The best thing about growing up is realising that you don’t just have one home, you have several. There are a few places I truly consider ‘home’, mostly because I’ve lived or worked there. There’s my hometown, Nottingham (where I worked for a number of years and the city closest to my hometown), Hamburg (where I spent a semester studying abroad), London (where I live now) and there is Sheffield, which is where I did my undergraduate degree.
I explained in my post on the UK cities I wanted to visit in 2016 that I’ve been feeling a real ache to revisit Sheffield after having not been back for ages and the other week I got the chance to scratch that itch. The best thing about Sheffield is that not only does it mean something to me but it also means something to my boyfriend as, oddly, he is also a University of Sheffield graduate (albeit many years before me) and was working in Sheffield when I met him. So a day in Sheffield was a bit of nostalgia for both of us and luck would have it that we picked a brilliant day to visit, it was surprisingly mild and the winter sun was out.
Unlike our visits to other cities from London, this time we were going from home and I was fortunate to have access to my nan’s car for the day, so rather than arriving into Sheffield train station and the centre, we instead decided to start on Ecclesall Road. Ecclesall Road was located only minutes from my hall of residence in my first year at university but for some reason that I don’t quite remember now, I rarely ventured down there. Lined with little coffee shops, shops and restaurants I think as a student I must have always regarded it as out of my price range, but no longer. We parked the car up there and decided to stroll around the Botanical Gardens as we worked up an appetite for lunch.
Although very little outside was in bloom, the Glass Pavilions house a variety of tropical type plants, divided by geography and it’s a pleasant place to stroll through, with little water features here and there.
Although not much might be out by way of flowers, you can’t pay a visit to the Botanical Gardens without going to say hello to the Sheffield bear, who is there rain and shine, winter and summer.
The bear pit in the gardens is a Grade II listed structure (apparently people in Sheffield like getting things Grade II listed, for more on that keep reading!) and dates back from the 19th century when real bears were kept there as zoological exhibits (not for bear-baiting). Now all that remains to illustrate its former use is a steel sculpture of a bear that has aged with time to give it a real grizzly bear feel, albeit with a very sweet face. I was pleased to see that the bear hadn’t missed out on the seasonal festivities and was adorned (I like to hope by students fond of the bear) with tinsel and a woolly hat.
On our way in we spotted a particularly healthy looking squirrel and, trying to entice him over for a closer shot, I made the mistake of sort of accidentally making him think we had some sort of treat for him. He bounced over, right up to my feet and sat there, looking between me and my boyfriend, practically wagging his fluffy tail and wondering why we weren’t handing him nuts. I felt so bad. When we left the park I saw two children coming in clutching big bags of peanuts, which perhaps explains why he was so tame. I hope they found him and gave him what we couldn’t!
While we were in the area I couldn’t resist a little return to my old hall of residence – Halifax Hall. A lot of work has taken place since I left to turn the area into a ‘student village’ (thanks for keeping me up to speed alumni magazine!). When I was there Halifax was a mishmash of buildings – an old building that was once a period mansion, an ugly tower block and attached dining hall and a newer block round the back. Now there are fancy new student digs and the period building has been turned into Halifax Hall boutique hotel! Had the timing worked out better for us I definitely would have thought about booking us in for a night and trying to get my old room which, from what I could see round the back of the building, is now part of a hotel room. If we ever go again I’m 100% staying there and trying to request it so I can try and recapture some of the spirit of my time as a student.
My room in Halifax was on the first floor of the old building (they never put girls on the ground floors) and there was a door into the building below it and a covered walkway leading up to the door. I always remember that I had an exam on the last afternoon of the last day of term in my first year. So being the last minute person I am, I was pulling an all-nighter to try and cram something, anything, into my head. I then got a knock on my window, which was odd given my room’s location on the first floor. I pulled back the curtains to find a drunk naked guy outside my window on top of the covered walkway, he yelled to his mate in the distance his surprise at finding ‘a girl in there’ and promptly ran off down the covered walkway, jumping to the floor and disappeared naked in the distance. Ah student hijinks. It really didn’t help my spirits that everyone else was having fun (albeit most of them clothed) and I was stuck reading journal articles. It also didn’t help that when I got home from the exam I had to then spend all night packing up my room. With the aid of Pro Plus and a post-exam high, I made it to 50 straight hours awake, ate the entire contents of my illicit mini-fridge, played a few rounds of pool and managed to get all of my stuff into boxes and bags ready to take home. Good times…
Before I returned to Sheffield I reached out to Twitter for food recommendations and Kathryn obliged with some great recommendations, including Craft & Dough, a pizza restaurant with two restaurants, one at Kelham Island and one on Ecclesall Road. We ordered two of their artisan pizzas together with a side of fries (because pizza wasn’t quite enough in terms of carbs for us). Enticed by the name, I ordered the Piggy Smalls – pulled pork, smoked streaky bacon and Frazzles. I have yet to be entirely convinced by Frazzles as a topping but it was good.
After he had a beetroot based Born & Raised pizza at Oktober Feast and was pleasantly surprised by it, my boyfriend went for the Beets and Roots pizza – salt baked heritage beetroot puree, honey & thyme roasted root vegetables, brie, rocket & carrot tops. Again, unusual toppings for a pizza but I wasn’t allowed any so I can only infer that it was good.
