Skipton – castles, cafes & canals

The other week, as the year slid towards the middle of August, with no Sunday plans, and a dismal weather forecast, I still couldn’t face staying indoors and needed some adventure to temper my wanderlust.

A West Yorkshire town called Skipton had been a place I’d wanted to visit for a few years, always half arranged with someone or for some unspecified time and never quite making it happen. At around a 1hr 10 minute drive away, it was pretty much one decent podcast and maybe a couple of my favourite Parquet Courts songs, and before I knew it, I was pulling up to the long stay carpark round the back of the medieval castle, known as Bailey Carpark.

I arrived just as the clock was striking 10am, which conveniently enough is the time Skipton Castle opens it’s doors. There was a quite fumble of mobile phones, as the castle still requires an online booking prior to entry, and so myself and a group of women ahead of me, had to quickly log onto the castles website and book ourself in. It only took a few minutes and then with our barcodes ready, we were good to go. It’s paid entry only and there isn’t really a garden or grounds you can explore for free, so if you want to pass through the big stone gateway and imposing watch towers, you need to pay just under £10 to get in. The stone sign at the top reads ‘Desormais’ meaning Henceforth! A reminder of its French Norman history.

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Once I was in, with my free map, I avoided the main entrance of the castle where the other early arrivals seemed headed, and veered left to peer inside the 700 year old St Johns Chapel. This stone building with large arched windows was pretty atmospheric as the morning sun streamed through, casting shadows on the cold floor, I was glad I had it all to myself.

I then headed back towards the castle, via the toilets (I have a weak bladder, what can I say) and climbed the Lady Anne’s steps to enter. It took maybe around 45 minutes to fully explore each room of the castle that is spread over 2 floors, with the exception of the east wing that’s still a private residence.

The castle is said to be one of the best preserved and most complete mediaeval castles in England, and at over 900 years old, there’s lots to explore. All the rooms are clearly labelled, and with the free illustrated map you get on arrival, you could probably spend longer if you really wanted to absorb yourself in its history.

There is a dungeon, the pretty cobbled Conduit Courtyard and lots of small stone staircases leading into interesting rooms. Highlights included the Lord’s bedchamber, the north fighting chamber, the beer and wine cellar, the curing room with large kitchen & the mediaeval long drop toilets, which gave me flashback to many a festival nightmare.

The withdrawing room, where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for a while, was another highlight, this particular room has a large north facing window, out of which Mary could look towards her homeland of Scotland. And look out for the purpose built crossbow slit window located in one of the fighting chambers, I can only imagine the gory chaos that it must have caused.

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So for even someone like myself, who’s not that well versed in this particular period in history, its still super interesting and due to its well preserved state, you really get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a busy, noisy fully functioning castle.

It was just after 11am once I was ready to leave and head down the main high street, after a quick look in the gift shop of course. There are loads of little independant shops selling local crafts, chocolate and walking gear. A few places that stood out were Ellie Warburton Cakes, Steep and Filter (a coffee shop with a zero waste refill centre), and Lighthouse Lane on the main street, full of quirky, local, Yorkshire themed gifts, of which the main photo of this post was taken from.

But for coffee and cake, I had my eye on Kibble Bakery, a dog friendly bakery and coffee house, with both indoor and outdoor seating, selling both human and dog friendly bakes, as well as dog accessories and tote bags (yes, I bought one). Of course I travelled alone, so had to make do with talking to the many dogs who turned up with their families, whilst I ordered their delicious plant based chocolate cookie with an oat milk cappuccino complete with adorable chocolate pawprint on the top.

My final stop was a walk along the Springs Canal, which you can easily access if you head left past the Holy Trinity Church. There is definately a lot more to explore here, and you could probably carve out a day just for walks in the area, but my main visit this time was for the castle and town centre, and as the rain started to come down just as I was leaving the coffee shop, I didnt venture too long up the towpath.

Luckily I wasnt too drenched by the time I got back to my car, and so I headed back west, into Lancashire. With the weather improving, there were some gorgeous views of the countryside, so I popped on another podcast and gradually made my way home.

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Brutal Preston

Another August weekend of wet and windy weather and cancelled plans, so I returned to my Brutal North book, and decided to head to my home town one wild Sunday morning.

There are 3 buildings featured in the book, one to the North of the city, in Fulwood and then the other two close to each other in the city centre, so I decided to visit all 3, add a few other buildings along the way and treat myself to a solo lunch, not bad for a potentially washed out weekend.

I started out at the ‘Fulwood Bubble’, built in 1973 it’s a plastic flat roofed building with 35 white panels creating the walls of the classroom, built onto a concrete base. Unusual for sure and easily visible from the main road, so it absolutely sticks out as some otherworldly classroom. I think I would have enjoyed taking some classes inside here, maybe it would have inspired me to work harder at maths . . . maybe not.

