Sheffield is a city that, on occasions, I pass through or pass by. A dot on the map between The South (where I live) to The North (where I come from and now visit two or three times a year). When I pass by it is on the M1 over the infamous Tinsley Viaduct; as you head north the city is to your left but your eye is drawn by either the sprawling Meadowhall shopping complex or the two cooling towers that sit just to the right of the motorway. Or rather they did until a couple of years ago when, despite an energetic local campaign to save them as a space for art, they were demolished and all that is left to admire is an expansive area of post-industrial scrubland. Passing through Sheffield by train reveals a little more about the city of steel; beyond the modernised station itself are a collection of buildings that hint at regeneration but from the comfort of a train carriage you can never be quite sure if this is myth or reality.
This morning however, I had the chance to explore a little beyond the motorway or the railway tracks courtesy of an hour and a half gap between trains. This was an unplanned visit so I hadn’t given any thought as to what I might do in Sheffield for an hour. Twitter came to my help as, within a few minutes of requesting suggestions, I had them. One place was mentioned more than others; The Winter Garden didn’t seem far so I chose that as my destination. In order to get there I needed to climb a short hill between station and garden at the foot of which was a long, tubular steel (what else?) fountain linking the entrance of the station to the road. This was actually more Spain than South Yorkshire; elaborate street art and tastefully restored train station… Would the illusion continue? The modern pedestrianised street beyond the road was where most of the climbing had to be done, straight through the city centre campus of Sheffield Hallum University. Smart buildings abounded as did posters extolling the students to keep a healthy body as well as an active brain. It came as no surprise to see the poster girl of Sheffield, Jessica Enis on a building high gable end at the top of the climb beaming widely alongside the words “Welcome to Sheffield”. Thanks Jess. A gallery entrance was next to Miss Enis and an escalator just beyond the automatic door ensured that no energy was required for the final small climb towards the Winter Garden.
If you’ve ever been to Atocha railway station in Madrid, you will probably remember the greenhouse that has been created to house the capital’s botanic collection that sits under part of the old station buildings. It wasn’t too dissimilar to what I discovered at the summit of my climb in Sheffield. A large arch-roofed enclosure filled with greenery and an assortment of small attractions to keep your average visitor informed, fed & watered. I really wasn’t expecting this.
The more traditional ‘attraction’ of the town hall was behind the garden and the snooker Mecca that is The Crucible just to one side. A series of large spheres made from, yes, you guessed, steel provided a few moments of photographic distraction as I attempted to take an arty self-portrait. And then I descended the hill, retracing my steps to the station in the glare of the low-lying winter sun. Impressive!