A Heritage open day offered the rare opportunity of gaining access to parts of the Birchcliffe Centre normally out-of-bounds. On the cusp of autumn but still summery, we avoided a steep climb in the heat by walking via Hangingroyd, Foster Lane and Eiffel Street. On reaching Birchcliffe, we first investigated Chapel Avenue. Lines of washing extended across the small cul-de-sac. A wall plaque on the side wall of the centre commemorated transfer of school activities to the chapel building in the 19th century. A stone gateway at the end of the street led to a dark path. I wondered if it would descend to Nutclough.
Entering the building via the impressive front entrance complete with granite pillars, the walls of the reception area displayed newly printed photos by Alice Longstaff. A fellow photographer responsible for the collection explained the context of the never-before seen images and related stories of some of the people shown. It felt a real privilege and I was fascinated to note the differences between Alice’s commercial work and shots taken for personal reasons or just for the hell of it.
On the corridor running the length of the centre a young woman accosted me, asking if I would like to join a pilates class. “No thanks. Tried it once. Hated it”. I said, politely. Right at the back, the old Baptists pool was specially uncovered for the open day. A guide approached from the opposite direction with a family group. We stopped to listen as she explained how it was used. In the boardroom we took part in a consultation on the future of the centre (ran by a neighbour of ours as it turned out). From the ground plans we learnt that the path at the back did indeed lead to Nutclough and the centre actually owned that section of the clough.
Intrigued by the discovery of yet another path in the tiny but endlessly fascinating Nutclough, we had to explore. We returned to the end of Chapel Avenue. Through the gateway, spindly silver birch strove for light. their trunks casting shadows like palimpsests criss-crossing the path.
Further down, leaf detritus blocked the weir. Speckled wood butterfly flitted about on the islands while dayflies danced like fairies. Mainly shady now in the late afternoon sun, we stepped over the shallow stream to the firepit, bathed in a patch of sunlight. Birch replaced by beech, nuts and shells littered the ground. I had fun arranging them artily on the hewn benches.
We walked back in full sun down Keighley Road, in search of lunch. The town centre was absolutely rammed as people spilled out of the pub on the square; a last gasp on the last proper end-of-summer day. We scanned cafes on Bridge Gate and at the other end of the square but all were full or about to shut. We spotted a couple of friends and stopped to say hello. They both had sorry tales of redundancy to tell and conversations went on quite a long time . By then, Phil appeared about to fall over for want of food. I suggested we go home to eat. He did not sound keen. We started homeward past more populous pubs, until discovering that Tibetan Kitchen was an oasis of calm. Friendly staff guided us through the choice of mouth-watering dishes and served us chai while we waited for our food. I heard a guy say the food was better than the Manchester branch. I made a mental note to take a friend who knows the original place well so she can compare.