Every couple of years, Sarah’s Slimming World Consultancy requires her to undertake additional ‘update’ training – this usually involves a few days away and a trip to Derby, where the Slimming World Headquarters are situate. Derby is located very close to Mansfield, where I was born, and unusually (as I’m sure she’d enjoy the few days respite from me!) Sarah floated the idea that I take a couple of days away from the office and come with her for a short break away, with Joseph (again!) spending the time with his Grandparents and cousins in Leeds. Mansfield is just 6.5 miles or so distant from the Hotel where she usually books her stay (and where she’d booked again), and although nearby to the Hotel is an outlet mall where I could kill an hour or two browsing on one of the days, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity for yet another nostalgia-fuelled Urban Hike around more of my old stomping grounds. It would also be an opportunity to visit family in town and check in with H, who moved to Mansfield a few years ago with his Wife & who both teach (although different subjects) at a local College and to meet their daughter who was born in April 2019. I’ll do this on another day however so that I have more time to devote to that visit. As usual, using the invaluable tool that is Google Maps and its Street View facility, I found a route from the Hotel to Mansfield which I could walk in a couple of hours, before exploring familiar haunts around the town including my parents’ old house on Stainforth Street and more particularly, the house at Fairholme Drive, where my Grandparents lived from 1957 to their deaths in 2011 & 2015. I’ve named this Hike in their memory, and also owing to the fact that the planned route from the Hotel naturally leads to that street, from where I can easily navigate my way to the centre of town.
So, as I did previously on the WRHW, I’ll list my hiking equipment. It’s all the same stuff, even down to the eclipse navy Superdry t-shirt! I didn’t wear my Big Red Hiking Hood however as on the day of the walk the temperature was past 20 degrees. I did take my Karrimor Urban 30 backpack with my Hugo Boss Boss Orange sunglasses (I highly recommend SpecSavers) given it’s now officially Summer. Having planned the walk months in advance using Street View (this is how I can tell you the names & numbers of the roads!), as usual I made sure there were locations along the way where I could pick up refreshments if I really needed to, but at the end of the day, it would be a much shorter walk than the WRHW and thankfully, over mostly level terrain. I went without the Rocket Fuel this time and stuck to a bottle of Coke Zero in my pack for fluids. Let’s get stuck in.
Setting off from the Premier Inn Mansfield just after 08:20 with Sarah going to her meetings, I walk along Carter Lane and briefly Cartwright Lane before joining the footpath on the A38 (I manage to resist a McDonalds breakfast at the restaurant I pass). Now, I could in theory walk this dual carriageway for the majority of the way, but it will likely yield no interesting views or happenstance discoveries nor will there be any opportunities to stop off for refreshments for those few miles. Plus, having walked along busy main roads with all that entailed on the WRHW, I’m reluctant to do so again!
My time on the A38 is short (thankfully, as the heavy goods lorries that pass at speed create quite a strong draft), as it’s less than a mile before I veer left at Alfreton Road B6023 which will form a large part of the walk into Mansfield, drawing me through Sutton in Ashfield. I could in theory take Dalestorth Street which branches off from the B6023 and which would save a little time and maybe a mile or so in distance, but there are a couple of landmarks I want to see on my chosen route. By the time I reach Sutton in Ashfield, I’ve already been walking for more than an hour and resistance proves futile at the next McDonalds I reach, where I stretch to the price of a sausage, egg & cheese bagel. Dirty food, but delicious! As I finish my breakfast, I pass a War memorial to fallen soldiers from the area, spotting the name H. Colley. I suspect there’s a good chance we’re at least distantly related and I internally thank him and the others named thereon posthumously for giving their lives so that I could be born into a free World.
At the intersection of the B6023 and Kings Mill Road East, I turn left past the Hospice where my Grandma Colley spent her last weeks (she died a little over 4 years ago, on 28th June 2015) and also Kings Mill Hospital, where I came into the World just over 39 years ago. This highway changes to Beck Lane as it crosses the B6014 Skegby Lane before becoming Abbott Road A6075 as it passes by the A617. Turning right off Abbott Road, I reach Fairholme Drive. There have been some changes to my Grandparent’s old house – the front garden rockery which was re-built by my Father & Uncle in the years between my Grandfather & Grandmother’s deaths has been removed together with the front fence and replaced with a block-paved parking area and dropped kerb. The glazing has all been replaced with grey uPVC frames, the front elevation repointed and a large extension is being added to the rear. Of course the new owners will adapt the property to their needs and one can’t expect a house to be left as a monument to deceased former owners who they didn’t know. The rear garden at the house is quite large for such a built-up area and I entirely expected a developer to buy it with a view to building a second property on the land; so far this hasn’t come to pass. Although my Father & Uncle were the Executors of my Grandparents’ estates, being a solicitor I was of course tasked with extracting the Grant of Probate and dealing with the sale of the house; I did however retain the Deed by which they bought it in 1957, which carries both their signatures and which would have been executed when my Father was just 2 years old.
(Clockwise from the top: the hospice where my Grandmother died, with Kings Mill Hospital to the rear; views of Fairholme Drive).
