Six reasons to visit Wakefield
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 October 2014 | UPDATED: 14:55 08 September 2017
There are many reasons to visit this surprising city. Here are just a few
For a small city, Wakefield has a big personality, punching way above its weight when it comes to attracting visitors.The city, just nine miles south-east of Leeds on the eastern edge of the Pennines, has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in the last five years or so with the opening of the ultra-modern Trinity Walk retail centre, the redevelopment of Westgate station and The Ridings shopping mall and, of course, the incredible success – both critically and commercially – of The Hepworth Wakefield, which opened in 2011, attracting 500,000 visitors and adding around £10 million to the local economy in its first year alone.
If you’re likely to be joining the growing flock of visitors winging it to Wakefield, could we possibly add a few suggestions to your must-see list?
1: Park and pride
Newmillerdam is one of Wakefield’s numerous green open spaces just begging to be explored. Based around a central lake, it has a 1.5-mile circular path for walkers and joggers, way-marked trails through the wood, an orienteering course, geocaching and an old railway line in the south-west corner that can take visitors even further afield.
The country park was once part of an estate owned by the Pilkington family. In the 1870s, they built nine lodges to house their gamekeepers – two of which (the lodges, not the gamekeepers) can still be seen today guarding the dam. There’s also a boathouse, originally built in the 1820s as a venue for entertaining friends with punting and wildfowl shooting.
Thankfully, Newmillerdam is now a nature reserve and no one takes pot-shots at the wildlife anymore. Which is probably a good thing as the lake is an important breeding site for great crested grebe and a favourite with mute swans, mallard, coots and bats, which sweep down and skim insects off the surface after sunset.
If one park just isn’t enough for you, Wakefield has myriad others to choose from, including Anglers Country Park, Haw Park Wood, Pugneys Country Part, Thornes Park and Upton Country Park. For more details, visit experiencewakefield.co.uk.
2: Art and graft
The Hepworth Wakefield is one of the finest contemporary art museums in Europe, with more than 1,600 square metres of light-filled gallery space (making it the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside London).
The £35 million gallery brings together work from Wakefield’s own art collection, exhibitions from contemporary artists and rarely seen works by Barbara Hepworth. It has also played a significant role in the regeneration of the city by helping to secure significant private sector funding to restore surrounding listed mills and warehouses.
But art is not just about sculpture and painting; it comes in many other guises too. For literature lovers there’s The Gissing Centre, a small museum in the childhood home of the Victorian novelist George Gissing. If you like the limelight, the Theatre Royal in Wakefield has a rolling programme of top-class shows. And musos should make their way to Wakefield Jazz Club, established more than 20 years ago to showcase modern British jazz in an intimate setting.
3: Shopping list
Wakefield’s £3 million market hall was hailed as a ‘milestone in the transformation of the city’ when it opened in 2008, but proved less of a success than anticipated.
Councillors have now agreed that it should be demolished to make way for a cinema and a string of restaurants linked to neighbouring Trinity Walk, which already plays host to more than 60 stores offering high street fashion, covetable gifts, every day essentials and a diverse range of eateries.
If you still have some money in your wallet once you’ve walked away from Trinity, there’s always The Ridings shopping centre, which has more than 80 stores over three floors, and the market, which is being moved to the Cathedral Precinct to ‘improve the vibrancy and viability of the city centre’.
For those shoppers who want to break free from the high street and hail Wakefield’s more independent spirit, there’s also Unique Wakefield, a guide to some of the city’s best (and friendliest) places to eat, drink, shop and relax. For details, visit uniquewakefield.co.uk.
4: History lessons
Wakefield is a place that takes its history seriously. Just a few miles outside the city centre in Overton is the National Coal Mining Museum, where visitors are encouraged to grab a hard hat to travel 140 metres straight down under the ground to discover what life was like in a working mine (clue: it was grim).
Above ground, there’s also a nature trail to explore, exhibitions about mining communities to see and retired pit ponies to say hello to.
Nip over to nearby Nostell and you’ll find one of Yorkshire’s great treasure houses. Situated just five miles from Wakefield, the National Trust-run Nostell Priory is a glorious 18th century mansion surrounded by more than 300 acres of beautiful gardens.
Then, of course, there’s Sandal Castle, which enjoys lovely views across Pugneys Country Park. This excavated medieval castle adjoins the site of the Battle of Wakefield and was the scene of a Civil War siege, but is now more likely to be the picturesque backdrop for picnics and games of hide-and-seek than hand-to-hand combat (although it depends how competitive you are at hide-and-seek).
And if you’ve still got a hankering for heritage after all that, you could pop in to Wakefield Museum and explore its themes of wealth and power, hardship and hope, passion and belief, love and war, and work and home.
5: Built to last
Wakefield Cathedral is difficult to miss – so, don’t. This inspirational building in Northgate is the beating heart of the city and well worth a visit, whether you want to light a candle, relax in peace, browse the shop, enjoy a coffee, take an audio tour or tap your foot at one of the regular Tuesday lunchtime concerts.
Next on your architectural digest of the city should be Unity Works in Westgate, a grade two listed gem that has been used and loved by the community since it was established as Wakefield Co-operative headquarters in 1867.
And for a rare treat indeed, trip-trap over Wakefield Bridge to the Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin – one of only four chantry chapels still standing in England. This grade one listed building is the oldest and most ornate of the quartet of survivors and sits on a medieval bridge that itself is a scheduled ancient monument, making it the ultimate two-for-one architectural deal. eal.
6 Pugney’s Country Park
This was once an opencast mine, sand and gravelquarry and is now a well estabished country park with a 100-acre watersports lake ideal for sailing, canoeing and windsurfing as well as for those who love to just sit back and watch the antics on the water, But should you get itchy feet, there’s a 1.6 mile path around the lake perfect for a stroll or even a jog. There’s sailing eqipment to hire or you can bring along your own to use on the lake; windsurfing lessons are offered too. There is a smaller lake, just 24 acres which is a nature reserve with hides so you can watch wildlife on the water without disturbing them. The country park is just outside the city off the A6186 and there is ample paid-for parking (small charge), All in all definitely worth a visit.