Woking

Woking Lightbox sculpture Kitty Canal Cruises art Basingstoke Canal
Lightbox moment: a weathered bull watches the canal cruise boat preparing to disembark

Visiting supporters who approach Woking from the M25 are directed by road signs towards the carpark at Heathside. Why? Who knows. Heathside is not close to the ground. Nor is it particularly convenient for the town centre. Perhaps for these reasons (and if my experience of Heathside on a matchday Saturday is anything to go by) you’ll have a wide choice of parking bays.

Price may be another factor that puts parkers off Heathside. If you arrive early enough for a cursory tour of Woking before the game, you may be in the carpark six or seven hours. That would be £10. And the Pay & Display machines don’t take cards or notes. Another dubious point in Heathside’s favour, then – if you arrive with pockets full of cash you’ll leave a great deal lighter.

I hedged my bets with £4.20 for up to three hours. False economy, I know, but that left options open: at around 2.15pm I could top-up and walk to the ground, or I could take the car and look for somewhere closer to Kingfield Stadium, home of the Cards (short for Cardinals).

Basingstoke Canal, River Wey Navigation, Kitty Canal Cruises
The Basingstoke Canal: reopened in 1991 after a 25-year restoration project

Woking was being rebuilt that day. The many cranes stood idle, peering into the town like paralysed insects. Hoardings lined walkways, and low-level plastic barriers helped pedestrians to avoid blundering into roadworks. If, discouraged and disorientated, you headed north reckoning to find the Basingstoke Canal crossing your path, you wouldn’t go far wrong.

It’s a green and shady corridor and it will lead you to Woking’s better side. The canal was formally reopened in 1991 after a 25-year restoration project. For a restful 1¼hrs, a cruise from the town wharf is an attractive prospect.

Sir Alec Bedser, Woking, Bedser Bridge, Basingstoke Canal
Sir Alec Bedser: opening the bowling from the Town End

The canal is crossed at the wharf by a footbridge dedicated to the legendary Bedser twins. They grew up in Woking and their statues stand at either end of the bridge: Alec bowling, at the Town End, and Eric batting a little over 22yds away. The borough council offices are fielding at long-on and halfway up the wall is a sculpted cricket ball, as though hit for six.

Eric Bedser, Woking, Bedser Bridge, Basingstoke Canal
Eric Bedser: looks to me as if he’s clipped it over midwicket…

Statuary and street art is a Woking speciality. The town’s association with HG Wells provides several instances. Wells lived here while he was producing The War of the Worlds. A dramatic Martian tripod dominates a small crossroads that glories in the name Crown Square, and nearby a space-travelling cylinder is embedded in the pavement. The canal cruises go past Horsell Common, featured in the book as the site of the first Martian landing. A statue of Wells himself, holding (and surrounded by) references to his work though not notably melancholic, sits outside the town’s Victoria Gate, on the Woking Heritage Trail.

Woking Borough Council, Woking, Bedser Bridge
… but the ball is picked up over long-on by the Woking Borough Council offices

Not all the town’s public art is as straightforward. ‘The Space Between’, celebrating The Jam, is mystifyingly modern – three tall chunks of timber. In the Wolsey Place shopping mall three willow-bound cyclists ride across metal waves that may represent hills or the roof of the Sydney Opera House. Painted bronze statues by Sean Henry, born in Woking, lurk around the town standing, seated and reclining.

Formal art provision is in a building called the Lightbox, close to Bedser Bridge. The architects, Marks Barfield, were also responsible for Brighton’s i360 tower – well, we all have our off days. The Lightbox grants free entry to a museum called ‘Woking’s Story’, to a gallery named for the Art Fund Prize, sculpture, second-hand books, a good shop and a very good café. Upstairs, galleries and special exhibitions cost £7.50. The main attraction on my visit was ‘Burning Bright: the Scottish Colourists’. If £7.50 sounds steep for a provincial art gallery, consider: a few hours in a carpark, or the opportunity to spend as long as you like in front of JD Fergusson’s Villa Gotte Garden?

War of the Worlds, HG Wells, Martian, Woking, Ebbsfleet United
‘A dramatic Martian tripod dominates a small crossroads’

Woking’s Story, it transpires, involves a surprising amount of spirituality. The town has the 1889 Shah Jehan Mosque, the first mosque to be built in northern Europe.

