As usual, Tigger has taken the early train, leaving me to catch up later with my off-peak ticket. We keep in touch via the IM (instant messenger) function on our Blackberry phones. Thus, as my train sets out from St Panras, I know that Tigger has left Derby and will soon reach Sheffield. I am due there myself at 11:52.
I left home with time to walk to the station but checked the indicator at the bus stop and waited for the 214 which dropped me in front of the station with 20 minutes to spare.
Sheffield trains leave from the upper level of St Pancras which is also where the Eurostar platforms are. The Eurostar service is self-contained and segregated from the rest but we often encounter francophone train staff in their characteristic navy blue costume with the yellow Eurostar logo emblazoned on it. We also meet them in the local cafes enjoying a “full English breakfast”!
My train has left on time. Reserved seats are obligatory on this service and an announcement instructed us to sit in our assigned seats. I preferred an unreserved seat at the end of the carriage, however, and the ticket inspector has not remarked on the fact.
The weather is dull and the sky overcast but it is not raining at least. Strange how a few drops of water can conspire to spoil an outing. Knowing that temperatures are likely to be lower in the north (and having read of snow on blogs in the region), I have reverted to my winter wear: longjohns and my thick red fleece jerkin. I have also swapped my scarf for my “ninja”, as Tigger calls it, a sort of double-layed fleece collar that covers my neck and can be pulled up to cover my mouth.
As I am writing these words, we run out from under the heavy overcast into a region of lighter clouds with patches of blue sky between them. There is even a pale sunlight in places.
By the time we speed through Wellingborough, the sun is shining steadily and the sky is blue with only light cloud cover but Tigger, by now waiting for the FreeBee free bus in Sheffield, tells me it is freezing cold there. I was right to dress warmly.
At 10:23, Tigger tells me the job is done. She can go sightseeing until my train arrives at 11:52. I note that as we progress northwards, though the sun is still shining, patches of frost are becoming more common. The land is waterlogged too.
When I rejoined Tigger at Sheffield, the sun was shining brightly but it was freezing cold, as she had told me. Literally, as it happens: parts of the famous water feature were frozen solid.
It used to be said that Sheffield was a “mucky picture in a golden frame”, meaning that the grimy industrial city was set in beautiful countryside. The beautiful countryside is still there but Sheffield itself is no longer mucky. Today it is a clean and handsome city.
Walking up Howards Street from the station, look back and you can see the Cholera Monument, commemorating the cholera outbreak of 1832 when at least 400 people died. The Duke of Norfolk provided land needed for burials and that that is where the memorial stands.
As usual, our first call was at the cafe-restaurant in the Millennium Museum Gallery for a lunch of vegetarian fish and chips. (The “fish” is deep fried halloumi cheese – delicious!) After lunch, we set out for the bus station but a couple of sights caught our attention along the way.
In a car park, we came across this structure and, of course, went for a look. Knowing my opinion of much modern “art” you may be expecting some pejorative comments but I was intrigued by this piece perhaps because it contained some recognizable items. It is “Heavy Plant” by David Kemp.
Another piece, which seems like a strange logo or hieroglyph written by an alien race, is today sited on a wall of the Sheffield Hallam University. The direct sunlight somehow increased its appeal. (Did I say “appeal”? I must be becoming mellow in my old age!) It is “Elements-Fire-Steel” by Brian Asquith.
I also noticed that the beautiful blue winter sky was serving as a canvas for aircraft to write their own kind of hieroglyphs – or perhaps “skyroglyphs”?
Despite these distractions, we at last reached the bus station where Tigger scanned the timetables to find which bus would take us to Heeley. On her last visit, she had noticed that there was something at Heeley that she thought I would like to see. So off we went.
Heeley was welcoming enough but was freezing cold, colder even than the city. There were stretches of frosty ground and most of the water we encountered was frozen. Nothing daunted, however, we pressed on.
We had come to see the Heeley City Farm, which also includes an environmental visitor centre. The young man we spoke to seemed disappointed that we didn’t want to see the environmental exhibits but – well, sorry – I had come to see the animals!
I am somewhat equivocal about city farms, which are often run in cramped conditions, but I think that a well run one can be a valuable asset to education, especially in an era when we hear that many school children apparently do not even know where milk comes from.
There were people about, but they seemed to be youngsters drafted in to help with the work. No one bothered us but, equally, no one offered to show us around or tell where things were. There was no sign of the advertised cafe.
I was glad to see that the inmates seemed comfortable and well fed. They were alert and curious, which is always a good sign. The goat on the right in the above photo took a determined lick at my handbag just to see what it tasted like!
There were not only sheep and goats, of course. We saw cows, horses, pigs and some chicks in a heated incubator.
The problem was that the lighting was poor and the animals active so it was hard to get photos that weren’t blurred, as you can see from the slightly blurred heifers above. I was not going to use flash and risk dazzling them.
There was also a vegetable garden though there was not much to see in it – not surprising, given the time of year.
We caught a bus in Myrtle Road, and this took us back to the centre of Sheffield. We were booked on the 15:47 train to St Pancras and had a little time to fill in before returning to the station.
A visit to the Graves Gallery in the Central Library building is usually a good way to spend some time but today it was closed. We went all the way up in the lift until we thought to read the notices posted everywhere! At least I had a chance to scare myself by looking down the deep stair well! (See Not the best way to go to Sheffield.) We made do with photographing this mysterious but attractive sculpture on the front of the building.
So we walked back up to Tudor Square and entered a certain coffee-vending establishment which you can no doubt make out in the photo. The elegant towers you can also see belong to the handsome Sheffield Town Hall.
In the coffee shop is this unusual mirror with a frame of spoons, made by Adhocmetal.co.uk and referring to Sheffield’s proud history as a city of steel and cutlery.
Having partaken of a beverage, we returned down the hill again via Howard Street to the station. As usual (because we have to buy tickets separately), our reserved seats were not together, but, as usual, we found a pair of unreserved ones and settled in comfortably for our journey back to St Pancras.
Modern Sheffield is a delightful city and I enjoy my visits there, finding that memories of the past are being enhanced by new discoveries and happy experiences in the present. Today’s highlight was seeing, photographing and touching the animals on the city farm but future visits will, I am sure, produce their own highlights.