From there we hopped back in the car and to a car park closer to the city centre. Although I’ve been back in Sheffield for odd nights out here and there over the year we only ever really frequented the various bars on Devonshire Street and then usually ended up in either Leadmill or Corporation, never really visiting the centre. So I was intrigued to see how many shops and stuff were still there that I was surprised hadn’t changed – HMV still exists for one! The best thing, in my view, about Sheffield is that just outside the city centre on a direct tram route is Meadowhall, a massive shopping centre which means that the city centre remains free of too many of the big chain stores and it still feels a bit more like a town than a city. I must admit that I did spend many happy hours as a student in Meadowhall though.
Funnily enough, despite the fact that both my boyfriend and I have lived in Sheffield in the past and for a significant period of time, neither of us have visited the Cathedral. We said we would and then didn’t quite make it this time either! Next time for sure.
Sheffield has a tram network running through the city centre connecting up the suburbs with the centre, the train station, Meadowhall and the University. One of Sheffield’s most iconic buildings (along with the Sheffield University Arts Tower, also famous for its paternoster lift) is the Park Hill flats building which you can see in the background of the photo below. Originally conceived as a community housing project complete with a ‘streets in the sky’ ambition, it eventually became the sort of place that you didn’t really venture and was left derelict (read more about its history here). However, it sort of became weirdly iconic for Sheffield and campaigners even managed to get it Grade II listed – the largest building in Europe to be awarded that status. A firm of architects eventually took on the project to regenerate Park Hill into trendy flats. There was a fascinating BBC2 documentary that aired a few years ago which documented the struggles of working to convert it whilst dealing with the problems of the Grade II listing that had saved the structure (you can find it in full on Youtube, it’s well worth a watch even if you don’t know the place yourself).
We looped down past the train station. I don’t remember the station before it was redeveloped but my boyfriend does and says it used to in no way resemble its state now. I’ve always loved the main exit from the station which opens out onto a massive stepped water feature and also a falling water feature which involves the use of Sheffield steel and which glinted beautifully in the low winter sun. Seriously though, I know I love coming back into St Pancras, but how about this for a welcome to a city?!
One thing that Sheffield certainly didn’t have when I was there was a burgeoning street art scene, or at least not in the parts of Sheffield that were frequented, but it now boasts pieces dotted around the city and local artists who have made a name for themselves such as Phlegm and Kid Acne.
We were mostly on an unplanned walk and so the pieces we found were mostly located in the area near the train station, being less developed and gentrified than some areas of Sheffield, it’s ripe for street art and murals.
Our personal favourites were these two below by Rocket01.
And of course you may recognise the below work as being by Phlegm if you’re a Londoner. His work can often be seen around London and when I last checked there was a large scale piece on the back of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank.
Heading back into town we passed the Crucible and Lyceum theatres and made our way to the Winter Gardens, connected to the Millennium Galleries and next to the Peace Gardens, it’s a beautifully peaceful place. I used to buy a sandwich from nearby M&S (a treat as a student) and sit there and just enjoy the calm.
While we were there it was all trussed up for Christmas (although you can’t really tell from the below) and it lacked the beautiful blue skies that really set off the building but it’s a lovely little place to sit and just take a break from the city bustle. Apparently it plays home to more than 2,500 plants from around the world!
We also spent some time browsing in the Millennium Galleries’ gift shop which has always been a very well-curated selection of locally-related products. In fact, I was tempted into buying a Jen Ricketts Sheffield skyline print. Ages ago Kid Acne did a Sheffield cityscape print in a limited edition that I missed out on (and have scoured eBay for ever since) and the Jen Ricketts print has a similar vibe. Once I get it framed it will go up on our living room wall and remind us both of a city that we love but don’t visit often enough.
Although it was obviously the middle of winter when we visited, the Peace Gardens are a magnet for people as a place to sit out in summer and listen to the water from the fountains that surround the central gardens.
Our next stop isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot, but I was keen to head down to see the start of the regeneration of the Moor with a newly re-housed Moor Market. As a student I only ever really ventured down there for the Oasis concession in Debenhams, there was never much to lure me down there. I’d read a lot about the changes and so I was pleased to see it was busy and bustling with locals all shopping for meat, fruit, dish and other things like alcohol and haberdashery. It looks like there’s a lot of other work going on down there and it’ll be interesting to return at some point in the future to see how it develops.
We continued our tour of Sheffield by making our way to Division Street, on the way passing a carousel outside Sheffield City Hall and what is known to locals as Coles Corner, the site of the old Coles Brothers department store. It used to be a place that locals would meet their dates and has been immortalised in the name of an album by Richard Hawley, who incidentally used to (and may well still) frequent our favourite pub.
Before we jumped back in the car to drive home and we stopped to refuel at Steam Yard Coffee Co with tea and once of their doughnuts, another place recommended by Kathryn. With only one doughnut left by the time we got there and certainly no Fro-Nuts (ice-cream doughnuts), we were limited in terms of our choice but we were pleased with our lack of choice which ended up being, marmalade and (I think) whisky.
It’s only a small place, but it’s cosy and ideal for a little catch-up with a friend or two. Go early, order lunch and stay for a while. Oh and try a doughnut!
My return to Sheffield wasn’t quite that of the Prodigal Son but I was definitely coming home, to one of my homes and I know that it will always sort of be my home. I might not have tried to blag my way around the Students’ Union on the basis of a rather tatty laminated alumni card that remains in my purse to this day but I got to relive a little of how I felt back then and to see everything with new, older and not much wiser eyes, knowing how the city helped shape me. Oh Sheffers…