To the west of Woking is Brookwood Cemetery, the largest cemetery in western Europe and, indeed, in the world when it opened in 1854. Until 1941 it was served by a rail service known as the Coffin Express, running on the Necropolis Line from Waterloo. According to one story, golfers used the service to get to Brookwood Golf Club but had to wear mourning; since golfers are notorious for their lack of fashion sense, that can only have been an improvement. The 220 hectares are used by Woking people as an extended and presumably rather poignant park on their doorstep. Brookwood Military Cemetery, the last resting place of Commonwealth and allied victims of two world wars, lies adjacent.

A little way east of town, on the other side of the M25, is Brooklands Museum. If you were to take this in as well you might need to set aside a weekend. Motorsport, aviation and latterly Concorde are all associated with Brooklands. In 2018 it was one of the five nominees for Art Fund Museum of the Year, beaten eventually by Tate St Ives.

Woking 2 Ebbsfleet United 2
Kingfield Stadium, 14 Sep 2019

Halloween 2: Darker

Newstead Abbey Mansfield flapper
The phantom flapper of Newstead Abbey

The second part of the Halloween preview takes us into darker or at least more grown-up territory – beginning in this case in the Midlands.

Festival of the Dead Coventry Birmingham Doncaster Rovers
The Festival of the Dead, in Coventry on 28 Sep

On 28 Sep Doncaster are at Coventry City. If their fans actually go to Coventry by mistake (the Sky Blues are playing home games at Birmingham City’s ground this season) they might stumble into The Festival of the Dead. The organisers describe this as a ‘combination of carnival, circus and clubbing’

Ghost hunts at Ordsall Hall fall on 12 and 26 Oct, when Cambridge and Scunthorpe are the respective visitors to Salford City. A white lady and a womanising lord of the manor have been reported. It would be a pity if they missed each other.

Grimmfest Manchester Wolves City Film Festival
GrimmFest: Manchester enjoys a little Grim Up North joke

Manchester has a number of big events on matchdays in October. From 3-6 there’s GrimmFest, ‘Manchester’s International Festival of Fantastic Film’. Wolves are at City on the 6. On 20 Oct, when Liverpool are at United, ‘For the Love of Horror’ ill-advisedly calls Manchester ‘the Murder Capital of the World’.

There’s another horror film festival in Sheffield. Celluloid Screams, from 24-27 Oct, falls nicely for Everton fans making the trip to Wednesday for a cup-tie on 24 Oct.

The Lieder Festival, in Oxford from 11-26 Oct, looks like a very much more serious enterprise than the average Goulish Spookiness. With a full festival pass costing up to £730, you’d expect more than a few pumpkins and some colouring-in. Sure enough, the festival will explore ‘Tales of Beyond: Magic, Myths and Mortals [taking] us on a tour of life, death, and the mysterious areas between and beyond’. Sophisticated supporters of Doncaster (12 Oct) and Rochdale (26 Oct) should expect boggarts at the very least.

By late October the industry is really into its stride. Chelsea fans heading to Burnley on 26 Oct could take in the Pendle Witch Discoverie Tour and still have time for a pub lunch. That spelling of ‘Discoverie’ may fill you with dread, and not of a spectral kind. But children growing up in Lancashire were still being threatened with a visit from the Pendle Witches 350 years after the 1612 trial so the stories might feel surprisingly fresh.

Alien anniversary Portsmouth HMS Alliance Oxford United
40 years ago: Alien was released on 6 Sep 1979. See it in the claustrophobic surrounds of a submarine in Portsmouth on 2 Nov

In Portsmouth Halloween runs well into November, like one of those Celtic festivals that started 30 days ahead and finished 30 days after the focal point. That’s what I call a Bank Holiday. On 2 Nov, with Oxford United the visitors to Fratton Park, there’s a showing of Alien on board the Cold War submarine HMS Alliance. More films later in the month at the Pastel Wasteland on 16 Nov. This is a new project aiming to introduce you to “some of the best, unsung heroes of science fiction and horror filmmaking” from around the world. If that doesn’t make the trip from Fleetwood worthwhile, what would it take?

Halloween 1: Light

There are too many Halloween events to fit manageably into a single post. So this is Part 1. The distinction between Light and Dark is rather arbitrary; when a festival is supposed to be blood-curdling, is it possible to talk about family events?

Ghost Halloween preview family events

When you go to watch your team play away, you often think there’s a ghost of a chance. This time of year brings a chance of a ghost.

