.

He loved it. There are some truly jaw-dropping, laugh out loud moments as you explore the place and we (a 30-ish couple) got to be wonderstruck kids for several hours. Amazing place.
posted by cardamine at 9:38 AM on October 2, 2014

MartinWisse, I'm not familiar with the South West but you can probably do worse than starting with the splendid book Bollocks to Alton Towers and its sequel, which feature several of my Yorkshire favourites.
posted by emilyw at 9:53 AM on October 2, 2014

"It's got to go that bloody way one way or another"
posted by liliillliil at 11:22 AM on October 2, 2014

I love Fred Dibnah. His Wikipedia page is a thing of wonder.

There's none more northern than this:

"A popular pastime for local children was playing around the many mill lodges (industrial ponds) which once littered the area. An inventive child, Dibnah and some friends designed a makeshift diving suit from a crisp tin, a car inner tube and some piping."

"Dibnah and his friend Alan Heap built a canoe from old bicycle wheels (cut in half to make the ribs), slate laths and a canvas sheet from the back of a lorry. Much to the consternation of his mother, Dibnah sailed the boat along the nearby River Croal.[6] He once astonished his teachers when, following the theft of the school keys, he cut new keys for each classroom door.[7]"

"Dibnah decided to replace the chimney stack at his mother's house on Alfred Street with one of his own design, as his mother used only one fireplace—leaving four of the five chimney pots redundant. As the single opening at the top of the new stack was only about 4 inches (10 cm) wide, the flue needed regular maintenance. On one occasion, he was cleaning the flue using a sack of bricks tied to a rope when the sack ripped open, breaking several lead pipes and flooding his mother's kitchen."

"In 1988 he was asked by Caernarfon Council to make repairs to a chimney at Parc Glynllifon.[46] Beneath the chimney, an engine room contained an 1854 single-cylinder steam engine in poor condition. Dibnah repaired the chimney and several weeks later was asked to repair the engine, which he dismantled during the winter of 1988/89 and took back to Bolton.[46] With his assistant Neil Carney, he spent six months repairing the engine. The two sourced a replacement boiler from a local pork pie factory"

I could keep quoting more but basically you should read the whole thing.
posted by Len at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Stopped reading at "Dibnah" and reached for the favorite button. Glorious post.
posted by frijole at 12:04 PM on October 2, 2014

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