IT’S fair to say the city of Bradford doesn’t enjoy the best of reputations. I’ve read a lot about it and some of it was very unfavourable.
But I’m an open-minded sort of chap, so when I was invited to spend a weekend there I set out to unearth some of the positives of what the websites that set out to promote it call a ‘city of surprises’.
Let’s look at some of the basic facts. Bradford is, and this surprised me a bit, the sixth largest city in the country in terms of its population.
It’s a fairly easy journey up from the Midlands as long as the M1 is kind to you, and it’s quite simple to navigate once you’re in it.
Interestingly, Bradford is the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. I’m not much of a film buff, but evidence of its cultural significance is everywhere, especially in its theatres and its hosting of the National Media Museum. More on that in a moment.
Another thing I like about Bradford is its remarkable architecture. The Victorian buildings that tower above the streets are stunning and there’s evidence of what was once a thriving industry all around the place.
It’s clear Bradford’s fortunes have not been quite so healthy in recent years and horrid modern tower blocks are interespersed with the beautfiul old buildings, making for an uncomfortable, if not unusual mix as you gaze across the skyscape.
But it’s fair to say the city seems to be up and coming. Right in the heart of it is a massive development which will soon result in 570,000 sq ft of Westfield shopping centre springing up, packing in more than 70 shops and 1,300 parking spaces.
The hotel my wife and I used as a base for exploring Bradford, the historic Midland Hotel, has a wonderful vantage point of this site and it’s little more than a muddy collection of diggers and lorry containers at the moment, but you can get a feel for the scale of it.
The Midland Hotel is a three-star, 90-bedroomed nod at the once lavish budgets of railway tycoons who built it in the 19th Century as a centrepiece to their growing northern network.
Very little of its super-high quality construction and ostentatious decor has been lost in its transition to 21st century function and the inside of the building is still stunning and beautifully kept.
The hotel originally had 115 bedrooms, which should give some idea of its sheer size. I gather actor Sir Henry Irving died on the stair case following a theatre performance in 1905. I’m not surprised really, it’s a heck of a climb. There is a lift though, thankfully.
My wife and I were checked in to room 243 which our paperwork said was a suite - but I’d say it was more of a generous luxury room. To be fair, it was huge. We had a four-poster bed, a large television, superb tea and coffee set and a great bathroom with a huge shower and twin sinks.
There are three bars in the hotel and its main restaurant, the ‘Midland Grill’, has a menu that sits comfortably between a typical English meal offering with hearty portions and a lovingly prepared fine-dining experience. Breakfast the following day was also very pleasant.
On the whole we were very impressed with the Midland Hotel. Its interior is one of those that you could sit and stare at for hours, it’s spotlessly clean and the staff are all very helpful and friendly. It’s the perfect base for a tour of Bradford.
And while you’re in the city, another place to head for is its relatively new ‘mirror pool’. the locals affectionately call it the ‘puddle in the park’ and it’s an arty centre-piece to a very swish new part of Bradford. Surprisingly, it’s the largest water feature found in any of the UK’s cities and it cost nearly £25 million to build but the shallow pool of water with its fountains, vapour mists and random, noisy bursts of compressed air certainly draws the crowds.
We passed it on the way to the National Media Museum, one of the tourist hotspots Bradford is most proud of. It’s free to enter and is an absolute must-see.
Over eight floors, visitors are taken through the story of the modern media, warts and all. From the birth of photograph and its influence on society to the growth of the internet and the significance of television - it’s all there.
It’s packed full of interactive exhibits that you could spend ages playing with and my wife and I, along with our two Yorkshire friends who travelled in by train to meet us, had a superb day messing around with cameras, magic tricks and even video games of our youth.
The National Media Museum is one of the best UK visitor attractions I’ve been to and, even taking into account the stunning theatres and art galleries, it’s definitely one of Bradford’s highlights.
To be absolutely honest, there’s still some work to do in the city, but progress has obviously been made and is certainly on-going, it’s definitely worth a visit.
And if someone tells you there’s nothing to see then they clearly didn’t look hard enough.