Taking a break from culture & enjoying #vanlife chores

I am sure this makes me seem a little bit weird but I have decided to be honest here … although I love exploring new places, learning about new cultures and finding out the history of an area, I also love the days when we stay on a campsite and do the chores; the laundry, clean the ‘van and generally chill out. There is something smuggly satisfying about a line full of laundry drying in the sun, particularly when you have washed it all by hand. I also find that on a long trip away in the camper, when we are travelling for a few months, I need a day every now and then when my brain gets a break from having to absorb new ideas and sights and I can just concentrate on simple things like cleaning, reading and writing.

When we are away for more than a week we need to wash clothes, bedding and towels.  Sometimes we pay to use the campsite washing machine but often we will wash by hand.  All our clothes are ‘technical’ which means they dry in an hour or so.  Our duvet covers and sheets are thin cotton that don’t take too long to dry and we use hamman cotton towels and travel towels rather than heavy towelling.  This all means that laundry is stress-free.  We often wash underwear and t-shirts as we go as they dry so quickly.

So yes it might be just a little weird to enjoy these days but they give me space to process all the new things we have seen on a trip.  One day is enough though.  After a chilled out day I am ready to hit the road and find new places once again.

Chapel Street:#surprisingsalford #10

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St Phillip’s Church on Chapel Street, Salford

Chapel Street is a truly delightful, as well as an historic part of Salford.  The street runs from Blackfriars Bridge which crosses the river Irwell in to Manchester and cuts across a wide meander in the Irwell until it merges in to The Crescent where it meets the river again at Peel Park.  Chapel Street is packed with historical buildings and has long been an important street for both Salford and the nation, as the street is also part of the A6 London to Glasgow road.  The street runs through what was the heart of Salford in medieval times and back in 1806 it was the first street in the UK to be lit by gas lights.  Walking down Chapel Street there is always something I haven’t spotted before among the religious buildings, pubs, public buildings and relics of Salford’s industrial past.

The name Chapel Street comes from the lovely Sacred Trinity Church surrounded by garden and Salford’s oldest church, its name was formerly chapel.  Lowry painted Sacred Trinity in 1925 along with the Flat Iron Market that was in front of the church until the 1930s.  Further along Chapel Street is St John’s Cathedral and the neo-classical St Phillip’s Church with its semi-circular columned portico and clock and bell tower.

Strolling along the recently improved pavements of Chapel Street you can spot the old Town Hall , the former Gas Works Offices, the old Education Offices and various court buildings, as well as the old Salford Royal Hospital which is now apartments.  It was on Chapel Street that Vimto, that fantastic sweet and fruity cordial that is a treat served hot, was made from 1910 to 1927.

The small tree-lined Bexley Square in front of the old Town Hall is a pretty spot today but it was the site of the Battle of Bexley Square on 1 October 1931 when the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement demonstrated against the cuts in unemployment benefit.  After the crash of 1929 unemployment was out of control in Britain and in austerity measures that mirror those of today, the National Government under Conservative leadership implemented cuts of 10% to unemployment benefit and introduced the means test which put many people in to extreme hardship.  Thousands marched on the Town Hall to have their voice heard.  Walter Greenwood was present at the demonstration and included it in his novel Love on the Dole and Jimmy Miller was involved in organising the demonstration, he later became well known as a folk singer and actor under the name of Ewan MacColl.  The unemployed people marched peacefully but they were obstructed and then brutally attacked by the police.

Chapel Street is pretty good for a Salford pub crawl and some old characterful pubs still survive here.  Good beers are available at The New Oxford, The Kings Arms just off the main drag with comedy nights and music and at the top end of the street nearer to the University is The Crescent, previously called The Red Dragon and reputedly a haunt of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they were here.  Salford Council produce a heritage trail of Chapel Street which is fun to follow in between your visits to the pubs and gives more information about the buildings and the history of the street.

Buile Hill Park: #surprisingsalford #9

Spring flowers in Buile Hill Park

Salford isn’t all parkland but I couldn’t continue my surprising Salford series for much longer without covering Buile Hill Park.  As the name suggests this large park climbs up the hill to Eccles Old Road in Seedley.  The park is surrounded by houses and is always popular; there are always walkers here whatever time of day or week you visit.  This is also the park where many Salfordians will gather on Bonfire Night for the best firework display.  What we call Buile Hill Park is a combination of spaces that started with Seedley Park; the second public park in Salford, opened after Peel Park in 1876.  In 1903 the park was enlarged when the grounds of Buile Hill House were opened as a park, in 1927 the grounds of Springfield Villa were added and in 1938 the grounds of Hart Hill House were opened to the public.  Of these buildings only Buile Hill House still remains; Salford Council bought this house in 1902 and local people raised money to help with the conversion to a public park.

Buile Hill House was built in 1827 as the home of Sir Thomas Potter, the first Lord Mayor of Manchester, a linen draper and co-founder of the Manchester Guardian and was one of many mansions along Eccles Old Road, known locally as Millionaires Row around 100 years ago when you were more likely to see a Rolls Royce than a dog walker.  Times have changed and these spaces are now for everyone’s use.

Buile Hill House became a mining museum, with a mock mine and pit cage and by the 1990s had a wide collection of mining memorability.  It closed in 2000 and has been boarded up ever since, a cause of much sadness in Salford.

This incremental development makes the park more interesting.  We always start at the ‘bottom’ of the park, in the original Seedley Park that is laid out as traditional parkland with a central avenue.  Walking up the hill, I like to wander through the woodland looking for birds and squirrels before following the paths around the back of Buile Hill House to the large expanses of grassland.  Walking around the hall, the best view south across Greater Manchester can be found from a sunny path below Buile Hill Park Hall and it is always worth pausing here.  As we walk down the hill, if there are no young people around we might have a go on the adventure playground or try out the exercise machines before walking around the allotments to see what is growing.

Looking down the hill of Buile Hill Park

Peel Park: #surprisingsalford #8

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A wintery scene across Peel Park

Peel Park is undergoing a transformation.  Once the city park of Salford this was the place to stroll by flower beds, watch the fountains, play quoits, listen to a band and watch the ducks on the river while the children frolicked on the playground.  Named in honour of Robert Peel, the prime minister who died in 1850, the year before Queen Victoria visited Salford and Manchester and Peel Park was at the centre of the celebrations.  It is reported that 80,000 Sunday School children sang the national anthem for the royal visitors.  The park was paid for by public subscription and was the first of three parks to be opened on 22 August 1846, the other two were opened later that day in Manchester.  Peel Park was built on the gardens of the former Lark Hill Villa, which overlooked the park and later became a public library and is now the Museum and Art Gallery.  Lark Hill Villa was built in the 1790s high above the river to make the most of the then rural view.  The year after Peel Park opened, in 1847, 30,000 people visited the park in one week, in 1901 there were 29,385 bowlers using the greens.  Salford was proud of its park and over the years improved and modified the original design and LS Lowry painted Peel Park a number of times in the early 20th century.

Being alongside the River Irwell and in the river’s floodplain Peel Park has flooded a number of times, the first of these in 1866 and again in 1870.  Most recently the park flooded in the Boxing Day floods of 2015.

The University of Salford buildings now hide Peel Park from the traffic of the A6 and visitors have to make their way through the campus to find the park.  When we moved to Salford we sought out Peel Park and found a neglected green space which despite this was still pleasant to walk through following the path by the River Irwell.  Heritage Lottery funding now means that this summer a refurbished Peel Park will open and will once more be a park that Salford can be proud of.

If you are interested in supporting Peel Park there is a Friends of Peel Park group.