The best way to burn off one or two of those Christmas Day calories is by taking a good walk on Boxing Day, and on this Boxing Day, 2018, the sun was shining in Belfast, and I was visiting a family in Sydenham, and where better for a walk after my visit than Victoria Park, one of Belfast’s legendary green spaces in the industrial landscape.
Victoria Park lies surrounded by the commercial and industrial giants of Belfast’s industrial past. Opened in 1906 on marshy land surrounded by the Musgrave Channel (an inlet of Belfast Lough) it sits between the Shipyard and Aircraft Factory and Belfast City Airport.
The centre-piece of the park is a large lake, a haven for bird-life. When I was a boy in the 1960s this was a boating lake, and many a day I spent rowing on the lake. Nowadays there are no longer any boating activities in the park, but plenty of other activities to occupy the time. There’s a weekly ParkRun, football pitch and changing facilities, the sports area, with a bowling green, cycling and BMX areas, and a children’s playpark. Walking rails take the rambler round the lake.
In the 60’s, getting to the park from where I stayed in Witham Street was torturous! It required a climb over the disused railway embankment, (now gone) and a walk along what was known as ‘the Black Pad’ – a dirty track along the banks of the Connswater River. Nowadays the park is park of the East Belfast Greenway, a well maintained walkway that runs along the bank of the Connswater, from Victoria Park through C.S.Lewis Square to Orangefield Playing Fields.
The Southern tip of the park allows access to Connsbank Road, via the Sam Thompson Bridge. Sam Thompson was local trade union activist and playwright. Born in East Belfast in 1916 – his father was a lamp-lighter – he began work at 14, as a painter in Harland and Wolff, the Belfast Shipyard. A chance encounter in a pub with radio producer Sam Hanna Bell (Thompson was standing with a group of friends, telling old yarns about shipyard men and their pranks) led to him being encoiraged to write down his experiences and share them on local radio. He wrote several plays, including his best known work, ‘Across the Bridge’ which focuses on sectarianism among the workforce.