I have written this diary as my contribution to the Mass Observation Archive – they are calling on people all over the country, of all ages and from all backgrounds, to document everything they did on the 12th May 2020, as part of their social research and to provide records of what life was like during lockdown. http://www.massobs.org.uk/write-for-us/12th-may
I know this means that my contribution is no longer confidential, but the actual record that I send off to Mass Observation will be anonymous, so I suppose it’s fine to post it here! You can still take part in it yourself if you want to!
12th May Diary
NHS chalk wall art in Walkley
On Tuesday 12th May, I wake up rather groggily next to my partner. He sleeps in for longer than usual too. He is currently furloughed from his retail job, and my work is currently over teatime and the early evenings so waking up earlier is more difficult. I am feeling more tired at times – I suppose it could be living with a constant undercurrent of worry and anxiety about the Covid 19 pandemic, although we are in a much better financial position than many other people.
I take a shower, washing my hair and shaving my legs. I’ve not been keeping up with that as often as usual this time in the year as there aren’t many opportunities to dress up! The weather is cool today with a mixture of clouds and sunshine – but at some point, I will get my legs exposed to some sun in my back garden!
I have some leftover apple charlotte I made last night for breakfast, with soya and coconut yogurt. I’m vegan and have been lucky that I’ve been able to pick up my usual veg box and extra food supplies from my local whole food shop, although rather than a browse around the shop, you now have to email your order a day in advance and pick it up from the shop’s carpark. It’s a good excuse for a walk, as well as my trip to our local small Asda with my partner on Wednesday mornings, to buy shopping for an elderly lady as well as for me. These small activities now count as major social events for me!
I make some cheese and lettuce wraps for lunch with some tortillas that have been lurking in the freezer for ages, fill a bottle of water and set off on one of my big walks. Since the lockdown started, I’ve been taking a longer walk once a week. The time limit on the lockdown rules was confusing – no one actually stipulated that it should be an hour maximum, so my solo walks have been several hours long, walking from my house and exploring new parts of Sheffield and the surrounding countryside. I have a full day off today, so I can take as long as I like.
Today, I start by walking the streets of Walkley, where I live, a suburb of Sheffield that expanded in Victorian times from a small village and a collection of farms. My route takes me along the streets that line the side of the Rivelin Valley, a mixture of terraced housing and pre-war semi-detached houses. It’s heartening to see the rainbows and teddy bears in the windows, and the messages and hop-scotch grids that children have chalked on the pavement. I reach the gates of Walkley Cemetery – a Victorian cemetery for the parish church, which is some distance away. As I walk downhill, enjoying the peace and wildlife, I walk into the woods and back into an adjoining graveyard, the Catholic Cemetery, which takes me down to the bottom of the Rivelin Valley.
I walk the short distance past weirs and the picturesque remains of old mills to Malin Bridge, where the Rivelin joins the river Loxley, which eventually flows into the River Don. It’s usually a busy traffic junction too, but it’s fairly quiet today. Still, it feels a little jarring to be in the “real world” for a few minutes, away from nature.
The path that runs into the Loxley valley looks very welcoming. I have walked a lot around here over the past couple of months. Sheffield has five rivers, four of them running into the river Don. On the west side of the city, the rivers are a popular way to walk into the Peak District or just to enjoy the wildlife. A century – or only a few decades ago – the rivers were busy with mills and factories, using the water power to grind cutlery and all sorts of other industries.
I reach one of the biggest mills, the former Hepworth Refactory, which made heat-resistant bricks, now standing empty and derelict. Bovis bought the site to develop housing there in 2006, but this was scuppered by local opposition and probably the financial crash. I turn up Storrs Bridge Lane which runs steeply up to Loxley Road. I can’t resist walking through the Heras fence surrounding the derelict Claremont House nearby. Once the grand residence of the factory owner, it later became the social club for the factory employees, but has been abandoned since the early 90s. It’s now a sad ruin, but I love taking photos of old ruined buildings, and enjoy the spooky feeling!
Checking my OS map, I cross the road and walk up a lane which carries on, very straight uphill. The lane is gated but is a signposted right of way, so I have to climb a stile which requires holding onto an iron bar to balance, so I apply hand sanitiser afterwards. The tarmacked lane diverts to a farm, but the path carries on, over another couple of stiles (more hand sanitiser), crossing another lane and up another steep old unpaved lane until I get to some woods – but the path still stays straight.
I glimpse my last view of the Loxley Valley and now I have a dramatic view into the Don Valley – I can even see huge steelworks in the far distance to the east, as well as conifer forests and Peak District moors. I could stick to lanes from this point onwards, but there is a tempting path that runs past a farm, marked “Sheffield Country Walk” – unfortunately, the path is set to take me into a field full of curious bullocks and a fierce-looking cow, but I just walk through one field instead and I’m back on the lane, heading into the village of Worrall. Worrall is much nicer than its name suggests – well-kept cottages and houses, a secondary school in one of the most picturesque settings you can imagine, a post office and several pubs. The pubs are all closed at the moment, but it would be a lovely place for a pub lunch and a pint – and a less exhausting walk with friends or family on a Sunday afternoon! An artist has placed a carved stone heart supported by the letters NHS at the crossroads. This village is so tidy that even the daffodil stalks have been tied into nice neat bundles.
I walk along pavements, then I take a path through woodland that takes me into Oughtibridge, a village alongside the river Don. I sit on a ledge near the bridge to eat my lunch and I’m surprised by a brown and white collie dog who shows a brief interest in my wrap before paddling into the shallows near the bridge to lap some river water. I’m definitely getting tired legs now and it takes quite a bit of effort to get up off the stone ledge and onto the path. The path along the river Don at Oughtibridge is lovely, shaded by trees from the ancient Beeley Wood. I pass dog walkers and families exercising and we exchange friendly greetings.