Without lingering too long (by this point it’s a little after 11:20), I continue on to the Town centre by way of Broomhill Lane & Westfield Lane and to Chesterfield Road South, which leads me to the pedestrianised shopping precinct surrounding the Four Seasons Shopping Centre and open market area. Being Thursday, I didn’t expect the centre to be quite as well populated as I find it but I lament that I won’t be able to indulge in the snack which would bring back more memories of my childhood in the form of peas & cockles (these seemingly are only on sale on a Saturday on the market). This is a Mansfield delicacy, comprised of mushy peas in a styrofoam cup or tray (depending on your portion size) topped with cockles (seafood) and finally, the piece de resistance, mint sauce to taste. That’s usually where we lose most people! It sounds unusual, but it’s something you can easily re-create yourself at home. I invite you to try it and let me have your thoughts! The market itself is far smaller that I recall it in my youth with fewer stalls – the majority of British town centre retail areas have become largely homogenised with national or multi-national corporations taking up the space where once local businesses offered their goods & services, forced to close when they were unable to compete on price with the much larger companies. Whilst I take a brief walk around the market (which will be even busier at the weekend I’m sure) and into a few shops inside the Four Seasons (including the local branch of the music, film & games retailer I worked for in Leeds), it’s not long before I’ve reminisced and seen all I want to see before departing to more personal territory.
(Clockwise from the top: the Four Seasons Shopping Centre and other highlights from the Town Centre marketplace).
It’s now after midday, and given that it’s so close at hand I call in at yet another McDonald’s branch to purchase my favourite, a double cheeseburger and large fries (I know – McDonald’s twice in one day! I won’t tell Sarah if you don’t). Across from the market is Leeming Street, which after picking up a fresh bottle of Coke having drained the first (it is quite hot after all!) and also a can of Mug Root Beer from the local American Candy store, I scale (ok, it’s only slightly uphill) and pass the Handley Arcade building where previously the now first-floor gym was a bicycle shop and the place where my parents bought me my blue and yellow Raleigh BMX Burner in or about 1986/7. I don’t recall what happened to that beautiful bike, but it didn’t make the trip with us to Scarborough as there was nowhere to ride or store it at the Hotel – it’s likely it was given away to friends. Just feet away is the site of the old Cannon Cinema, where I saw my first feature film on the big screen (‘A View to a Kill’ with Sir Roger Moore (RIP) as Ian Fleming’s legendary spy James Bond if you were wondering!). As with just about everything else from my childhood, the cinema has closed (a new Odeon has opened on the nearby Park Lane retail park) and surprisingly has been converted into a Church! Next is Woodhouse Road A60, which morphs to Leeming Lane South as it intersects Yorke Street and Albany Drive (on Yorke Street previously was the video rental store where my Father would rent videos for us to play on our top-loading VHS recorder – I think that’s where my love of film first took root, looking at the sleeve art on those big-box rental VHS cases and the posters of new & forthcoming releases which lined the walls. I’d gone to look for that store on a previous visit a few years ago, but found it gone; I suppose it likely suffered a similar fate to my local rental store in Scarborough, Movieland) but leads to Old Mill Lane, which I cross on to Leeming Lane and note the old Four Ways pub is now a dental practice and the local chippy just next door (previously the Tasty Plaice) has become a Domino’s. The corner shop which was owned by the Toon family during the 80’s and which my Parents would frequent is now an e-cigarette store. It’s just a stone’s throw to Stainforth Street, where I lived with my Parents and Sister from birth to being just over 8 years old.
(Clockwise from the top: the Handley Arcade, former Cannon Cinema and views of Stainforth Street).
I’ve recently re-connected with my childhood friends from Stainforth Street, Robert and Wayne, who I mentioned in my 3-part ‘Origin’ post in January, via Facebook. Neither live in Mansfield anymore, so there wasn’t the opportunity to meet with them but from our few conversations online and looking at their social media profiles, it’s clear that we still share many of the same interests, even if our lives have taken us down different career paths. It seems to be a common theme with men of my generation and I find it somewhat comforting to know that I’m not the only nerd!
My Parent’s old house has also undergone renovations in our 31 year absence; most noticeable from the front is a small window which has been added to what was previously a closet space over the stairs leading to the first floor. My parents didn’t use the closet, and in fact, I recall there being a wardrobe in front of the door to that space. I guess that this may likely now be an en suite toilet (it’s not really large enough for anything else, and would you put a window in a walk-in wardrobe?). I pause at the bottom of the street to take a photo, whilst explaining to a slightly bemused watching resident that I too lived on this street, albeit more than 30 years ago. At the rear, the old garage which once housed my Father’s gold Vauxhall Magnum has been taken down (probably a good idea as it likely had an asbestos roof) and gone is the old blue swing where I’d spent many a happy hour as a child (but I can’t get close enough to see if the old rhubarb patch remains). There has also been a conservatory added to the already extended ground floor, which appears architecturally awkward as the ground floor extension (which housed the kitchen and ground floor bathroom during our tenure) has a flat roof, the line of which is exceeded by the roof of the conservatory. Immediately behind the adjoining houses is an area of open grass land, which had previously been the site of a public play area. Again, the slides and other equipment live only in my memory now, and I note how much smaller the parcel of land feels as an adult. I recollect it feeling like an open field when I would play there with the other neighbourhood kids in the mid-to-late 1980s. I take a picture and am immediately accosted by an elderly, shirtless and tattooed gentleman who tells me that I’m invading his territory and privacy by being there and taking pictures with my smartphone. I explain what it is I’m up to and we have a pleasant conversation for a few minutes once he’s sure my intentions are good.
