Saturday 24 December 2011


There is something chav-bling-tastic about Wilmslow.  It's the way it is unashamedly rich, loaded, wadded - any adjectives that describe wealthy.  Whilst architecturally the Town is nothing special - any signs of its Cheshire gentry past have been well and truly excised, apart from the odd remnant on the edge of town like the Romany Caravan next to the library (quite bizarre).  It's truly a town of now and what counts is money.

We've been to Wilmslow countless times over the years and I do have a soft spot for the place, partly as I like to bring down the tone of the car park with my 11 year old Lil'Princess - Nissan Almera (an old ladies car).  Its not often you can park next to a Porsche, Lamborghini or a Bentley, but you certainly can in Wilmslow.

Firstly a parking recommendation is the Sainsbury's car park - it is quite funny watching flash sports cars negotiate the tight spots in the car park.  Also its £1 to park for two hours and if you shop in Sainsbury's you get the parking fee refunded.
Copyright Anne-Marie Marshall
The town is a confection of upmarket shops with a touch of the high street.  Hoopers is an old school department stores which does proper designers brands.  You can't move in Hoopers for the number of well manicured ladies of indeterminate age in their Barbour jackets.  I quite like their stationery department as it does unusual stuff.  Also Neil managed to not notice a 7 foot rabbit dishing out chocolate one Easter time.   Hoopers is great for a wander and the place to go to when the sales are on.

There are lots of designer boutique shops and high end chains especially for the older person - Jagger, Country Casuals, Viyella, Emma Somerset, Aquasuctum, Jane Shilton, Laura Ashley and Monsoon.   They even have a couple of Hollister type places that are lit like they are nightclubs (I still don't get that - I know if I ever went into shops like that I'd be setting off the alarms trying to see what colour the clothes were like in natural light.)  The town centre has a pedestrianised shopping street which is nice.  They have normal shops along there like Clarks, Waterstones, WhSmiths and Rymans.  In Rymans there was a little Irish old lady mithering one of the shop assistants about a shredder.  I think she was a little lonely and wanted a little conversation.  I don't think this is the best town to grow old in though.
Copyright Anne-Marie Marshall
There is a great choice in supermarkets with Sainsbury's, Tesco Metro and Waitrose (naturally). Even the take aways are posh - the Big Splash is essentially a fish and chip shop, but in a bling stylee.  It does specials such as Thai style fish in batter and battered haggis sausage.  I do want to try it someday.  The Chinese take away looks very upmarket too with it's chrome decor and flash bar stools for people waiting.  The Gourmet Burger restaurant is the Wilmslow equivalent of McDonalds and it must do countless kids parties at the weekend as it is always packed with families.

There are plenty of coffee places in Wilmslow too.  We normally go to the Starbucks, which is generally packed with the wealthy and the wannabees.  You could easily be in the queue with a Russian Billionaire and you would not realise.  Over the years we have noticed the service there has been particularly slack as the posh 6th form Saturday Staff could not organise a cocktail party in a high class resort in Barbados.  Thankfully this Saturday, there were some more together staff on duty and I had a lovely soya peppermint hot chocolate (yum - After Eight's in a mug format) and Neil had a Chocolate Cream frappuccino with Toffee Nut, whipped cream and chocolate sauce (nice by all accounts).

The charity shops deserve a special mention here.  If there is one place to go in Wilmslow (other than Alderley Edge Barnardos) you have to check out the charity shops.  Special mention goes to Cancer Research near the T-Junction in the centre of town.  You can get a 2 piece Roberto Callvini frock for £99!  Prada boots anyone?  Even the staff here are clued up on what is fake and what is real designer.  Ages ago I heard them mention to a customer the bag they were buying was a fake, but it was a good fake.  Today it seemed the shop was full of a coach trip party trying to bag themselves a designer bargain.  If you are a size 8/10 this is the perfect shop for you.  There is another Cancer Research near the Bang and Olsen shop on the other side of town.  This tends to get the over flow stock from the main shop, but I have seen vintage YSL 80s sunglasses in there for £65 before now.
Copyright Anne-Marie Marshall
The other charity shops are - Oxfam (records can be over priced, but it is the best charity shop for books), Scope (the least exciting charity shop in town), British Heart Foundation (packed to the rafters with stuff) and my personal favourite Barnardos.  Barnardos is now a vintage boutique with lots of interesting stuff.  I really like the fact they have made an effort to make the donations they get look pretty and attractive.  There used to be another branch of Barnardos with just books and records but that has now closed down (twice).

