Sunday 12 January 2014

Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

Barrow.  What can you say about the place when only two words suffice?

Thankfully the trip to South Lakes Zoo down the road fortified us with enough good vibes to cope with a trip to Barrow.
A short trip down the A590 brought us into the town centre and we parked in the pay and display car park behind the impressive Town Hall.   It has to be said the Town Hall is the most beautiful building in town, although it’s doesn’t have much competition in that respect.

We headed into the shopping precinct and passed the indoor market which was shut for the day.  The precinct was very quiet, although clearly there had been some regeneration work to bring it into the 21st century.  Then again there were still plenty of shops empty and boarded up.  The Specials “Ghost Town” started to play in my head.  If there had been tumbleweed rolling through the town it would have set the scene perfectly.
We pinballed along the precinct, from charity shop to charity shop.  Nothing much could be found in the precinct charity shops.  The precinct was full of the usual high street shops you would find in most UK towns.  Although once you go down the side streets you will find the local independent shops eking out a living.  If you need to go the toilets Debenhams is your best bet. 
We had visited Barrow before and found a charity shop on one of the main roads that had been chock-a-block full of stuff.  However could we find it again?  Sadly not.  Although we did go down a side street and found what appeared to be a small warehouse sized charity shop run by Age UK.  It was great and full of furniture.  The books were cheap and I picked up a Jo Nesbo book and bizarrely for Barrow a David Sedaris memoir “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”  Never did I think I would find a book by a gay, American satirist in the back streets of Barrow.

Barrow is of a different age.  Once you venture out of the main shopping area it is surrounded by rows and rows of terrace houses.  You could easily film any period drama here from the Victorian period to the 1980s and you would only have to worry about covering up the satellite dishes.  You could also see the faded painted signage peeling on the side of a former corner shop.  The town’s fortunes heavily rely on the shipyard which is just on the edge of town.  On our previous visit we drove by and saw a huge ship or submarine (I’m not entirely sure about these things) being built.  The scale was impressive.  Sadly this time there was no ocean going machine to gawp at as we drove by.
We wandered around the street of Barrow for a couple of hours and to be honest it was somewhat depressing.  The pubs looked desperate and scary.  The bouncer from one of Cartmel’s pubs mentioned that Barrow can be a very ‘lively’ night out and I could see what he meant.  Definitely one to avoid for the more genteel amongst us, although if you like a night out tinged with danger I reckon this could be your town.
Barrow is really isolated on the Furness peninsular, far away from the nearest city.  This place really smacks you in the face with its deprivation.  If you were from a poor family here your opportunities would be truly limited and dependent on the shipyard for employment.  Not only directly but indirectly on the businesses that rely on the custom of the workers.  I dread to think how many people are on benefits in this town.
Our time in Barrow was over as the weather was getting somewhat patchy and the good vibes from South Lakes Zoo were at risk of wearing off.  For a quick exit you can always take the A590 out of town, although I do recommend taking the A5087 coast road back to Ulverston as on a good day you get fab views of Morecambe Bay. 
What else can I say?  Barrow was an experience, though one not to be repeated without a trip to South Lake Zoo first.



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