Wednesday, 22 September 2004

Sunday in the Park with Patsy123

Patsy123 and I took a stroll through the renovated Saltwell Park on Sunday. I've wanted to see what kind of a job the Heritage Lottery Fund had paid for and this seemed like a good opportunity.

It's late in the season now, of course, and the wind was pretty fierce at times, so the general public weren't greatly in evidence, but there were sufficient to show how much the Park is still appreciated.

We cut through the Grove and admired the freshly decorated Bandstand. This isn't the one I remember as a child, evidently, but is a little 1920s number they picked up from
Beamish Open Air Museum and is nicely Art Deco. Brass band concerts still happening there, apparently.

The work isn't completely finished, but enough has been accomplished in the grounds to show how well the money has been spent. They've rebuilt the Almond Pavilion (burnt down by vandals a few years ago) and removed the intrusive pathway in front of it. From the Pavilion you can now see the view that Edward Kemp, the original landscaper achieved - an uninterrupted view across the lawns to the Lake, then on over the valley to the countryside beyond.

The Lake was drained and cleaned before refilling and the island in the middle reduced to it's original size. It's still big enough to provide a home for Canada geese, at least until they start their honking skeins over my house later in the year. And there were eight swans a-swimming, as well as coots, mallards and tufted ducks.

Unusually, there were three small Hassidic boys taking a rowing boat out (how times must have changed in the Gateshead Orthodox community!) and a Jewish woman who seemed to think that feeding the already overfed ducks should be achieved by heaving the contents of three loaves into the water in one go.

The big hit in the Park is the renovated
Saltwell Towers. Originally built as the home of William Wailes, a local stained glass manufacturer, it's a wonderful fairytale structure of towers and turrets, all done out in decorative brickwork.

When I was a kid, there was nowhere more fascinating than Saltwell Towers Museum. From the whale's jawbone at the entrance to the stuffed birds and giant dollshouse, I loved it.

It eventually fell victim to various forms of rot, the roof collapsed and for a long time there was talk of tearing it down.

Now, however, the exterior has been splendidly restored and inside there's the inevitable Visitor's Centre done in a sympathetic contemporary styling. There's a cafe, a small gallery space, some interactive displays, a nicely integrated ramp for wheelchairs which seems to be part of the design rather than something that simply had to be there and some stained glass decorating the spiral staircase.

It's perhaps a little churlish to criticise Bridget Jones's stained glass, but it did come across as rather insipid, unlike her usual work. And I do wonder why she had to find her inspiration in the rose bay willowherb she saw in Germany, when there must be a wealth of other imagery in the Park itself (including willowherb, I'm sure).

All in all, though, a really good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, even if the wind had us chilled to the bone by the end of it.

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