I were well chuffed when I remembered to ask t'guard for a return to 'Cassleford', rather than mithering the gaffer with some cack-handed southern pronunciation. Happen Castleford lies down't M62 from Leeds, eight miles yonder, but know summat, the place has nowt in the way of actual castles. The weather was nitherin', and I went bah’t at so were well nesh, but I were only in't town for an hour, so attempted a champion gander.
Castleford grew up where the River Calder joins the River Aire above a broad meander. It's seen better days. Centuries of mining have ended, Nestlé moved out in 2012 and Burberry'll be on their way soon. But easy commuting to Leeds has given the place a boost, and motorway connections mean distribution and retail sheds are on the up.
Carlton Street, the main drag, is an uneasy mix of Yorkshire heritage and downbeat reality. Haughty banks and emerald-glazed pubs mix with charity shops, sofa outlets and takeaways. The holy trinity of Poundstretcher, Cash Converters and Bright House run consecutively opposite a dumpy Wilko. Marks and Spencer's frontage looks like it slipped through a timewarp from 1988, and is all the better for it. The Carlton Lanes mall prides itself on having Argos as an anchor tenant. For my tea I went to my favourite Northern chain eaterie, Poundbakery, where two pick'n'mix pasties are available for a fraction of what a poncey southerner would pay for one.
Amber-striped woolly hats confirm we're in prime rugby league territory. The local thirteen are the Castleford Tigers, currently mid-table in the Super League, although at this stage the season's barely started. All the flower troughs at the eastern end of the high street are shaded in club colours, with the name of a great player or former achievement emblazoned on the side. A tiny lad in a thin black anorak walked up from the car park and spat into one, before hurling a snowball at a shuttered business, his sullen grin invisible inside his hood.
Down by the river is the world's largest stone grinding flour mill, or at least it was in the 1970s when Allinsons were in charge. The good doctor believed in nowt taken out, although the company's subsequent withdrawal suggests otherwise, and the building is now under the care of heritage volunteers and Dana who runs the tearoom. The next Open Day is Saturday May 6th, or today if you only want hot drinks and cake.
Immediately alongside the mill is the 21st century structure for which the town is best known, the Castleford Footbridge. Kevin McCloud's team came up with the concept for Channel 4's Grand Designs in 2008, a sinuous pedestrian bridge linking communities on either side of the Aire, with the shell of a boat sunk midway for added atmosphere. It's certainly striking, weaving out across the river above a rushingweir, and cuts at least five minutes off the previous journey for residents of the northern back-to-backs.
The bridge's sustainable decking is holding up well, and the mid-path humps add character, but the timber handrails are splattered with guano which diminished the cultural experience somewhat. A teenage couple freezing on a bench partway across, necking what I believe was genuinely lemonade, eyed me suspiciously as I attempted to admire the structure from all angles. Had they not been around I might have lingered longer, then found time to seek out the town's museum, but the train back to Wakefield was imminent, bringing my brief gadabout to an end.