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.
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.