Thursday, 23 May 2019


Nottingham Council House (City Hall)

We are visiting our friends Sally and Malcolm near Nottingham which, in an unplanned way, offered a wonderful opportunity to progress my City Walks project. My goal is to take a walk in all of England's 51 cities (I have managed 38 so far). We based our walk on an excellent post on a blog called My Lifelong Holiday.

We started at the Nottingham playhouse. The current building was opened in 1963 and was the work of the architect Peter Moro. Its modernist style was controversial and in 1985 it was "refurbished" to be less brutalist. However, in 2005 it was restored in its original style.

On the left of the theatre is Anish Kapoor's astonishing sky mirror. It was installed in 2001 and voted the city's favourite landmark in 2007. It offers a rather wonderful upside-down view ... but of what?

The answer is the nearby Albert Hall. It was built as a concert hall, but from 1909 (when it was rebuilt) until 1984 it functioned as a Methodist Mission. Since then it has been a Conference Hall.

We turned left into Derby Road to see one of Nottingham's best sights (strangely not mentioned in the My Lifelong Holiday post): the (Roman Catholic) Cathedral of St Barnabas (1841-44), by the great Victorian architect A W N Pugin. Because of the position of the sun, this was the only viable angle to photograph the outside: you can deduce the existence of several chapels at the east end.

The nave is plainer than we expected. Most of Pugin's decorative scheme was destroyed in the upheaval that surrounded the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 (which can very briefly be summarised as a drive to modernise the Catholic church - Mass was now celebrated in English for example) when the old high altar was discarded, and most of the elaborate decorative scheme was painted over. To be honest, we thought the result was still quite attractive in its understated way.

However, when we visited the one part of the Cathedral which survives in its original state, the Blessed Sacrament chapel, we realised just how much had been lost. The chapel is an exquisite example of Pugin's style. It could of course equally be described as a bit over the top.

Leaving the Cathedral we continued up the road and then followed the surprising instruction to walk through a car park and into a dark entrance way. We emerged into the Park Tunnel - a seemingly little-known route, dating from 1855, to the area of Nottingham known as The Park which once the hunting grounds of the Castle.

We didn't go all the way through, but instead climbed some steps which brought us to Park Terrace, a fine residential street, which marks one side of The Park. Directly in front was this handsome Victorian house.

The rest of the street had large mansions on the right and this handsome group of uniform semis on the left hand side. (There are more out of shot.)

At the end we veered away from The Park, which was a shame as it would surely have repaid a gentle stroll, and headed towards Nottingham Castle, currently under restoration. The original castle was largely demolished after the Civil War and was set on fire in 1831 by rioters protesting against poor living standards. It was later rebuilt as a museum, which remains its role. This picture was taken through the protective wire mesh fence and into the sun, hence its poor quality.

We walked along Castle Road, passing a statue of Robin Hood dating from 1951. A bit of a cliché really.

Further along there was a fine view of Castle Rock (not to be confused with Casterly Rock in GoT).

Just beyond the rock is the celebrated Trip to Jerusalem pub, built in 1189 and famous as the oldest pub in England.

I took a small detour to the right soon after this to catch a glimpse of Fitzroy House, Castle Meadow Road, an HM Revenue and Customs Office which I often visited in my management consulting days. It was well-regarded as a piece of architecture in its day, but I always felt that the circular towers (which I think only contained staircases) had the character of a high security prison in the US. According to the Nottingham Post, it seems that that whole operation is to move into the city centre by 2021.

We now headed along Castle Gate and across Maid Marian Way, passing another old pub, The Royal Children (James I's children, that is). In the continuation of this street there was a wonderful Congregational Church.

At the cross-roads of Albert Street and Listergate I admired this wonderful building, although I have found out nothing about it.

We continued along the unusually named Low Pavement (Chesterfield is the only other town to have a street with the same name), passing  this lovely building, again name unknown. (You will have realised that by now we have departed from the My Lifelong Holiday post - time was running short.)

WE continued ahead to reach the majestic Adams Building, a former lace mill dating from the 1800’s now Nottingham (FE) College.

Continuing to the right we reached St Mary's church on our left, in the Lace Market district. It is the oldest religious foundation in the City (dating in its present form from the late 15th century), the largest church after St Barnabas RC Cathedral and the largest medieval building in the city.

