After my one-day visit to Barnsley, I am tempted to say that it has something of an inferiority complex.
I spoke to several locals who seemed genuinely shocked that I was visiting from the States, and even when I told them I didn’t come all this way just to see Barnsley, they were still amazed I was there. And they almost seemed to apologize that there was nothing to do there.
Normally, I would insert here something like “But I was really impressed with their little town,” like I would for Huddersfield or Burton. In fact, I think they have it about right. As a visitor, there really is not much going on in Barnsley.
But they all said something else that I also think is true: It’s a friendly place, and “Yawk-sha folk” seem to be genuinely pleasant people, with the usual exception of their football supporters when the home team isn’t going well. But turning into angry terrace coaches hardly sets them apart.
Right out of the station, I saw a sign proudly stating their market dates to 1249, so I had to check that out. And what I found was part produce and meat market, part clothing market, and part flea market – all populated and visited by a collection of people I would call extraordinary for their ordinariness. I hate phrases like “salt of the Earth” and “working class” and “down-home”; I also couldn’t get them out of my head as I walked around.
Old ladies sipping tea. Three generations shopping together. Butchers asking after somebody’s mum. Men expressing hope for the football game. It really seemed that everybody knew each other. Also, while so much of England seems highly international, this place was a white bread as I’m sure the food was. In fact, the town population is listed at 94.7% white! And they were all speaking all in their … soft? mushy? warm? … Yorkshire accent. You just kind of want to smile when they talk to you, especially when they say things like “That linesman has got nowt right the whole game!”
Some scenes from the market:
I did enjoy a little museum they have in the impressive Town Hall, up on the hill. What I liked was that they had local people tell all the stories. There was a film with actors playing citizens since the 16th Century, but they were ordinary folks, not grand heroes.
And speaking of heroes, here is a good indicator of the scale of Barnsley’s magnificence: they have a historic trail connecting the life-places of none other than James Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission. I know, me neither.
After going into the museum, I honestly couldn’t think of, or find, anything else to do. So I decided to do what I often do: find the local high point.
In this case, that would be the tower in Locke Park, at the highest point in town. I wandered through a quiet neighborhood, where I enjoyed the various things people put in the front windows (meercats, Santas, vases, flowers, cat statues), found the park, got to the tower, and it was locked. Sigh.
The view was nice, anyway — even with the howling wind.
Then I walked downtown the other side of the hill and found a community garden with an even better view. And geese. They were either thrilled to see me or really pissed off I was there; alas, I don’t speak goose. Maybe they were just concerned about going into a pie.
On the way down the hill, my day started to transition; a father and son, with red shirts under their jackets, emerged from a house and headed the same way I was going. When in doubt, follow the colors! I mean, colours.
They stopped in a pub – start ‘em young, I suppose – and I kept winding down until I caught my first, exciting glimpse of the stadium, with the wonderful name Oakwell, home of the wonderfully nicknamed Tykes.
At the bottom of the hill, I saw a sign for the Trans Pennine Trail.
Now, I love me a long trail, and I wanted to at least walk a tiny bit of it. So I headed over to take a few steps and a photo, when what do I see but a wavy head of hair atop a thin figure with tight-fitting pants, and in the middle a sweatshirt that said Memphis. You could have knocked me over with a feather, for at least a couple of reasons.
Turns out she had no idea, really, what Memphis was, confessing “It’s just me trainer.” We chatted a bit, there on the side of the trail, which sounds better than “just off a main road behind some dumpsters near the football ground.” But I asked her about Barnsley, and she apologized, and then she told me about spending 10 days (!) at Disney World and not thinking it was enough. The English obsession with Disney World boggles the mind; I would like to think it’s just the sun, but honestly they seem to consider America some kind of weird Circus Land. She was thrilled to know that people in Southern California really do roller skate along the beach and exercise outside.
And so, with a smile on my face and a warm spot for the Yawksha Folk I’d met, I headed across the road to go and see what their football team was up to. In fact, I’d be seeing them play Huddersfield Town, which is a Yorkshire Derby. If anything were to get the locals fired up, perhaps this would be it.