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Wanderthirst: my staycation in Bradford made me really appreciate its unique personality

For gal-dem's travel series Wanderthirst, Aisling returns to her hometown to remind herself what it has to offer

16 Oct

Illustration by Serina Kitazono

The pandemic encouraged many of us to holiday in UK destinations we wouldn’t previously have considered. I used the opportunity to steer our holiday plans away from Cornwall and the Cotswolds to an undervalued destination: my hometown of Bradford in West Yorkshire. Sure, Bradford may more commonly appear on ‘worst city in the UK’ lists rather than holiday wish lists, but it has a lot to offer and I was on a mission to prove it to my Kiwi boyfriend.

I have to admit, I’m always a little torn re-visiting Bradford from where I now live in London. It wasn’t always the easiest place to grow up. Jobs are hard to come by, poverty is high and ongoing tensions between different communities are very real. However, as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s my years away that have made me appreciate the unique personality the city has, and the stories you can uncover if you scratch beneath the surface. 

Even living in a big city like Bradford, you can drive for ten minutes and be surrounded by fields”

Pulling into Bradford city centre on the train, you are immediately greeted by grand-looking buildings. The vast wealth it once held as ‘wool capital of the world’ in the 19th and 20th centuries is still visible, in some instances quite literally through the textile mills that remain standing around the city. Its City Hall stands proud over a square that provides a snapshot of the diversity of the city’s population. We lingered to watch children splash through a large water feature in the centre, infectious expressions of joy on their faces. Around the perimeter, a group of women wearing hijabs stood chatting, while a man with long dreadlocks sat on a nearby bench pumping music from a portable speaker. 

Bradford has long been a city of migration, from the wealthy, eponymous German merchants of Little Germany (where 55 of its 85 Victorian buildings are listed for their historic importance), to its more recent waves, such as my own grandparents migrating from Dominica in the 1950s. They left their children in Dominica, shared out between grandparents, while they saved enough money to bring them over one by one. Adding another four to their brood, including my dad, once they arrived. Bradford is also home to the largest proportion of people from Pakistani backgrounds in England at 20.3%. 

You may have heard the legendary status of a Bradford curry, and I can assure you they don’t disappoint. We visited MyLahore, a bright and buzzy restaurant with excellent food and even better service. There are so many things I love about this place, not least the complete mix of people you will encounter, the menu with its combination of Asian and halal European classics (think lasagne and jam roly poly), and most of all, that dinner for two with a shared starter and sundries comes in at under £30. Need I say more?

One of the things I didn’t appreciate enough growing up is how close you always are to nature in Yorkshire. Even living in a big city like Bradford, you can drive for ten minutes and be surrounded by fields. I often feel stifled by how difficult it is to reach somewhere with no people and no cars in London. So, the next day we put on our waterproofs and headed to Haworth, a postcard-perfect, tiny village, which was home to the Brontë sisters and sits surrounded by rugged moorland.

Bradford has long been a city of migration, from the wealthy, eponymous German merchants of Little Germany, to its more recent waves, such as my own grandparents migrating from Dominica”

I have always felt incredibly at home in the UK countryside, though I appreciate that’s not the position of all Black women in the country. The relationship between race and our countryside is a complicated one. Figures show the vast majority of people who visit these spaces are white, and that’s due to a range of reasons from difficulty in travel and a lack of knowledge about the countryside, to fear of discrimination once there.

But for me, standing on the edge of a cliff with the wind whipping my curls, I feel a real sense of connection to where we have come from and where we are going. A connection to the constant ebb and flow of people who have travelled over land to find their own slice of comfort and freedom, and to those who have forged the way before us. Like the Brontë sisters, now celebrated worldwide for their novels but who originally wrote under male pseudonyms to have any chance of being taken seriously. And most of all, connection to the hard-working, open and friendly people who call this part of the world home. It’s a cliché but it’s true. My boyfriend couldn’t quite get used to the fact that every person we passed when walking on the moors smiled and said hello without fail.

Bradford can be a little rough around the edges at times. But if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, you will uncover something special, and somewhere with excitement bubbling just under the surface, near to flowing over and showing the rest of the country what it has to offer. 

Useful information 


• Having a car isn’t essential but is very useful. We booked a taxi to Haworth from where we were staying in Heaton which took 18 minutes, rather than 90 minutes on public transport.

• Some of the smaller museums don’t open every day. Check websites before you visit.

Highlights


Saltaire, a village built by mill owner Sir Titus Salt to house his workers. It’s a world heritage site and well worth a visit. 

• Similarly, Ilkley is a great spot for a long walk with great views. Be sure to reward yourself with tea and cake in one of the cafes afterwards.

• Sunbridge Wells is a warren of underground shops, bars and restaurants. It was originally a 13th-century quarry and has previously been a home to prison cells, an air raid shelter and a nightclub in the 1960s.

• Explore further afield if you have a car. Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a firm favourite, along with Shibden Hall, home to the 19th-century businesswoman, lesbian, and all-round badass, Anne Lister. There’s also the nearby nightlife of Manchester, quaint history of York, and Sheffield with its access to the Peaks.