For those looking for the postcard England of little villages, the northwest region of England might not appear at the top of many sightseeing lists. Manchester, Britain's third-largest city, bustles with redevelopment, and Liverpool is undergoing significant revitalization. However, the 200 years of smokestack industry that abated only in the 1980s have taken a toll on the east Lancashire landscape.
The region does have lovely scenery inland, in Derbyshire (pronounced Dar-be-sha)—notably the spectacular Peak District, a national park at the southern end of the Pennine range.
Manchester and Liverpool, the economic engines that propelled Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, are sloughing off their mid-20th-century decline and celebrating their rich industrial and maritime heritage through some excellent museums—either in converted Victorian edifices, or, in Manchester's case, strikingly modern buildings.
The cities, each with a population of about 500,000, have reestablished themselves as centers of sporting and musical excellence, and also hot spots for culture and nightlife. Since 1962 the Manchester United, Everton, and Liverpool football (soccer in the United States) clubs have won everything worth winning in Britain and Europe. The Beatles launched the Mersey sound of the ’60s; contemporary Manchester groups still punch above their weight on both sides of the Atlantic. On the classical side of music, Manchester is also the home of Britain's oldest leading orchestra, the Hallé (founded in 1857)—just one legacy of 19th-century industrialists' investments in culture.
The natural scenery gets vastly more dramatic and wild as you head inland to the Peak District, a region of crags that rear violently out of the plains. The Pennines, a line of hills that begins in the Peak District and runs as far north as Scotland, are sometimes called the "backbone of England." In this landscape of rocky outcrops and undulating meadowland you'll see nothing for miles but sheep, dry-stone walls (built without mortar), and farms, interrupted—spectacularly—by 19th-century villages and stately homes. In and around this area are Victorian-era spas such as Buxton, pretty towns such as Bakewell, and magnificent houses such as Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, and Haddon Hall. The delight of the Peak District is being able to ramble for days in rugged countryside but still enjoy the pleasures of civilization.