We turned right into High Pavement passing, on our left, the National Justice Museum, established in 1995 and located in the former Shire Hall and County Gaol.

Further down on the left in the continuation of High Pavement, the wonderfully named Weekday Cross, is the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery which opened in 2009. The building, by Caruso St John Architects, was given a RIBA Award. I wasn't totally impressed, but it doubtless requires a visit before making a judgement.

Now up Fletchergate and into Victoria Street where we spotted this wonderful art nouveau shop on the right. A passerby very kindly informed us that the building was designed by Florence Boot, wife of Jessie Boot, founder of the Boots company. The top section of the ground floor windows is sublime.

Further down on the right, opposite the arcade which surprisingly runs through the middle of the Council House (i.e. City Hall) is Ye Flying Horse, established as a pub in the late 15th century. It is now (sadly) the entrance to a shopping mall, but still a splendid sight.

We emerged into the vast square which stands in front of the Council House, Old Market Square. The Council House (see photo at the head of this post) The Council House was designed by Thomas Howitt and built between 1927 and 1929.

In case you are wondering, the six-metre tall sculpture of a giant red and white hand (it is is catching an ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 ball) is a temporary advertisement. It will remain in place for the duration of Trent Bridge’s Cricket World Cup fixtures. It also features a wristband with the emblems of the nations who are playing in Nottingham during the tournament; England, Australia, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh.

Over to the left of the Council House, as you look at, was this fine late Victorian building.

We unfortunately failed to see the statue of Brian Clough.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: maybe 3 miles.

Rating: five stars. Thoroughly enjoyable and interesting.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Lymington to Buckler's Hard (Solent Way 2)

We set our from Lymington Town station and walked up to and across the bridge across the Lymington River, which even a short way from the Solent is largely full of reeds (in fact it forms the Lymington Reed Beds Nature Reserve). On the bridge we were amused by a sign saying "Otters crossing. Drive slowly" - sadly we didn't see any.

We turned right on the far side and soon left along a track which led, surprisingly, to this monument - to Admiral Sir Harry Burrard-Neale, MP who died in 1840 after a distinguished career.

We turned right and then left to head eastwards along a track through woods. When these thinned out we had our first view of the Solent, still somewhat distant.

We emerged onto a road and passed an entrance (not, I think, the main entrance) to Pylewell Park, a 17th century Manor House.

We followed the road a bit further and then turned left to enter the Park along a track, still heading east. Initially we followed  field-edge path, but eventually an open area gave us a glimpse of the house.

Beyond this we passed the cricket ground and then a pleasant fishing lake.

We left the Park along a lane and then followed a path across fields, with a further distant view of the Solent to the right.

Soon after, we joined the long Sowley Lane, passing the extensive Sowley Lake.  Rather to our surprise, we then completed the walk wholly on minor roads. We gradually realised that much, or possibly all of, the land belonged to the Sowley Estate and there were no rights of way over it. Still, the roads were flat, quiet and well-maintained, so it wasn't too much of a hardship

In due course we came to St Leonard's Barn.  It is hard to make sense of at first, but what you are seeing is a massive 14th century barn, with a smaller 16th century barn (with the orange roof) built inside it. The original barn, when complete, was probably the largest in Britain, being some 70m long by 33m wide.

We followed the lanes to reach Buckler's Hard, which we will explore next time.

Conditions: cool at first, turning quite warm.

Distance: 8 miles.

Map: Explorer OL22 (New Forest).

Rating: three and half stars. It was rather strange being so far from the Solent that we only had occasional glimpses of it.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Durham: The Riverside

Durham Cathedral from across the river

We've seen the wonderful Cathedral and the fascinating Castle, now it time to have a wander along the banks of the River Wear and see what Durham looks like from that perspective. I have put together a circular route starting from our hotel in Old Elvet, across the river from the Castle and Cathedral. We turn left walking along Old Elvet to be immediately confronted by the former Shire Hall of 1896, now the Hotel Indigo.

Shire Hall was extended in 1905 and it is interesting to see the new part in an Edwardian style.  Old Elvet is a very attractive street – this is the view back at the top of the hill.