There are ghost-related events throughout the year in many towns, but some of those have a tired, routine, commercial feel. The approach of Halloween provides a shot in the supernatural arm.

Like Christmas, Halloween starts earlier every year. (Easter, in obedience to calculations* of obscure origin, starts earlier in 2024 and 2027.)

On 21 Sep, then, visitors to Cardiff (among others the supporters of Middlesbrough) can enjoy St Fagans Museum Ghost Tours where “no nonsense, no gimmicks” are promised, and where you will learn “why Wales could be the world’s most haunted country!”

The following weekend, on 27 Sep, Blackpool’s Ghost Tram will clank along the Prom, illuminated. The Illuminations were switched on in 1959 by buxom bombshell Jayne Mansfield, a devotee of the man who later (1966) founded the Church of Satan in the USA. Or you could take in the Blackpool Tower Dungeon for a brush with the Pendle Witches. Lincoln City – known as the Imps, notoriously unpredictable creatures of legend – are the visitors.

On 5 Oct, when Sheffield United visit Watford, Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Industry offers Dark Arts for “fans of Death Eaters, daring duels and Hallowe’en feasts”. Just think: 100 hand-carved pumpkins, no two alike. It will be like the average residential street, but not as cheap.

Lincoln Castle Prison Bolton Wanderers Lincoln City
Lincoln Castle incorporates a prison, a Spooky Prison for the visit of Bolton Wanderers on 26 Oct

Castles are among the oldest buildings in the realm and hence the most likely to be haunted. Spooky Carlisle Castle will coincide with the visit of Northampton Town to Brunton Park on 22 Oct. How spooky? Well, the castle closes at 4pm; it will have to be seriously overcast for darkness to have fallen. At Rochester it’s the Pumpkin Trail that is Spooky, so if your 5-12yr-olds support Peterborough, take them on the way to the Gillingham game on 19 Oct. Lincoln Castle incorporates a prison, which becomes a Spooky Prison for the visit of Bolton Wanderers on 26 Oct.

26 Oct marks the last day of Bicton Park’s Halloween activities as well as Exeter City’s derby with Plymouth.

Derby Museum Japanese Ghosts and Demons Trail Middlesbrough
Derby Museum’s Japanese Ghosts and Demons Trail – apparently there are more than 90 ways to say ‘ghost’ in Japanese

Middlesbrough will again be the visitors (to Derby on 2 Nov) when Derby Museum holds its Japanese Ghosts and Demons Trail. If you’re taking the family to the match, the museum says this is suitable for 5-15yr-olds.

Portsmouth is the place for post-Halloween warming-down. ‘Haunted Histories from the View’ spans Halloween, running from 26 Oct-3 Nov. It’s a presentation of ghost stories told 100 metres above the city, plus virtual reality, and on 2 Nov Oxford United fans might take a look.

* The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox, aka 21 March.

ToTH Awards to Traveling Supporters, Sept 2019

Most Festive Hosts Derby is a clear winner in this category. Three festivals coincide with the Rams’ two home games in September and none is what you might call run of the mill. From 9-15 Sep is the Derby SignFest, ‘celebrating and raising awareness of sign language, and the fact that Derby has the second largest Deaf community outside of London’. Cardiff City are in town on 13 Sep. On 28 Sep, when Birmingham City are the visitors, Derby Festé showcases ‘the talents within the city’s cultural organisations’; and WellFest East Midlands offers hygge among many other undoubted benefits.

Derby SignFest Pride Park Cardiff City Festivals
Derby SignFest includes a conducted, signed tour of Pride Park

Most Festive Visitors Doncaster Rovers have two away games in September: on 14 Sep, when Ipswich has its Gippeswyc Viking & Saxon Festival with re-enactments and axe-throwing; and at Coventry on 28 Sep, which happens to be when the city’s three-day Bridge extravaganza concludes.

Coals to Newcastle Crawley Town, the destination of choice for aviation enthusiasts, hit Northampton on 21 Sep in time for the Pistons & Props classic cars and aircraft show at nearby Sywell.

Carlisle United Brunton Park Oldham Athletic
Athletic at Carlisle in better days

Rainbow Lining Supporters of Oldham Athletic need something to look forward to more than most. The trip to Carlisle on 28 Sep looks a very good prospect. In addition to the regular and often undervalued attractions of Carlisle (and the rare opportunity to shout “Dirty northern bastards” at the opposition), they’ll find Cumbria Pride, the second day of the Carlisle Blues/Rock Festival and the Borderlines Carlisle Book Festival.