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My second stop was to return to a place I spent many an early morning and late afternoon as a teenager, and is probably one of my favourite buildings in the world – Preston Bus Station. Build in 1968, it is often named in Brutalist Best of Lists for the UK, but I remember many people hated the long, grey concrete building and it was going to be torn down.  I always had affection though for its long curved edges, black Pirelli rubber floor & the cool retro signs inside. Luckily it was given Grade II listed building status in 2013 and so it continues to stand.

It had been a long whilst since I visited the place, even though I still drive past it every once in a while. So it was nice to fully immerse myself by driving up the spiral ramp and parking up inside, wandering through the car park, then heading down the tiled stairway and along the platforms before heading outside.  I would never have appreciated it as a school child, it was just the place where I got the bus to school & I didn’t even enjoy school, but I have always loved the bus station.

Just round the corner is Preston Guild Hall, and it is actually connected to the bus station by a ramp. Unfortunately the ramp and entrance to the hall were closed, whilst the place finds new management, so I walked around the outside and up the stairs to the front. I saw a few comedy gigs here in my early twenties and I am pretty sure my grandad went to some snooker matches here too, and even earlier than that, it had visits from The Jackson 5 and David Bowie, so it’s a shame to see its closed up like this. But it meant I had the place to myself to explore and take in the unusual angular structure and its long concrete cantilevers. Fingers crossed I hope they are able to find some future investment and bring it back to life soon, as its been here since the early 1970’s, and with a bit of care and attention it could return to its former glory.

Opposite the Guild Hall you get a completely different, but no less impressive set of buildings, Preston County Court & Sessions building and the Harris Museum. The Harris museum, which I haven’t visited in years (makes mental note to return) is a Grade 1 Neo Classical building, built in 1882 and is now home to a museum, art gallery and library. Whilst its neighbour the County Court/Session structure is Grade II listed and dates from 1904, but lets hope I never need to visit that particular building inside at all!

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After I had successfully located all 3 Brutalist buildings in my book, it was time for wander down the high street, pick up a couple of presents for friends birthdays, and then I headed over to Preston Market. Its totally changed since I used to visit in the 80’s with my Grandma to buy fish paste and kippers for Grandad, I think it still needs some work, or maybe Sunday lunch isn’t the best time to visit. There were quite a few units that were closed, but I did find Brew + Bake who were happy to modify their avocado on sourdough to make it vegan, so thank you!

 

So with a full stomach and fully caffeinated, it was time to head back to the bus station for one last look, re-live those school day memories, collect my car and head home.

Brutal Wigan

I love Brutalist architecture, there is something about the stark grey, heavy concrete, sharp lines and minimalist aesthetic, that just does it for me. Plus, I think of myself as a minimalist, I love simple, uncomplicated designs, made from natural materials, such as wood, metal and of course concrete (hint hint for anyone wanting to buy me a gift).

I have done a few art walks before, mainly around the well known Brutalist structures in London for example, such as around the Barbican and the Southbank Centre, but I really wanted to learn more about the architecture inspired by the movement closer to home, so a friend bought me the Brutal North coffee book for my birthday, and it felt like a great project to undertake, whilst foreign travel is still pretty much off limits still with Covid.

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I started with Wigan, because I moved to the area when I downsized from expensive Liverpool and wanted to become more central to the NW as I moved from a full time NHS employee to locum work. Of course the main reason for that was more flexibility to travel, but well. . . . my last trip was Dec 2019 so thats gone well.

There are just two buildings in Wigan that are featured in the book, but I found a couple of other interesting places to explore too, put on my walking boots, grabbed my camera and set off.

The first building is just outside the town centre and is the Roman Catholic Church, St Judes, located in the Worsley Mesnes area. Designed by the team who also built a couple of churches in Liverpool & built in 1964, this fan shaped church sits at a busy cross roads, with most people I guess just driving by and sitting blankly at the traffic lights, but I always passed it with a curious interest, always meaning to pull over and explore, so I was delighted to see it mentioned in the book.

Of course my art walk was a Sunday morning, and there was a service in full flow once I rocked up, so I had to make do with a quick peek inside, but as I only live a short drive away, I will have to make a return trip to explore some more of the inside at a later date.

The circular portion of the church is the baptistry, which makes sense, but my favourite part is the main body of the church fanning out behind, with a cool mosaic imprinted into the concrete.

Another place I pass weekly is the large Trencherfield Mill, across from Wigan Pier and the Leeds/Liverpool canal. So I decided to pop over and have a quick look on my way into the town centre, again, another place I’ve driven past in heavy traffic many times.