We turned left into Green Lane and followed the path beside the University playing fields, bearing left at the Boathouse to reach the river bank, where we turned left to head back towards the city centre. There was a regatta, so the bank was quite crowded. Soon, there was a nice view of the Cathedral looking over the cricket field. I have a similar picture from Hereford.

 It would be wrong to leave this section of the walk without a picture of a couple of fours battling for supremacy.

At Baths Bridge we crossed the bridge, enjoying a nice view back up the calm river …

…  and continued on the opposite bank, soon getting our first distant view of the Castle.

We passed under New Elvet and Elvet Bridges, the latter very picturesque, and unusually built on a slope. It was the work of Hugh de Puiset in 1170-95, who also built the castle gatehouse. I gradually realised that it could only realistically be photographed from the other side.

It was now noticeably quieter. We walked on, passing under the Kingsgate Footbridge, designed by Ove Arup.

 And now began to see some butterflies: Orange Tip, Speckled Wood, Comma (my first of the year) and Peacock, which was all very cheering. The undergrowth to the side of the path was full of Wild Garlic, Bluebells and other flowers, and in one place there was a beautiful glade running parallel with the path. As we approached Prebends Bridge we came on a curious early 19th century folly known as the Count's House.

There is a wonderful story about the Count's House. It was named for "Count" Joseph Borulwlaski who lived nearby. Borulwlaski was a Pole who made a living as a musician and dancer and came to Britain in 1782. He fell in love with Durham and lived there for 46 years, dying in 1837 at the age of 97. He was only 3ft 3in tall.

We overshot Prebends Bridge which did allow a nice photo looking back towards it. It was built 1772-78, allegedly with the specific intention of offering a panoramic view of the Cathedral. In the foreground is the rear view of a sort of stone throne, with gargoyle-like animal masks all over it. It reminded me of the House of Masks in Kabah, Mexico (albeit on a different scale).  

We retraced our steps and climbed some steep steps to then cross the bridge. There was a nice view up river, with the glimpse of the Cathedral's West Towers.  Nowadays, there is a better view of the Cathedral further along (see picture at the head of this post). It was interesting to see how Galilee chapel had been placed in front of the west façade, an arrangement I have never seen before. The chapel is absolutely fabulous though (see my post on Durham: Cathedral and Castle).

As we approached Framwellgate Bridge, the oldest in Durham, dating from 1127, there was a pleasant glimpse of the rear of the Castle.

We left the path here and crossed the bridge to follow Silver St into the Market Place, where we enjoyed the statues of the Marquis of Londonderry …

… and Neptune (in honour of an 18th century scheme to link Durham to the sea).

It remained only to cross the Elvet Bridge and return to the hotel.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Conditions: mostly warm and sunny.

Rating: five stars. An interesting, but also serene and calming walk, especially after Elvet Bridge. A big contrast from our walk yesterday around Newcastle!

Saturday, 11 May 2019


We emerged out of the station and began to understand just how badly we had got the date wrong for this city walk: it was the final of the European Rugby Champions Cup. There were basically 50, 000 extra people in the city drinking beer while they waited for the 5pm kick off. But at least being rugby people they were in good spirits and posed no threat.

Directly opposite was the 19th century St Mary's Catholic Cathedral. It was the work of six different architects including one of my heroes, AWN Pugin. The inside is a riot of beautiful colour, with some lovely stained glass to boot.

We headed along Clayton St West and passed this rather extravagant clock on the corner.

A left and a right led us to the quiet and unexpected Blackfriars, once a Dominican Monastery, suppressed of course at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. For a long period after that it housed various craft activities.

The central building is now a restaurant but you can walk through the central passageway to see various traces of the monastic buildings, including the nave of the monastery church. I was quiet taken by this modern housing development directly behind Blackfriars, in a sympathetic modern interpretation of Gothic architecture.

Turning right out of Blackfriars we were immediately presented by a section of the former town walls - another surprise. You wall through the gateway by this bastion ...

... to follow the line of the walls, which date from 1280-83.

At the end of the walls you are confronted by St James Park, the ground of Newcastle United FC, but today the venue for the Champions Cup. Happily for us, we were so early that no-one much had yet arrived. It is known to be a great ground to enjoy a game in, but externally it looks a bit messy.