Educated Palates When Rotherham play at Bristol Rovers on 28 Sep, the city has a Cocktail Weekend and Avery’s Wine Festival in progress. In the Proletarian Boozers category, Cheltenham has its own Beer Festival in mid-September and the team visits Plymouth on 21 Sep in time for theirs.

Repeat Business Exeter City play at Newport County on 21 Sep in League 2 and on 8 Oct in the Football League Trophy. The round trip is about 200 miles which by Exeter standards is almost a local derby, but if they need any inspiration they’ll find an extract from the Newport chapter of the book here.

Harrogate Town

Harrogate in Bloom, Montpellier Quarter, Gateshead
“Harrogate’s beds, borders and hanging baskets have been winning awards for more than 40 years”

A 2018 ranking of Yorkshire’s towns and cities put Harrogate in 12th place. “Same as Ripon [14th], but with worse tea-shops,” said CityMetric with questionable logic. It’s an ungenerous verdict in any case, and careless of Harrogate’s best-known attractions. Those are summarised in the title and location of Harrogate: Britain’s Floral Resort, a book on display in Harrogate’s Royal Pump Room Museum. This sets the tone for a visit.

Harrogate’s beds, borders and hanging baskets have been winning awards regional, national and European for more than 40 years.

As Harrogate in Bloom makes clear, it’s a community effort. Schools and homeowners, pubs and hotels, even solicitors get involved in beautifying Harrogate by competing for local awards. Events like the Harrogate Spring Flower Show in late April remove any lingering doubts over the town’s credentials: if you like flowers, this is the place to come.

Harrogate residential
“Trees and shrubs played supporting roles…”

I had booked us into a hotel overlooking the green space, the Stray, that surrounds central Harrogate like a gargantuan 1970s collar. The Stray, perversely, is an expanse of grass unbroken by so much as a daffodil bulb. As J (veteran of Portsmouth and Southend United) and I walked towards the centre through the Queens Parade/North Park Road area, our first impression of the town was of how attractive its built environment was; trees and shrubs played supporting roles.

Harrogate Queen Victoria
“Victoria under an elaborate canopy”

In the vicinity of the railway station it’s the Jubilee Memorial (Victoria under an elaborate canopy) that will catch your eye, and the arch over Station Road, and the statues lounging in front of the inverted ship’s hull roof of the Victoria Shopping Centre. That building, by the way, is not yet 30 years old, but the inspiration is Palladio’s Basilica at Vicenza, from 1617.

Ronald Searle Molesworth Pythagoras
‘Lazy parallelograms basking on Mount Olympus; Pythagoras stalking them’ (Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle)

Then you’re into the Montpellier Quarter and Harrogate languorously unfurls its petals. In a sequence of public squares, parks and gardens, amid elegant buildings from Regency to Edwardian, the Bath of the North becomes the Wisley of the North. The ‘squares’ are all kinds of shapes; from above they look like a geometrician’s sampler. Ronald Searle’s wonderful illustrations for the Molesworth books come irresistibly to mind.

Valley Gardens blends floral and sulphuric Harrogate. Beautifully laid-out and maintained, the park claims 36 springs of which “no two are exactly alike in chemical composition”. More active visitors will find a paddling pool, skate park, tennis, crazy golf and pitch-and-putt. For walkers, there’s a route through Pinewoods to RHS Harlow Carr – it takes about an hour.

Back at the town end, in what was known as Low Harrogate, the Royal Pump Room Museum stands at the entrance to Valley Gardens. As a museum it’s modest but very distinctive; not many museums announce themselves first to your nose. The Pump Room is built around the Old Sulphur Well, otherwise known as the Stinking Spaw.

This being Yorkshire, the museum naturally has an Egyptian section. Two local ‘collectors’ had associations with Flinders Petrie and Howard Carter. Most of the exhibits are small and charming, but a 3,000yr-old painted wooden coffin of a priest of Amun broods over the displays like a cigar-store Indian.

Other themes included shopping, the railway, treatments and, in the Pump Room, an exhibition of wedding dresses. The exhibits ran from 1870 to the present and there were many highlights. The 2008 Bra-ra dress, constructed by Julia Triston from 59 faded white and grey bras, was magnificent.

