Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A very public hidden Nottingham tunnel

This is an account of a relatively short Nottingham City Centre walk, which we began in the Warsaw Diner on Derby Road, close to Canning Circus, with a leisurely 'breakfast' lunch, in the company of Nottingham-born pensioner friends who had never walked through the Park Tunnel between Derby Road and The Park Estate, nor did they know how to find it — hence our walk, which came out the 'History from a 35 Bus' event on 24 May.

The map below shows our walk, which has the great advantage of being downhill all the way. It took us about ninety minutes, but you could do in thirty minutes quite easily.

A Sunday photograph of the Warsaw Diner. When we arrived at noon there were two other tables occupied with just six diners. We took the total to ten. Later on, at one point, folk were queuing for tables. Most of the diners were young and it is easy to see why it is so popular. The food is simple, but good, as is the service. There is a conviviality and ambiance born of ten thousand countless other conversations which linger in the Diner. It only open 9am–2pm during the day.

Many folk do not know where the Park Tunnel entrance is, so look at these pictures carefully. We are standing outside the entrance, just up from the bus stop used by buses going out of town along the Derby Road. I have also added a more detailed map to help you.

This is the entrance you will see. A anonymous looking footpath beside a car park gate.

Look down the footpath from the Derby Road and this what you see. Seemingly nothing, but don't lose your nerve. Walk down towards the black hole in the distance...

…which leads to a ramp into an underground car park…

… and continue walking, past the parked cars (just one on this occasion) and at the end you will come to some steps…

… at the top of which the Park Tunnel comes into view. There are plenty of websites offering a variety of histories of how the Tunnel came into existence. Here are links to two: Notts History and Notts University entry. Essentially, it was opened in 1855 and was originally intended as a link between Nottingham town and The Park Estate, but other, easier, entrances were created, so the tunnel became what it is today — a glorified footpath (the route is not suitable for wheelchair users).

A view of the west side of the Tunnel wall, where it is open to the elements, and the side reenforced with countless blocks of what looks like Bulwell Stone.

The east side is even more impressive, with steps leading up to College Street. For many years the stairs were closed. Now, it is the gate at the top which is not always open.

Look up at the point where the tunnel is exposed and see the house perched on the top of the sandstone cliff.

Technically, the exit into The Park Estate is where Tunnel Road begins.

Look back after you leave the Tunnel to get this fine view.

To reach this point you will walk along Tunnel Road between The Park Estate tennis courts and bowling greens. The road you are turning left onto, and heading south-east alon (with Nottingham Castle just visible above the trees) is Tattershall Drive

You are heading towards Castle Boulevard. The housing is this picture is typical of the kind of up-market conversions which have taken place in The Park. Many of the large houses have long been divided in (expensive) apartments.

The Park Estate is very jealous of its privacy and exclusiveness and goes to great lengths to protect itself, as the ordinary folk of Lenton well know. Last year (2013) saw the culmination of a fourteen year fight by a vocal group of Park residents to have the ancient footpath between Lenton and the Castle made part of the Estate. The good news is that they lost and I am proud to say I was part of the fight from the very first day The Park Estate declared their intention. Previous blog posts have covered the story, so I will say no more (I will just gloat as I type).

On this short walk you see plenty of Nottingham Castle, but never close enough to go in. This view shows the rebuilt wall, which a good few years ago collapsed. This resulted in the Castle's viewing terrace being closed off for another few years until a engineering solution was found.

Once on Castle Boulevard, a few steps along and you will see what all the locals call the Brewhouse Yard Museum, now closed most days as part of cost-cutting by Nottingham City Council. So, if you want to visit, check on the web first.

Another view of Brewhouse Yard. Just to the right, out of view, is the famous Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub, which has caves you can visit.

On the south side of Castle Boulevard, opposite Brewhouse Yard, is this fine concrete office building known as New Castle House, dating from the early-1930s. I have always like it. Some years ago (The Pevsner Architectural Guide for Nottingham says 1987–91, but it does not seem that long ago) it was refurbished and new windows with tinted glass fitted.

