Days of miserable, cloudy or wet weather exacerbated by chill winds – enough to put anyone off going out, especially to visit gardens – and then, as though for Bury, the sun came out.
We arrived at lunch time, so with a busy afternoon’s walking and viewing ahead it had to be lunch. Number 4 Hatter Street, a few steps from the Market Place and just off Abbeygate Street, used to be no more than a bar with snacks for the Abbeygate Cinema but, with a change of management at both, it now offers a range of budget-priced light meals and more substantial fare. An all day brunch with stills from some of the most celebrated Hollywood and Pinewood films to look at was ideal. Then, a plan of campaign and off to the gardens.
Hidden Gardens is appropriate, because most of Bury is unrelieved if fine townscape. A handy map on programme allowed us to identify some we hadn’t seen before, so we set off for those with one or two previous favourites to round off the day, given time. It was time we started running short of, having met a former colleague, neighbours who’d also made the 20 mile journey, and friends from our former home village. Even so we managed to see more than half of the thirty open gardens.
Hatter Street gave us the first mis-guide, however. Tell-tale balloons should have indicated garden number 24: instead there was notice of a printing error. The place we wanted was the presbytery garden of the Roman Catholic church. We had meant to visit, but only after five others in College Street and College Lane, a very short walk from where we were.
Before those, a brief diversion into Church Walks gave a view that only locals (and we count ourselves almost as locals) may know. Across a tiny communal garden is a view of the recently built cathedral tower across typically irregular Bury roofs. There is also a plant sale, like almost everything on the day, in aid of St Nicholas Hospice.
The College Street gardens can only be reached through the houses or courtyards but the surprise on finding them is always fresh. Lovely planting and – for 364 days – entirely private. It is the same on one side of College Lane, a garden created from the former workhouse exercise yards and now a wildlife haven on different levels with climbing plants and shady borders. Opposite is a more open rose garden of the Guildhall Feoffment Trust. More houses entered directly from the footpath lead to the gardens of Whiting Street and to the Presbytery garden at the end of it. An even greater surprise was Turret Close, where a side gate leads into an enormous garden such as no one would suspect in a town. It was here – for various reasons – we spent time with acquaintances and even then had to take a breather in the community garden opposite.
No wonder Bury calls itself “Britain’s Floral Town”: it has frequently won the prize of Britain in Bloom and continues to impress with both municipal and community work.
Guildhall Street is the location of estate agents, banks and solicitors, yet here were five enclosed gardens, one dating from 1937. The Constitutional Club was one of several offering refreshments – in this case a licensed bar and barbecue as well as teas. After these we took our cue for a break: coffee and cake at Really Rather Good at the foot of Abbeygate Street, from where it was obvious the ice cream parlours were doing great business.
Through the gate opposite are the Abbey Gardens, mostly very formally planted but with an art installation and the lovely memorial rose garden to the U.S. Air Force in World War II. Walking through the gardens is always a pleasure, and in this case it led to Sparhawk Street, where a tortuous path between walls brought us to perhaps the most hidden of the gardens.
Just two left for weary legs, though one was the furthest from the centre for us. Only there did we realise we were almost out of the town, with allotments, the rugby club and the river nearby. It was a delightful garden though, completely secluded, as was one previous, just behind the Theatre Royal.
There is so much that could be said of Bury, even without its gardens, no review will do it justice All that can be added is, go there and see for yourself. We love it.