A high-pitched whine fills the air – I’m approaching the Abbey Forged Products factory. It’s a huge modern complex, which makes steel products for the oil and gas industry. It seems to be in full operation today. The factory is at the end of Beeley Wood Lane, which the path joins onto, and there’s a lot of litter on the roadside of this otherwise picturesque lane and evidence of fly-tipping, although it’s been softened in recent weeks by the spring growth: nettles, herb Robert, cow parsley and Jack-by-the-hedge, and I can still catch a whiff of wild garlic. I have fond memories of test driving my car here seven years ago, about this time of year and being surprised by how green and pretty it was.
Then Beeley Wood lane joins Claywheels Lane. I’m closer to home now, but the landscape is now a lot more industrial. As the river curves round and I see the Winn Gardens housing estate across the playing fields on the other side of the river, two children play on the weir, and I catch sight of a derelict factory with rusting corrugated iron and broken windows. I don’t know why I’m drawn to derelict places – I’m terrified of being in danger, so I’d never go inside anywhere like that, but I love wandering around and taking photos. I love the way that nature reclaims buildings, and I find beauty in decay. The site seems accessible from the road, across a ditch and I see a man in a hi-vis jacket duck through the trees and along the pavement, checking his phone. Is he a security guard, or has he been there to take pictures of the buildings? I am tempted to have a quick peek, but my legs are aching and I’m not too far from home now.
Soon, I pass familiar buildings, such as Fletchers bakery, with a lovely rainbow banner for the NHS and key workers, and the branch of Howden’s kitchens, where I bought my kitchen units from two years ago. We have been slowly renovating our Victorian terraced house, and we were supposed to be having our bathroom renovated in March – the work was cancelled due to the lockdown, but hopefully this will happen eventually! The Sainsbury’s supermarket, where part of Fletchers used to stand, is still open, and there is a steady stream of shoppers.
The Penistone Road junction is quite busy with traffic, but I turn right onto Leppings Lane, which seems much quieter. This takes me around the back of Hillsborough Stadium, home of Sheffield Wednesday. Hillsborough is such a big part of my life that it’s just an area of Sheffield – it’s where I work, shop and walk. However, to most people living outside the area, the Hillsborough disaster is the first thing that they think of. Not that I don’t think about it – there’s always a poignancy, especially as I pass the memorial on Catch Bar Lane – there are always bouquets of flowers and football shirts here. There’s a lovely tribute to the NHS and key workers on the gates of Hillsborough Primary School.
I walk down the beautiful lime Avenue in Hillsborough Park, which is busy with families and dog walkers. I now feel quite stiff but it’s a good feeling, knowing that I’ve probably walked further than anyone in the park today! It’s sad to walk past the chained-up playground, remembering the week before lockdown, when I last saw some of the learning disabilities clients from work playing here with my colleagues. I also think of the large annual festival held here, Tramlines. Last year, I saw Manic Street Preachers and Chic here, as well as volunteering to do wristbanding – which seemed like a bit too much like hard work at the time! Within a few days, the park was immaculate again. But such a huge gathering of people seems impossible at the moment. It’s been cancelled for this year. I hope that it can return next year – Hillsborough. Park is the main venue of the festival, but the free fringe part of Tramlines takes over the whole city. I was looking forward to going to some fringe gigs with friends and going with the flow this year, but that won’t be happening!
It’s eerie to walk down Middlewood Road, Hillsborough’s main shopping street, with all the shops closed and shuttered. The doors of the indoor shopping arcade are open and the lights are on in Home Bargains and the Boots Pharmacy, but the lights in the arcade are dimmed. It suddenly feels as if I’m in a disaster movie.
Now I’m on the final stretch of the journey after Hillsborough Corner – before the lockdown, this was one of the most heavily polluted places in Sheffield. I walk past the tram stop, the old swimming baths, now a Wetherspoons, the bus interchange, the Victorian Hillsborough barracks, which is now a Morrisons supermarket and a shopping centre, past the top of the street where I usually work and up through the Langsett Estate and the Grammar Street Park (created by clearing slum housing in the 1970s), until I’m back home again! My Garmin fitness watch shows that I’ve walked just over twelve miles today.
I tell my partner about the day’s adventures and relax with a can of cider in the garden. My legs are stiffening up rapidly and I seem to have pulled a muscle at the top of my left leg! I have a bubble bath while reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I finally feel ready for reading something dystopian again, and then do some gentle yoga stretches.
I decide I’m not really fit for anything constructive this evening after that, so I heat up the pie I made yesterday – made with a few curry leftovers, an onion, red lentils and rehydrated soya chunks and a pastry topping, it’s a lot nicer than it sounds, and I roast a few stalks of asparagus from my veg box. I shred some lettuce with a spring onion and make a salad dressing with olive oil and vinegar. My partner tells me it smells terrible! I finish off the apple charlotte for pudding and then settling down to watching a DVD with a bit of knitting. We watch a couple of episodes of Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie and Stephen from the early 90s. They both look so young, but they are so funny, and just what I need after a long day of walking and a couple of long months spent worrying and being a key worker.
I’m back at work tomorrow teatime, and even though the long walk tired me out physically, it has been so good for my mind. I hope that when things get closer to “normal” again, I can show my family and friends the beautiful and interesting places I’ve discovered on my walks.