We followed the right hand side of the ground to reach Leazes Terrace. This is a massive and imposing early 19th century housing development, with an attractive park adjoining.

We heading away from the Terrace and passed the Royal Victoria Infirmary on our left to head into Newcastle University. The first few buildings had rather an industrial air - we wondered if they were in fact converted factories - but at the end of the street was an area of more substantial and classic university buildings. I haven't been able to establish what this one is, although the tower is magnificent - it seems it may house the Student Union.

The wonderful Double Arch nearby lead to an area called The Quadrangle, which houses several museums.

We walked away from the Quadrangle and down some steps to reach a main road with the church of St Thimas the Martyr ahead and the splendid Civic Centre ahead. Unusually, it was designed by the City Architect, George Kenyon, rather than a celebrity architect. The walls are made of Norwegian Otta slate and the King of Norway formally opened the building.

We headed along the pedestrianised Northumberland St, rather a low point of the walk, turned right at the end, passing another gold woman outside a jeweler's, to reach Grey's Monument. This commemorates Charles, Earl Grey, who as Prime Minister in 1832 was responsible for ensuring the passage of the Great Reform Act. He was also MP for Northumberland.

He is possibly better known now for Earl Grey Tea. According to Twinings, the tea originated as a replica of a tea given to the Prime Minister by a Chinese Mandarin. According to legend, it was a gift after one of the Lord’s men saved the Mandarin's son from drowning.

We headed down Grey Street, regarded as England's most beautiful street. The Theatre Royal is on the left. It is certainly a grand street with a pleasing uniformity of style, scale and materials in the buildings which line both sides.

Grey St heads steadily down hill until you reach the riverside - with an increasing presence of people in rugby shirts and various forms of fancy dress tucking into their beer.  I was surprised and delighted to see this black and white timber-framed building. A certain Bessie Surtees, the daughter of a banker eloped from here in the 18th century with her unsuitable lover, John Scott. She had the last laugh though when he later became Lord Chancellor.

We walked along the quayside, noticing the wonderful Sage Gateshead building (basically a concert house) on the opposite bank.

Further along, ignoring the every increasing crowds, we had a fine view of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, opened in 2001. The brief was to create a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists that: allowed ships to pass underneath (achieved by allowing it to tilt), did not overshadow the view of the existing bridges and didn't obstruct the Quayside. The winning design was by Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Gifford and Partners. It really is very lovely.

However, it is very like Santiago Calatrava's wonderful Zubizuri (Basque for White bridge) in Bilbao, which opened in 1997. Read all about it here.

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (once a flour mill) can be seen in the background. Interestingly, the mill was only completed in 1950.

As we crossed the bridge there was one of those views of the Newcastle bridges. The 1928 Tyne Bridge is in the foreground. It was desiogned by Mott, Hay and Anderson in a similar style to their contemporary Sydney Harbour Bridge. Behind it is the red and white Swing Bridge (1876) and behind that is Stephenson's High Level rail bridge of 1849.

This is the view of the Quayside from the Gateshead side. The large screen for those who lack tickets can be readily seen.

We walked through the impressive Sage Gateshead and crossed the river by the Swing Bridge to climb some steps to reach the final surprise of this wonderful walk: Newcastle Castle (1080). It is of course the new castle which gave the city its name. The railway now separates the two remaining components: the Black Tower and the Keep. Interestingly, the Castle was the original starting point for Hadrian's wall.

It was well worth a visit, with a massive central hall and a maze of passageways and steps which made it seem surprisingly big inside. There was also a fine doorway, though not as good as the one we saw in Durham yesterday.

Perhaps the best bit was the views from the top of the keep, which included the Cathedral of St Nicholas with its lovely Lantern Spire.

It was founded in 1091 during the same period as the castle but the Norman church was destroyed by fire in 1216 and the current building was completed in 1350. It was heavily restored in 1777 and became a cathedral in 1882 in recognition of Newcastle becoming a city.

Conditions: a nice sunny day.

Distance: about 4 miles.

From: Walk magazine (The Ramblers house magazine) Summer 2007.

Rating: five stars. A really interesting and varied walk. I had been to Newcastle on business a few times back in the day and I was well aware that I had seen next to nothing of the city, so it was wonderful to gain a much deeper insight into it.