It might seem unlikely, but Keighley will host sightseeing tours this month. About time, says arts correspondent and proud Keighley lad Nick Ahad.
It would be easy to lay the blame firmly at the door of Bill Bryson, but the genial bearded American was only carrying on a seemingly long tradition when he wrote about Keighley.
It was announced this week that the West Yorkshire town would be home to a sightseeing tour bus.
From this weekend people will be able to hop on board and see some of the delights the town has to offer.
The story was reported with barely concealed sniggers by media outlets across Yorkshire. Keighley? An open top tour bus? Really? You could almost smell the incredulity.
The media professionals failing to hide their contempt for the town that 70,000 souls call home might well have been emboldened by the memory of the aspersions cast by Bryson on the town. Reflecting on his travels around England for his book Notes on a Small Island, Bryson pondered what to write of the home town of Ricky Wilson, Kiki Dee, Alastair Campbell and Chewbacca (aka Peter Mayhew, who played the Wookie in the original Star Wars movies).
Bryson made no mention of the Brontës (despite the fact that they are from a few miles up the road in Haworth, Keighlians have long claimed Emily, Charlotte and Anne as their own). Or of the town’s long history with the wool trade.
What he actually said about Keighley was: “I know the army needs some place for gunnery practice, but surely they could find some new and less visually sensitive location to blow up – Keighley, say.”
Bryson, though, is only one of a number who have called into question the merits of the town. John Cooper Clarke’s poem Burnley notes, in a fairly damning indictment: “I’ll tell you now and I’ll tell you briefly, I don’t ever want to go to Keighley.”
A book called C**p Towns, which listed the 50 worst places to live in the UK, put Keighley at number 40.
None of which bodes particularly well for Graham Mitchell. The town councillor and bus enthusiast will be running the Keighley and Haworth Grand Heritage Tour every weekend in August. Not only will he hope to show strangers from out of town around the parks, public squares and shopping centres that make up Keighley – he’s optimistic that local people will take the opportunity to become “a tourist in their own town”.
The town councillor will not only drive the bus, he will also provide live commentary pointing out the sights for which the town is – or perhaps, should be – famous. As opposed to infamous.
Coun Mitchell was involved in a pilot of the heritage tour last year and says: “Keighley is not normally regarded as a ‘tourist town’ yet it has an absolute wealth of architectural, social and transport history, all of which is examined and explained during the Tour, and it’s best seen from the open top of a double decker bus. I am always gratified by the number of people who alight saying, ‘Eh, I’ve lived in Keighley all me life and I nivver knew that!’”
The tour, which will take place every Saturday and Sunday throughout August, as well as Bank Holiday Monday and August 26 and September 1, will showcase the vast heritage offer across both Keighley and Haworth to visitors, and also encourage local residents from around the area to be a tourist in their own town.
Visit Bradford, the city council’s tourism department, has collaborated with the Keighley Bus Museum Trust and Brontë Country Partnership to launch the Keighley and Haworth Grand Heritage Tour.
Boarding the double decker vintage bus, the two hour round trip will bring people to a wide range of attractions, both historic and contemporary, with participants being invited to hop on and off to explore the variety of local sights at any of the designated stops. The tour will run from 11am to 5pm each weekend and will cover all areas from Keighley to Haworth and back again.
The town clerk, Miggy Bailey, accepts that people have been a little surprised to discover the town, which has seen its fair share of problems, has an open top bus.
“But why not? The town is doing really quite well, it has a shopping centre that’s vibrant and there is a lot of development happening around the town,” she says.
“I moved from Ilkley and people were surprised when I said I would be in Keighley, but when you actually ask them, it’s a long time since many of them actually visited the town.”
Maybe it’s time some took another look. From an open-top bus.