After parting ways with my half-naked new-found friend (who makes a point of telling me he’s 79 and I note physically slightly resembles my deceased paternal Grandfather) I journey along Gladstone Street which runs horizontally to the rear Stainforth Street and which takes me back to Leeming Lane, where a short distance away lies the entrance to my old Primary School. As luck would have it, a public footpath also runs along the route of that entrance and so, for the first time since March of 1988, I’m able to walk almost into the grounds of the School. I remember being a fairly happy child with a good number of friends at Primary School and although I’m back in touch with Robert and Wayne now, in that moment as I gaze upon what feels like a much smaller structure than I recall (although I posit everything seems large when you’re three feet tall) I wonder what has become of my other friends and classmates whose faces I can still vaguely recall, even if their names seem to have been irrecoverably wiped from my temporal lobe. I wonder what my then teacher Mr. Scott would make of me now, the grown child who he assessed as having so little to offer the World, even at the age of 7. Whilst I’m still undoubtedly just a miniscule cog in a far greater socio-economic machine (and he would be extremely unlikely to even remember me in any event), part of me hopes he would be pleased to learn that I made something of myself (with a great deal of luck and a huge amount of help & encouragement from many other people of course, not least my Parents, family, the brilliant friends I’ve made along the way and, last but by no means least, my Sarah). The gates into the school itself are quite rightly locked, but I can see that the once simple playground has been replaced with climbing frames, slides and an Astro-turfed football pitch & basketball court as well as other assorted equipment. It all looks very modern and the kind of thing Joseph would have a ball on.
The public footpath draws me away from the School and along Church Hall Avenue (where my best school friend Sandy lived shortly before our move, although I can’t remember which house it was) and down in to Mansfield Woodhouse town centre, via Church Hill & Street. I pass by the Library, where I remember hurriedly returning Little Vampire books as a boy just days prior to our relocation, and take a brief detour along Station Street to the former site of Flowline Hydraulics, where my Father was the works manager more than 3 decades ago. The firm has since ceased trading, and the old factory is now a school of dance and gymnastics of all things (reality TV has much to answer for). I double back on myself, treading towards Rose Lane adjacent the site of the former Co-Op (now Morrisons) Supermarket where my Mother once worked (on the Wines & Spirits department – Sarah would approve), as I know this will ultimately lead me to the Sunnydale Inn, a landmark on the route to my Auntie Josie & Uncle Dave’s house, who I’d planned to call in on whilst I was in the neighbourhood. The Sunnydale was also the venue for my maternal Grandfather’s wake in December 2016. I stayed with Josie, Dave and my three cousins Steven, Paul & Dean for a week in the summer of 1995 (and they’re still in that same house, except of course my cousins are now grown and have their own homes & families) – for many months prior they had been collecting cereal packet vouchers to claim free cinema tickets in readiness for my visit. We went to the now closed Cinema (which by 1995 had become an Odeon following Cannon’s demise the previous year and which I’d visited earlier) and saw Die Hard with a Vengeance, WaterWorld (which I hated at the time (as did just about everyone else!) but now really enjoy) and, The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Movie (I was 15, okay?!). It’s very rare that I see much of my extended family – before my Grandfather’s funeral I had gone nearly two decades without seeing some of them and indeed my Auntie Vivian didn’t even recognise me – but I’m always very happy to see Josie & Dave (Dave shares the same passion for walking and exploring as me – that’s coincidental however as it’s Josie that I’m biologically related to being my Mother’s younger Sister). I arrive at their house a little after 15:15, which is much earlier than I’d anticipated – I appear to have forgotten to scale-up the distances between locations to account for the fact I’m no longer 8 years old – but luckily Dave is home to greet me and an hour later Josie returns from work to give me a big hug. As luck would have it, Paul and he three sons will also be visiting for tea that evening and I get the pleasure of seeing him for the first time since the funeral to catch up on events. Before 6pm Sarah arrives for a cuppa and to collect my now slightly aching frame before conveying us back to our hotel, where we have a nice meal in the adjoining bar before bed.
(The former site of Flowline Hydraulics).
I’m not sure where the last 24 years have gone, but part of me wishes I could see the town as it was when I was a child, have a chip cob in the Baker’s Oven shop in the Four Seasons as I did in the summer of ’95 and ride my Raleigh Burner as fast as it would carry me down Stainforth Street to Robert’s house just one more time.
I’ll sign off this post with the words of my late Grandad Colley, as so famous amongst the family was his parting farewell of choice, it formed part of his eulogy. “And if I don’t see you again, Happy New Year.”