On the first lovely day of the year, with the promise of spring so strong and the breeze gently fresh rather than chilling, what else is a man to do but go for a walk? And for me, that means Roundhay Park in Leeds. It’s local, and I have a history with those 700 acres. A greatly interrupted one, but it’s there, nonetheless.
It was where we ran cross country at school, around the Upper Lake, off through the woods and gorge and back. On summer Sundays I’d walk over there, dressed in what I thought was cool (and undoubtedly wasn’t) trying to meet girls. There were boats for hire on the small lake, the café was little more than a shack, and the Mansion was a posh restaurant.
I left the city before the park became a venue for concerts. The only thing that happened in the area then was cricket in the summer – as it still does.
Walking today, there are things that have changed, but so much more that’s the same. Where I fished for sticklebacks might be fenced off, but people still walk their dogs and stroll. Families stick together, children in strollers or running, maybe riding their bikes with training wheels. Girls are out in their twos or fours, there are boys playing football or tossing a ball, shirts off to impress. Old people just taking the air.
The park is still exactly what John Barran hoped when he took a chance and purchased it for the people of Leeds in 1872. It’s still very much the people’s park, a wonderfully democratic space.
But more than that, like many parks, it’s essentially an unchanging space. Sitting at the top of Hill 60 and looking down, there’s very little that would have been different a century or more ago. The fashions have changed, but so much else is the same. I almost felt that if I looked close enough I’d be able to see a younger men, sitting there and looking hopeful.