Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published January 26th 2014
History, Shopping, and Beaches
It's the English Chicago, the capital of blue-collar Britain, and the longest cul-de-sac in the country. Those are just some of the nicknames Barrow-in-Furness has been so lovingly given over the centuries. In just forty years, it grew from a tiny nineteenth century hamlet to the biggest iron and steel centre in the world. Barrow is now the second largest urban area in Cumbria, and has the second largest shipbuilding complex of its kind in Europe; but despite this, whenever I mention that I'm going up to Barrow I am met with blank faces. Much to my grandparent's chagrin no one in the south seems to have heard of this industrial town, let alone know where to point it out on a map. This is probably because it is so isolated – on the very tip of the Furness peninsula by Morecambe Bay.
Statue of Emlyn Hughes
Even if you haven't heard of Barrow before, you have probably heard of some of its Barrovians. They have quite a few minor celebrities, from sports stars like the Liverpool football captain, Emlyn Hughes to Hairy Biker chef, Dave Meyers. Victoria Wood also played the role of Barrovian, Housewife, 49, AKA, Nella Last, who wrote a long-term diary for the Mass Observation Archive between 1939-1965; it described what life was like for ordinary people during the war.
The town's relative obscurity from the public eye makes it something of a hidden gem, with lots of places for tourists to visit. My days there are usually spent browsing the shops or wandering through the park, but there are many historical sites of interest too.
A significant proportion of this nine hundred year old abbey is still standing, and it is a beautiful sight to behold. Built from red sandstone, it was once one of the richest Cistercian monasteries in England. Today, visitors can take an audio tour to learn about the functions of its many buildings, including the outer court, cloister court, church, tower, kitchen, and dormitory.
Piel Castle stands at the mouth of Piel Island harbour, and was built by John Cockerham, the Abbot of Furness Abbey. It was used to oversee trade and guard against Scottish raids. When the abbey dissolved in 1537, the castle was in ruins. It underwent restoration in the late nineteenth century, and was given to Barrow in 1918. It is now under the care of the English Heritage organisation.
The Dock Museum honours Barrow's heritage as a shipbuilding town. Within its galleries you can explore the history, innovation, and power behind the shipyard. Learn about Barrow's social history, and take an aerial map tour to see how the town grew so rapidly.
Amongst the museum's collection of artefacts you will find a hoard of Viking coins and weapons, a Roman bracelet and statue of Hercules, as well as photography, paintings, and model ships.
After your visit, you can take the children to play in the playground outside.
The town centre has been in decline over the past few years. Although you can still find big name shops like Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Game, and Waterstones, most of the smaller businesses have closed down due to the recession. Among the casualties was a lovely dress agency. It is a real shame, because you could get quality clothes from leading brands, at affordable prices. I once bought a beautiful red Gerry Webber t-shirt with leather stitching along the arms for about £10.
But there are still a few interesting places around; one you might not expect. It's a pharmacy. A pharmacy is not somewhere you would usually go unless you needed to pick up a prescription, stock up on plasters, or buy an emergency bar of soap. Here, however, you can get a whole lot more. As well as meeting all your medical needs, on the ground floor they have designer bags by names such as Kipling and Radley, upstairs you will find a gift emporium full of things in glass cabinets. This includes jewellery, porcelain, collectable bears, and other nic nacs for 'just because' moments.
On Crellin Street, off the main shopping area, there is a second hand bookshop called Hardings Books; without this place, I would have been unable to complete my Star Trek: Voyager book collection. He has more than just science fiction though. You'll find crime, drama, poetry, all at low prices, and many of which are not easy to find elsewhere. Once you've finished reading, take the book back and you'll get a pound back/off your next purchase.
Down Portland Walk, So Silver has a lovely range of jewellery, accessories, and gifts, usually with a number of items on discount. I once bought a silver bangle shaped like a Chinese dragon for £15.
Duke Street, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, LA14 1DB
Barrow has one of the largest indoor markets in Cumbria. Here you can get anything from carpets and curtains to pets and pjs. You can go there for practical things like key cutting and electronic repairs, or for entertainment. My favourite stall is Fat Bob's, where you can buy, sell or trade DVDs and CDs; I've had some real good finds at his place, including Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Colour for £5, and a CD of my favourite band, The Cranberries.
