Crowds packed the courtyard of the 300-year-old Queens Arms at Biggar, on Walney, yesterday for the first Queens Arms Music Festival. From noon to midnight (and I suspect a good while afterwards in the back room) a procession of performers of folk, blues and country-rock played half-hour sets on the Old Pallet Stage. Glastonbury it wasn’t, which might be no bad thing (we had warm sunshine, at least until the sun went down when it became surprisingly chilly, and no mud, no crush, no prima donnas and better beer!)
A grand day out all round. More pictures of the event here.
It was a long walk home last night (but what a walk!) from the Queens Arms Music Festival at Biggar. I took this picture from the Walney Bridge at a few minutes past 1 am, with a near spring tide an hour from the full and a panorama of Lakeland fells from Scafell on the left to Wetherlam on the right silhouetted against the sky above the streetlights that run from centre to right. I wanted to show how, in Barrow at this time of year, it never gets completely dark.
But apparently those shiny clouds that seem to form a halo round Scafell are noctilucent clouds, a phenomenon that people go out to look for because they are quite rare. They are the reflections of a sun just below the northern horizon from ice crystals high in the atmosphere; in fact they are the highest clouds observable in the earth’s atmosphere.
I guess I just got lucky.
I was back bowling in the league today, after a three-week layoff brought about by two successive byes, which seems to me like bad planning on the part of the league but who am I to judge? And what better way is there to spend a pleasant summer afternoon than on the bowling green?
Today’s match brought the bottle-green and cream (though today most of us stripped off the bottle-green and played in cream shirts) of the Barrow Island team face to face with Park North, whose home green is one of those in Barrow Park. I enjoyed a 21-9 win so I get to keep my place in the team at least for now. I have a bad habit of winning every other game.
Playing in the park got me thinking. When I was young, even into early adulthood, public bowling greens were one of the things public parks offered. You could hire a set of woods for the session for a nominal fee and enjoy an hour or so on the green. My parents used to to exactly that. If you wanted to try out bowls it was an inexpensive way to find out if it was for you. Looking around it looks as though Barrow Park boasted at least six greens and I can imagine if my experience elsewhere is anything to go by that they were well used on a sunny summer evening by casual players. Now, one of those has been turned into flower beds, two are abandoned and neglected, two are the preserve of the Park North and Furness Abbey teams respectively, and one is open for public hire (although I’ve never seen anybody playing on it). It is no longer possible to hire woods, so you can’t just try it out. The crown-green bowler only needs two woods, as opposed to the the flat bowler’s four, and if you keep your eyes peeled you might pick up a second-hand set for twenty pounds or so, but that seems a lot for a pensioner, or somebody on benefits, to try out. And that reminds me of another thing – bowls is a game of guile and concentration and judgement; it doesn’t demand youth or physical agility so players can complete well into one’s senior years. It’s a great way for older people to keep fit, and it does seem to work very effectively. I should note that there are some very good teenage players indeed (it’s galling to get a thrashing from a 13-year-old) and it’s great that young people continue to play but the sad truth is that bowls is dying. Almost all the pub greens have gone the way of the municipal greens, sold off for housing or car parking, and only the private clubs survive, some of them barely. It would be sad indeed if this seriously addictive game were to die.
And another thing. There are no municipal tennis courts in any of Barrows parks any more. I don’t know what the situation is in the rest of the country. Next Monday comes one of the great British summer rituals, the opening of the Wimbledon Fortnight. And on Tuesday, when all the British players bar Andy Murray (I hope) have been eliminated, comes another regular ritual; asking what’s wrong with the state of British tennis. Well, I can answer that – there’s no longer the opportunity for anybody to play a casual game of tennis, unless they join a tennis club, and that never comes cheap. The local park used to provide that opportunity. Now local authorities can’t be bothered providing them.
Have I mentioned that I’m now hanging out here?
The little village – barely a hamlet actually – of Biggar is a bit of an oddity. It’s one of the original farming settlements on Walney, and it’s been there since long before Barrow existed, never mind there being a bridge over to Walney. It sits huddled against the saltmarshes of the Walney Channel and before the bridge, before the ferry, the only way to the mainland was by boat or by walking across a causeway at low tide. Even now it feels a bit weird, with an end-of-all-things atmosphere in its remote isolation. But like all of Walney it remains firmly within the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness, as it was in the old County Borough before that. There’s no bus service; it’s either a car along one of two narrow lanes or a half-hour walk from Ocean Road, and perhaps that’s why it’s been colonised by some of Barrow’s most affluent residents.
The only reason non-residents might want to visit has been the Queens Arms. Its location was its unique selling point and its location is superb with its proximity to the beach, stunning views and general sense of rus in urbem, but in recent years it hadn’t been much more than just ok. It did a reasonable if unadventurous evening meal but the beer was only so-so and the atmosphere not particularly welcoming. In the end, a couple of years ago, it closed.
It stayed closed for over a year. And then something remarkable happened. Two women, Mary Rudkin and Julie Matthews, from Bolton were tipped off about the vacant property by a friend. Neither had any experience of running a pub, but they threw themselves into reviving the Queens Arms with gusto. Out went the tat provided by the brewery and pubco marketing people. In came an assortment of genuine bric-a-brac, a piano, books, games, jigsaws, and a bank of six handpumps.
