I’ve had two meetings in the city centre this week. I don’t like to drive into the city centre because the parking charges are set high to discourage congestion. A policy I approve of. The bus is expensive if you’re on a tight budget, so unless it’s tipping down, it’s usually cycling or walking for me.
Hundreds of people walk into town from Beeston every morning. The main route isn’t beautiful or quiet. Thousands of cars and lorries pour into Leeds past you, spewing out fumes and making a racket. But with a bit of imagination and an explorer spirit it is possible to find a quiet route.
As I mentioned last week I’ve been running round South Leeds for years and I’m always looking for routes that avoid cars and link up green spaces. Along the way I’ve tried to find out a bit about what I’m passing.
More on the detailed route into town later, but what about those words: “Ginnel” and “Snicket”? Ginnel seems to be the normal usage in South Leeds to describe an alley. I had a deprived childhood growing up in London, I can’t remember what we called them – probably “alleys”. My mother called them “snickets” and I think she picked this up from my father who was originally from South Yorkshire.
One of my favourite ginnels cuts through three terraces from Tempest Road to Cross Flatts Park in Beeston. It has always intrigued me because it cuts through at an angle to the terraces, leaving houses wider at the front than the back or vice versa. Then a few years ago I heard local historian Frank Goddard talking about the history of Beeston. It turns out this ginnel is part of a much longer footpath that has run from Churwell to Hunslet since medieval times. As a protect Right of Way, you can’t build on it, hence the road layout and the ginnels. You can trace the route from Garnet Place, up Trentham Street, through the ginnel, across the park, along Wooler Avenue, through another ginnel across Barkly Road to Jessamine Avenue, across Old Lane and along another path into the Cardinal estate.
So to that quiet route into town? From the bottom of Beeston Road you go through the motorway underpass and turn right, then take a left up what appears to be a cul-de-sac. It actually ends with a footbridge over the railway, that’s the track to Stourton freight depot and Castleford. The footbridge brings you out onto Ninevah Road opposite Marshall Street and the beautiful brick facade of the former Holbeck Library building. Marshall Street takes you past the old Kays site – not pretty, but at least it’s quiet – and into the Holbeck Urban Village.
The Urban Village divides opinion. It may or may not be a regeneration success, but for my money it has some lovely architecture. I love the way old buildings have been re-purposed for the 21st century, such as Matthew Murray’s Round Foundry – the first integrated factory in the world. Choose your route by Marshall Street, David Street or through the modern ginnels and courtyards to Water Lane. Cross at the zebra and sneak through the car park to the bridge over the canal. Here you can pause to watch the boats navigate Lock No 2 of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, then take the tow path for a few hundred yards.
Depending on the time of day you might have to dodge the commuter cyclists speeding along here, but there is something very calming about water, along with the sight of ducks and riverside flowers – Michaelmas Daisies this week – which makes it worth the effort. Next on the route is the elegant arc of the new(ish) footbridge over the River Aire. The riverside walk on the north bank will take you to the back of the station. Alternatively cut across Whitehall Road, up Northern Street to Wellington Street, and on towards Park Square and the Town Hall.
I seem to have gone on at length describing this route, but I do enjoy following it and seeing the history and nature of South Leeds revealed. It certainly beats grinding down Dewsbury Road. There will be more ramblings South of the River next week from Jeremy Morton.