I have always found this sign a little confusing. It is the official name for the Brewhouse Yard Museum, but this building has never been part of the Museum open to the public. It is actually a museum store and working area.

Right into Wilford Street and you are within yards of Nottingham Canal.

On the towpath we were stopped by these two young folk soliciting for passers-by to join the recently formed Canal & River Trust, the charitable body set up to replace the state-owned British Waterways. We don't do anything 'cold call', but I have since signed Susan and me up as 'Friends' of the Trust. I never asked their names, so if they see this, just let me say you were great ambassadors for the Canal & River Trust.

On the south side of the towpath is the city's magistrates' court, housed in this modern building, which dates from the 1990s (Pevsner describes the facade as 'dreary').

The third aim of the walk (after eating at the Warsaw Diner and walking through The Park Tunnel) was to visit the recently re-opened Nottingham Railway Station. The blurb describes the refurbished station as 'a world-class interchange'. Sad to say it is no such thing. It does not come remotely close to being a transport interchange worth the name. I set out all my arguments in a column in the Nottingham Post last November. Click here to see the column online. However, what you now see is a great improvement on the old station.

The old station forecourt, where once taxis picked up fares and cars parked, has now been pedestrianised. A number of retail units have been incorporated into the space and have yet to be occupied.

The booking hall is now on the south side of the station concourse and there are a lot more self-service ticket machines — which explain all the portable barriers. Their presence is necessary if would-be passengers are to have any chance of buying a train ticket in an orderly manner. Since there appear to be fewer staff and windows in the new booking hall, you will have to queue to collect tickets bought online or on the day.

Unfortunately, the concourse, minus its café and because of the restrictions on movement, is less interesting than it was. For £80million I expected a lot better than this!

Outside on Station Street, which runs along the north side of the Station, is this wonderful banner. The 'rebels' are, left to right, Lord Byron, D H Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe.

A news item in the Nottingham Post dated 12 June 2014 says 'Nottingham's great literary heritage is to be celebrated with a new trail through the city centre. Visitors to the city will be able to take in some of the places which were popular with writers such as Lord Byron, DH Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe. The first part of the ‘Our Rebel Writers’ trail – a banner in Station Street – has already gone up. It is to be followed by up to a dozen plaques on paving stones and various locations'. 

I understand the Trail will take the form of a mobile phone app. As of yet, no more information appears to be available.

This was the fourth and final destination of the walk, where I had already decided we were going to have tea and cake. The old Hopkinson building, once an ironmonger and builders' merchant, brought back into use, first as a art-space and more recently as a bric-a-brac emporium. The one thing it has always had is a decent little teashop.

The ground floor of the Henderson building emporium.

This young lady caught my eye. The display around her says it all…

… as does my friend Ray wearing the kind of hat every Englishman should wear when walking in the hot summer sun.

Gloria took a shine to the giraffe at the entrance to the building and says she intends to paint it at her art class. I have sent her a copy of the pic and look forward to seeing what she makes of the very unusal giraffe.

As you can see in this view of Station Street towards Carrington Street, work on Nottingham Station is not yet complete (turn around and there is also ongoing Tram work as well). In my Nottingham Post column I argued that an atrium should be built over Station Street so it could become a new Nottingham Bus Station, right beside the railway station. The blurb about the station mentions The Tram, taxis and car, but not buses. I rest my case as to why the grandiose claims made for the station are not justified.

Finally, a note about the Pevsner Architectural Guide for Nottingham. This is an invaluable book when walking around Nottingham. It also contains 12 walks, some good, others less so, but a good starting point for anyone wanting to know Nottingham a little better. The next blog but one (next week sometime) will be about a newly published book about some English towns and cities, which includes Nottingham.

Well that's it. Hope you've enjoyed it.

FOOTNOTE: These are the first pictures I have taken with a 5mb fixed lens camera on a 'moto e' smart phone Susan bought me as a birthday present. Given that I am a happy snapper at the best of times, I am quite impressed with the quality of the images, some of which I have cropped.

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