It took me until a warm Saturday at the beginning of April when I diverted from the beach to check out what was happening, and barely had I stepped inside the door and ordered a pint of locally-brewed beer than I felt like an old friend dropping in. Local children were engaged in making bunting – not your average red, white and blue bunting but bunting made of scraps of old dresses and curtains. I picked up a programme of events and my eyes nearly popped out. There are Friday quizzes, a book club, a film club, an art class (Mary, an artist, is considering turning derelict outbuildings into an art gallery), a “knit and knatter” night, and the pièce de résistance the Wednesday night buffets, where everybody shares a table and for a modest GBP 15.00 gets what they are given; an imaginative four-course meal provided by Julie, often using produce from the garden or foraged from the local hedgerows. (I haven’t tried this yet but I’m lining it up for my birthday treat in August). If you want to try this, and from what I hear it’s worth every penny, phone Julie or Mary on 01229 471880.
No, they haven’t paid me for this item. It really has become a special kind of place, and although it takes me an hour to walk there of an evening (but what a walk!) it’s definitely my local from now on. As it happens I’m going there tonight, it’s now the venue for my new writers group, the Regal Writers, and we’re having our second meeting there this evening.
Can you guess what it is yet?
After a year and a half we have a bit of catching up to do. Last year the big crane beside the Buccleuch Dock, the last of the big hammerhead cranes that once graced the Barrow skyline, was dismantled. This was very much to the dismay of many Barrovians including myself, who felt that it was the last remaining monument to the great days of Barrow shipbuilding even if this dockside crane was separate from the mighty beasts that dominated the Walney Channel side of Barrow Island. But it had been neglected for many years, and apparently had become unsafe according to BAE Systems whose bottom line would be affected by repairs, and “an eyesore” according to the then leader of Barrow Borough Council Jack Richardson, Conservative member for the Hawcoat ward. The posh people of Hawcoat, apparently, couldn’t bear to wake up in the morning and be reminded that down below their leafy hill the lower orders were doing heavy work.
Old followers of this blog will know that I was very fond of that crane. It reminded me of my granddad, Joe Storey, who was a crane driver. That particular crane was also built, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, to replace one destroyed in the Barrow Blitz of 1941. Barrow Docks played a key role in maintaining supplies during the war as well as building ships, so the fast replacement of the crane was critical to the war effort.
The marketing people promoting Barrow stress the Town Hall and Furness Abbey, but pay no attention to the town’s industrial heritage. This is a mistake in my view. Without iron and steel, and later shipbuilding, Barrow would be a tiny fishing village remote from most of the country. The town that Barrovians are rightly proud of launched legendary ships and had the biggest steelworks in the world once, and it shouldn’t be ashamed of that now.
Here’s a wee reminder of what it looked like:
The flats on Barrow Island, cleaned up in recent years (figuratively and metaphorically), look imposing in winter sunshine. Here we look the full length of Michaelson Road; from the Devonshire pub at the top end here to the Majestic Hotel on Schneider Square at the far end is a useful indicator when out running – it’s exactly a kilometre.
Barrow has been unusually quiet today. A significant slice of the population will have made the trip to follow Barrow AFC’s progress in the FA Cup against mighty Middlesbrough. Alas, the Bluebirds’ cup run came to an end, but with dignity and without disgrace as they went down 2-1. Now they’ve shown what they can do, it’s time they stopped playing like numpties in the Blue Square Premiership!
Tags: Barrow, Fishing boats
First, apologies for my absence over the last few days. I’ve had a crappy week and in addition I’m laid low with a rotten cold.
Anyway, here to be getting on with is a shot of fishing boats Elainalee and Talisker, beached at low tide.
I don’t have a particular story to go with this shot, except to point out the width of the roadway on this not exactly prime arterial route. This is typical of Barrow. Trams passed this way once so the width is partly accounted for by the provision of space for tram tracks. Perhaps somebody else knows why so many Barrow streets, including plenty that never saw a tram, are so wide? It is the way from the town centre to Green’s Pie Shop [qv] so maybe that’s it.
I’m standing in the middle of the road on top of the bridge that carries Greengate Street over the railway lines and also a local street, so the bridge at least is of comparatively recent vintage.
I had business in Ormsgill this morning.
That’s not something you want to be able to say too often. But as ever, we take the opportunity to record a part of town there’s not often much need to visit.
Every sizeable town has an Ormsgill. It’s usually tucked out of sight and out of mind; in this case up beyond the slag bank, adjacent to an industrial estate, and by-passed by the by-pass. It’s the place where the town sweeps out of the way its more troublesome citizens: the mentally-ill, the unruly, the drunks and the addicts. As well, it must be said, as perfectly decent people who haven’t been as lucky as they might have been.
You can tell an Ormsgill by the parade of shops with its windows heavily shuttered even while they are open for business.
I don’t find Ormsgill particularly threatening, but it is bleak and unwelcoming, and frankly a bit of a dump.
NB: I have reposted this because, having forgotten to put the photo in at first, CDP is ignoring it!
The following comment was made to the original post:
Aye it’s a grim place but as one inhabitant said to me today “Ormsgill city where the girls are tough and the boys are pretty.”
Anybody who tries to kid you that Barrow is not a rainy, windy sort of place is doing you no favours. It’s one of the wettest and windiest, if not the wettest and windiest, towns in Britain. There’s even a housing estate on Walney called Rainey Park, which tickled my sister and me when we were little. That doesn’t mean we don’t get extended periods of glorious weather in summer, days when you can swim into the late evenings (at this time of year it doesn’t get properly dark until nearly midnight.)
But it hasn’t rained properly for weeks. This upsets the allotment holders (I haven’t done allotments yet, have I?) and it upsets the bowlers (the greens get so fast you’re in the ditch if the wood is so much as fanned by a fluttering eyelash.)
Today, though, the rains came. Drizzle at first, this morning, and even interrupted by a bit of sunshine. This afternoon, down it came. It gave me a chance to capture Barrow in its natural state – here’s Dalton Road, the main shopping drag.