Along Swan Road from the museum is the Old Swan Hotel, where Agatha Christie turned up after going missing for 11 days in 1926. The Swan was known then as the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, and the writer chose to be known as Mrs Teresa Neele. It was an odd alias behind which to hide from those searching for her – Neele was the surname of the woman for whom Archie Christie left his wife, precipitating her furtive flight to Yorkshire. A nervous breakdown was suspected; two doctors diagnosed amnesia; and some thought it a publicity stunt or perhaps a classic red herring.

Harrogate Serena Partridge silk embroidery
Detail from Serena Partridge’s silk gloves, embroidered with Harrogate landmarks

Also on Swan Road is the Mercer Art Gallery. At Easter 2019 the two exhibitions were Linescapes, by digital artist Ian Mitchell, and Views of Harrogate from various sources. The Views were much the more interesting and included material the Royal Pump Room would no doubt have been pleased to display, if it had the space. Two embroidered silk gloves by Serena Partridge were particularly impressive and surprising, as was the note explaining the inspiration for them – from Dickens, no less, who wrote: “Harrogate is the strangest place with the queerest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining.”

Other images on view were similarly unconventional: Matthew Ellwood, portrayor of places as towers, has Harrogate and Knaresborough among his subjects. Musical associations were represented by displays relating to Harrogate’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest in the days (1982) when Britain performed respectably; and in even earlier times – 8 March 1963, to be precise – the Town Hall hosted “The Sensational Beatles (‘Recording stars of Please Please Me’)”.

Harrogate Montpellier Quarter Bettys Tea Room
“Then you’re into the Montpellier Quarter and Harrogate languorously unfurls its petals”

Sumptuous posters from the Golden Age of rail travel made Linescapes, the products of more recent times, difficult to like. Both exhibitions will have been rotated by the now; there will be something else on the walls. Perhaps drawing and colouring-in (as long as nothing complicated like shading is required) will be among the tasks taken over by robots, leaving us free to explore our creativity in other ever-diminishing areas.

Harrogate’s contemporary spa, the Turkish Baths, must remain unexplored. The proprietors recommend you allow 1½ to 2hrs, and we were running short of time. Instead, we visited Hales Bar, which claims to be Harrogate’s oldest pub. It certainly had some of Harrogate’s oldest drinkers but was welcoming, atmospheric and full of character.

The football match confirmed Harrogate Town’s place in the National League play-offs at the end of their first season at this level. High stakes and bright sunshine prompted a large turn-out; it apparently took the catering manager by surprise, and we counted ourselves lucky to be able to sustain ourselves at half-time with the most unpleasant cheese pasty in the history of the world.

Harrogate Town 2 Gateshead 0
CNG Stadium, 22 April 2019

Support the Lower Leagues

The lamentable fate of Bury makes it plain that clubs in the lower divisions need all the support they can get. The international break gives you a perfect opportunity to express your solidarity.

Bruce Willis, Bury, Support the Lower Leagues

The break applies only to the top two divisions. Football continues to be played in Leagues 1 and 2. Meanwhile, England’s game against Bulgaria doesn’t kick off until 5pm. So if you want live football next Saturday afternoon and you could stand to miss the first half-hour or so of the England game, why not go to your nearest lower league club? They certainly need the income and you might be surprised how much you enjoy it.

Chappel Beer Festival, Colchester United, Walsall, East Anglian Railway Museum
Here’s to Colchester v Walsall, with the Chappel Beer Festival at the nearby East Anglian Railway Museum
If you want an extra inducement:
* Norwich fans could choose between a beer festival near Colchester or retro microcomputers in Cambridge
* For any discriminating Burnley or Blackburn fans in the southwest, Accrington Stanley play at Bristol Rovers – not far from a coffee festival and a record/CD fair
* Morecambe has the seaside, a Dinosaur Day, a comedy festival and Salford City to attract any Mancunians attracted by the idea of a day out
* There are food festivals of one sort or another at Cheltenham, Leyton and the Wirral. The latter two are within easy reach of Londoners and Liverpudlians respectively; might Stevenage’s trip to Cheltenham attract one or two matchless Spurs supporters?
* Supporters of East Midlands clubs will note Mansfield Town have a home game against Scunthorpe and something called The Full Shebang going on in the town. It sounds as if it could be quite something – don’t miss it!
* At Milton Keynes, choose between a Cheese Festival, a Handmade & Vintage Show, Bletchley Park and AFC Wimbledon, or take in all four.

Would you rather be in front of the box at 2pm for Kosovo against the Czech Republic on Sky? Really?