AFC Fylde

Mill Farm: curvaceous, for a football stadium

If AFC Fylde make it into the Football League, Nailsworth (home of Forest Green Rovers) will no longer be the smallest town with such a distinction. The club’s ground, Mill Farm, is just outside the small towns of Kirkham and Wesham. They are paired on the railway station sign-boards and blend into one another on Station Road. Kirkham, with a population of about 7,200, is about twice as big as Wesham.

That does not mean, though, that there’s not much to do or to look at in the vicinity of AFC Fylde. On the contrary: there’s a clue in the name. The Fylde peninsula is a considerable, perhaps notorious tourist hotspot.

St Annes Pier: bright and breezy

It’s barely eight miles from Mill Farm to the fleshpots of Blackpool. Within about five miles are the more genteel charms of Lytham, and between those two is the middlingly breezy St Annes-on-Sea. Only a mile or two down the road is Wrea Green, where cricket is played during the summer on an authentically English village green, with a fine pub on the corner, and a pond.

Lytham has a windmill and associated seasonal Windmill Museum. Lytham Heritage Centre holds exhibitions (Lancashire at War, 1914-18, until 9 December), and there’s a small museum at the Old Lytham Lifeboat House.

Even closer to Kirkham & Wesham is Wild Discovery, a kind of zoo populated by mainly small but exotic mammals, birds and reptiles, amphibians and insects. It puts on a regular programme of talks and activities, and is more about education and experience than the gawping of a conventional zoo.

Kirkham itself seems to be the sort of place that was once quite something. At one time it had 11 mills, not to mention a race-course. According to one account it was the first settled place in the Fylde in prehistory, but the evidence – an elk with two harpoons embedded in it – sounds more like Japanese whalers blown seriously off course and having a pop at anything that moved.

The town now is notable for small places to stop and watch the world, such as it is, go by. One has a display case containing Kirkham’s last loom. Another records the town’s perennial success in floral competitions, so regular that you’d wonder whether everywhere else has given up. And by the roundabout where the road to Wesham turns off, a leafy arbour suggests the retreat Coronation Street’s scriptwriters have recently discovered to give the characters somewhere to go where they don’t have to be seen boozing or gorging themselves. Wesham has what may be the nation’s last off-licence.

AFC Fylde 1 Chesterfield 3
20 October 2018

Autumn colour

New England in the Fall isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you go a week early – and honestly, how can you know two months ahead of time what the right week will be? – it’s not that much different from Olde England in many respects, of which the colour of the foliage is one. No, the best you can do is to organise an itinerary with variations in latitude and altitude, to give those leaves every chance, book your flights and hotels and hope for the best.

Northern Maine at the end of September 2018: pretty enough, but not notably autumnal

If, then, Vermont’s Green Mountains remain doggedly green (as, for that matter, do the White Mountains of New Hampshire) there’s not much you can do about it. Enjoy the scenery, treat yourself to a long detour to Quebec City, take photographs of covered bridges, waterfalls and lighthouses… and come home with added resolve. Because here too is a way in which travelling to a football match can be a rewarding form of tourism.

The obvious ways to enjoy autumn colour in this context are:

Woodland Some clubs are surrounded by or adjacent to wooded hills – Forest Green Rovers and the Cotswolds, Wycombe Wanderers in the Chilterns, and several of the northern clubs especially on the eastern side of the Pennines. Nottingham Forest is a significant disappointment in this sense.

Derby Arboretum: the UK’s first landscaped public park

Arboretums A posh word for ‘park’ really, but the Latin for ‘tree’ should promise some colour at this time of year. Derby, Lincoln, Nottingham and Walsall have arboretums (arboreta?). Luton is close to the Chilterns where you’ll find Whipsnade Tree Cathedral just a few miles away. Forest Green, again, is not far from the extraordinary Westonbirt Arboretum.

Botanical Gardens Kew is next door to Brentford. In other places, the botanical gardens are a little further away from the football grounds – Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leicester, Oxford and Shefffield. Norwich’s Plantation Garden is a special place, worth a mention and worth a visit.

Parks Many football teams play at Parks. The most promising name here must be Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park, but it might as well be called EByGum Park for all the wood involved. Some clubs, however, play in or adjacent to functioning parks: Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Fulham, and Plymouth for example.

Delapré Abbey, just outside Northampton’s town centre

Parkland This is subtly different. Parkland belongs to country houses. So Barnsley has Cannon Hall, Mansfield has Newstead Abbey and Northampton has Delapré (as well as the excellent Abington Park, which belongs in the previous category).

This is compiled from information recorded and indexed in Towns of Two Halves. Order your copy for from info@townsof2halves.co.uk £8 to enhance your enjoyment of away games in ways you might never have thought about.