There has also been many an occasion when I would walk past the pet shop and long to take a bunny home. Bundling up furry creatures in your travel bag, however, is not a good idea.
Darth Vader for sale.
Another stall I like sold handmade soap that not only looks and smells like cakes and chocolate, but is made from the stuff as well. The stallholder said it wouldn't actually do you any harm if you ate it (although still not recommended). I did not see it there this year, but I did see a stall selling cult collectibles such as books, cars, and action figures.
If you want to buy local produce, then look no further than the butcher, baker, fishmonger, deli, and cheese counter. You can buy specialties such as Cumberland sausages, wild boar, game pies, Westmorland cheeses, duck eggs, home-grown fruit and vegetables, sticky toffee pudding, Kendal mint cake, and handmade fudge.
Barrow Public Park is made up of forty-five acres of grassland, lakes, play areas, outdoor activities, and a leisure centre. I usually travel up in the summer and play bowls, mini golf on the putting green, or watch people go boating in self-paddling swan boats (no tunnel of love I'm afraid). It was then to my surprise when I arrived in January this year that all of these things were closed. It turns out that they are only open between April – September/October. I was a little disappointed, but at the same time, weather would not have permitted an enjoyable game anyway.
There are still many other things to keep visitors occupied all year round. For example, children can have fun in the playground, teenagers have free rein of the skate park, there are outdoor tennis courts, and anyone with an interest in gardening can explore the glasshouse.
lots of hills to roll down
It is a popular place to walk the dogs (although they must be kept on leads), feed the ducks, run away from geese, roll down hills (the washer woman will get over it), and have a coffee or an ice lolly at the café.
It is also a place to pay your respects to the local soldiers who died serving in War. The memorial is at the top of Barrow Public Park hill; it is a Grade II listed cenotaph made from limestone. Erected in 1919, it was built to commemorate the six hundred and sixteen Barrovian men who lost their lives fighting in World War One. A further two hundred and seventy-four were added to include those who fought in World War Two and the Korean War.
If you are still looking for more to do, then the leisure centre has three swimming pools, including one with a wave machine and slide. It has a sports hall where you can play football, badminton, netball, or use the climbing wall, and members can exercise in the gym or go to fitness classes.
Hollywood Retail Park
Hollywood Park, Hindpool Road, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, LA14 2PW
I don't know what it is about cinemas and fitness clubs, but I often find them parked next to one another. Perhaps Nuffield Health & Fitness think that after munching on popcorn at the Apollo Theatre, we'll all want to join the 'hamsters' running on treadmills viewable from the top floor window. Usually we would head to the McDonalds drive-thru and eat fries on way home.
If we weren't going to see a movie, my friend and I would go Ten Pin Bowling. I'm not sure which was more fun, the bowling itself, or trying to figure out how to work the computer that in-puts our data. No, wait, I remember. What I enjoyed most were the arcade games; they have a air hockey, a dance machine, and racing.
My friend's dad used to take us to his golfing club for a round of eighteen holes. I must admit, what with ending up in pits, kicking up the turf, and missing the ball four out of five times, the last hole could not come soon enough. The only thing about the trip that interested me is that afterwards he would buy us all an ice cream, which we would eat, sitting on the wall by the beach opposite.
Sandy Gap, Biggar Bank, and Earnse Bay are the names of the three beaches that form a more of less continuous eight-mile stretch along Walney Channel. With panoramic views of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man, and the Lake District mountains, they once considered turning it into a seaside resort. I am glad that the idea never materialised, because otherwise this quiet scenic spot would have become a crowded tourist destination. The view is now slightly obstructed by a wind farm, but from the distance, I think this looks quite attractive.
Made up of sand and shingle, it is the perfect spot to walk the dog, build sand castles, and climb rocks. It is not necessarily such a great place for picnics though, as the sand is very saturated. We were always lucky enough to arrive when the tide was out, which meant we got to run out into the never-ending