The building as its now stands was built in 1907, but there was one before that, built in 1822. The cotton mill was an important part of the industrial revolution, as cotton was brought in from the slave plantations in America as well as other parts of the world. Ships full of cotton docked at Liverpool, then it was transported along the canal into Lancashire to be transformed into textiles. Although the cotton industry never recovered after WW1, this Wigan mill managed to survive until 1950. It’s now a combination of college, commercial space and apartments.

I then headed off to the centre of town to locate the 2nd building featured in my book, the now empty and abandoned Wigan Civic Centre. Built in 1970, this four storey concrete structure was evacuated by staff in 2018 as they moved to a more modern building. Rumours have been around about its future use, such as a hotel, but as of now, its stands unused, looking across the road to its modern replacement, the Life Centre.

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Across from the Civic Centre, is a rather striking metal ‘Face of Wigan’, which despite living in the area for 3 1/2 years, I had never seen before. Chosen as a symbol to represent Wigan, not one person in particular but representative of all the people of the town, it reminded me of The Dream in a way, the large stone head that looks across an old colliery over in St Helens.

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The first book I read when I arrived in Wigan was George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and just down the road from the Life Centre is the library where George did his research. I thought there would maybe be a blue plaque or something marking the spot, but I couldn’t see one, also probably part due to Covid and also that it was a Sunday, the library and museum were closed, so maybe inside there is something paying tribute to the novel, which I really enjoyed by the way. Now every time I drive past the library on my way to the recycling centre or to a drum lesson, I pay attention to the red bricked building that played an important part in the history of one of Britains most famous novelists, sometimes it good to explore on your doorstep, you never know what little gems you will find.

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I had a good wander around the little side streets, paying attention to the little houses and shops that I usually rush past on my way to the train station or the shopping centre. The Wiend in particular definitely felt like a past era, a narrow paved alleyway, with a few bars, pubs, fairy lights & hanging baskets of flowers. Being a rugby town, it was no surprise to find a statue of a rugby player, ball in hand too, although I cant say I have converted into a sports fan since moving here.

Finally, I found a nice church, situated on a small hill in the centre of town, one that I had seen from a distance on my travels, but not close up before. A Grade II listed building, parts of the church were originally built in the 13th Century, with a war memorial, a black metal fence studded with red roses and a very ancient looking archway, it was a nice place to finish my art walk, before grabbing a coffee and heading back home.

 

Dovestone Rocks, Oldham

So this hike, organised by the Bee Sober Sunday walking group, was advertised as a full day, long walk, but I think that bit went over my head. I just saw the words Peak District Sunday Hike and cleared my diary (who am I kidding we are in the middle of a pandemic, in the worse hit area of the UK, I had no other plans) So slightly unprepared, I turned up to an already busy carpark, at 9.30am on Sunday morning, scrabbling for change for the carpark, which seemed to reject every other 20p I put into it.

I could see the majority of the people parked up were here for a stroll around the Reservoir. Located just to the edge of the Peak District meant on a clear day, the views are superb, but I was well aware, we were walking in a completely different direction, away from said reservoir.

After a slight back and forth, our hike leader (i.e the one who downloaded the route onto his phone) found the correct path, and we headed North up a rather steep hill, it was a bit of a sharp wake up call for still early on a Sunday morning, but I slowly acclimatised and was able to appreciate the views soon enough, (once I got my breath back).

First spot for a group photo and quick break for snacks was the Pots and Pans war memorial atop Aldermans Hill.

Then, it was back onto the track, across to Dick Hill, full of rocks precariously looking out across the Peak District and down to the reservoir, not a place to hang around if someone has a fear of heights, and so we quickly retreated to lower ground when one of our group turned a rather pale shade of grey.

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Back on lower ground, some of us in the group (the tired ones) looked longingly at the reservoir and the carpark as it came back into view, but not for long, we headed East along the top of the reservoir, then back up a sharp incline, following the path alongside the rather magnificent Dovestones Cascade, that brings the water down. 490A98E2-CEB3-4DE3-804E-3F1695ED6AC3

At the top is Ashway Rocks, and it was here we stopped for lunch, and took in the misty and atmospheric views across the Peak District, which also distracted from my slightly undercooked pasta salad I had brought for lunch. Then, realising we still had a good 2 hours to go to get back to the carpark, we headed back on the trail. This portion of the walk was high up along the top, along Alphins Pike, with views of the reservoir below and Manchester up ahead and I’m sure I could spot my car down in the carpark!

I have to admit, the descent was painful, my underused muscles were not happy, but as soon as we landed back on the track heading for the car, my muscles relaxed again & all was happy.  Until the next morning of course, when I was rudely reminded of just how far we had walked the previous day. It was challenging in parts, but fun, with a great likeminded group of folk, all of us just making the most of the Covid restrictions and joining up to get out and connect with nature. Overall, another successful hike.

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