John Irving Clarke writes poetry and stories. His next book, The Fourth Corner, is due out later this year. He is co-founder of the Red Shed Readings spoken word event. He also tutors the Agbrigg Writers Creative Writing group. He lives in Sandal with his wife.
Stand on the path which runs around the ruins of Sandal Castle. Stand beneath where the kestrel hovers and feel the wind racing in from the Pennines. Or if you are blessed, enjoy a magnificent sunset. Where hundreds once died in battle you can reflect upon the folly of war, you can reflect upon the supreme folly of Civil War.
Look to the north and you can still pick up the growl of traffic on the M1, you can see the loop of the Calder and take in an iconic view of Wakefield. The cathedral’s tallest spire in Yorkshire and the Town Hall clock tower’s civic pride. Here you can sense both Wakefield’s birth-rite of wool, textiles, coal and trade whereby the reputation of the Merrie City was formed and also its modern identity of City of Sanctuary.
Wakefield is a city rooted in its past but not bound by it. That welcome for strangers, that willingness to offer hospitality to displaced peoples, whether through religious persecution or tyranny, lives on.
Sandal and Agbrigg
Take a walk from Sandal Castle down Barnsley Road and pop into The Spring for a second-hand bargain, a cuppa and a delicious bite to east all served with a smile.
This establishment is underpinned by faith and it manifests itself with care for others. A non-profit making organisation, it raises thousands of pounds for charity and provides a valuable social hub.
The Spring is a living example of the power of thinking globally but acting locally.
Dog-leg on your path towards the city and enjoy the vibrant commercial activity on Agbrigg Road with its diverse origins. Take a turn down Montague Street to the Agbrigg and Belle Vue Community Centre where singing, writing and arts and crafts groups flourish. And surely, you’ve still got room for another cup of tea at Monty’s Café.
If we lost facilities such as these we would be so much the poorer. Sandal Library, for instance, is a haven of calm, but it is so much more than that. There are books and computers, yes, but there is also a Dementia-Friendly Resource and a wonderful garden, Memory Lane, constructed through the tireless efforts of the Friends of Sandal Library. Relaxation is on offer here, so too is social interaction, it is a place for a chat, a place to feel that you belong.
St Catherine’s Church on Doncaster Road is a church which embodies community engagement. There’s the Friendship Café and Day Care Services for the elderly amongst other social provision, but most damningly of all in a nation which boasts the sixth highest economy in the world, there is the Food Bank.
Wring your hands if you will, moan about scroungers or applaud yet another example of people getting off their backsides to do something to help those in need.
Take Almshouse Lane which runs alongside Boots up to the city centre. This allows for a chance to look at one of Wakefield’s hidden gems, the eleven pottery mosaics by Fi Oberon placed into recesses in the wall. Each celebrating an aspect of Wakefield life they have an accompanying short poem. My favourite is Jimmy Andrex’s paean to Neil Fox, a reminder that triumph and tragedy are closely intertwined. The mosaics are also a reminder of Wakefield’s literary and artistic heritage.
This is the city of the internationally renowned award-winning Hepworth Gallery, the city which can lay claim to novelists and playwrights. It has an artistic legacy to cherish and one which is continually supported by Mocca Moocho café in Cross Square.
For many years, the café has sponsored the Red Shed National Poetry Competition, hosting the annual awards day and individual events such as last summer’s Poetry Supper featuring the Italian poet, Silvia Pio and Mary Creagh MP as guest speakers. It is also the go-to café for superbly made cappuccino and delicious cake.
Time for a celebratory dinner? Then head back to Sandal and Rinaldi’s Italian restaurant. Enjoy the relaxed vibe, join in with the numerous communal renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ and tuck in to some delicious food.
My suggested tour around Wakefield taking in my favourite places may not do a lot for the waistline but it does encompass some of the essential life of the city.
It is the city where I have lived for 27 years now and it is one where I am more than happy to call home.