I do love Wilmslow.  I have thought would I live in this town, if money was no object?  The truthful answer is no.  It is too materialistic for my tastes.  There is no cultural nor an alternative underbelly in this town like Hebden Bridge or Holmfirth or Ikley for that matter.  I just like to pop in this town for a couple of hours every so often to lower the tone in the car park, check out the charity shops and confuse the staff in Starbucks with my drinks order.
Copyright Anne-Marie Marshall

Sunday 20 November 2011


I'd never been to Ramsbottom, which is just north of Bury off the M66.  I'd probably driven through it a long time ago, but never stopped until this November and I can honestly say I was impressed with what caught my eye. 

Ramsbottom is affectionately known as Rammy to the locals.  According to my other half, Ramsbottom was also the name of a snake in the Sooty Show.  But I digress…

It was a bright November afternoon and I thought I'd squeeze in a quick visit to a northern town. Ramsbottom is not too far from us, just up the M66 off Junction 1. On the drive up the M66 you can see the wind turbines over on yonder hills. I know there is a lot of controversy about wind turbines, but the hills above Bury are not exactly spectacular - to put it bluntly they are dull. Before the wind turbines the only thing of interest on them hills was Peel Tower, which is another man-made object - I rest my case.

When we got off the motorway we followed the signs to Ramsbottom. There is quite a descent down to Ramsbottom as the place is built in a valley. On our way down we saw a post man fall over and burst out laughing trying to get over a small wall. I think he had been fooling about.

Parking was a bit of struggle in Ramsbottom despite having a Tesco's Metro and Morrisons next to each other. There isn't one big car park but a series of small blocks of parking around the two supermarkets.  This is a bugger as you have to drive round for a while to find a space, especially on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Near the supermarkets was an outdoor market selling all sorts of stuff, including fresh fruit and veg, meat, cheese, jewellery, art, second hand books and plants. It was a nice mix of stuff and not one of those scary markets with random knock-off gear.

The town centre is built around two main streets in a T shape.  The shops are sturdy stone built structures with bags of local character.  The supermarkets and outdoor market are sited just behind them.

Obviously our first port of call was the local charity shops and there were a few to choose from including Age UK, Sue Ryder, Bolton Hospice, RSPCA and Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary.  The Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary was rammed to the rafters with dead old ladies knick knacks.  There was a serious amount of porcelain on offer and I feel sorry for the staff who have to dust the stuff.  The RSPCA on first glance looked rather small, but had side rooms off the main room.  The Sue Ryder shop seemed to do a lot in the way of musical instruments - they even had Sue Ryder branded Ukuleles which was pretty surreal.  Actually the main thing I noticed about the charity shops was the amount of guitars you could pick up for a song.  Not only that, Ramsbottom also had a musical instruments shop, which was unusual as you rarely see them outside of cities or large towns.  I know in September Ramsbottom held its own music festival, so there must be some serious music scene going on in this town.

I had heard that Ramsbottom was becoming a bit like Chorlton.  From first glance there were quite a few shops that could be classed as ‘Chorlton-esque’ – delis, trendy gift shops and unusual cafes.  I’ve got to say this place is better than Chorlton – nicer location, full of character and it’s not overrun by trendy bars.  All it needs is a branch of Kingbee Records next to the Toy Shop and it will be perfect.

For all chocoholics the Chocolate Cafe is a must to visit.  They sell their own brand of chocolate and there is a café where you can sample a range of chocolate delights. 

There was an old style sweet shop too where we bought some nice ice cream – I know November is an odd time to buy the stuff, but it has been unseasonably mild.  The ice cream was good and I do recommend the wild cherry, but the service was someone odd.  I think the lady who served us must have had a heavy night as she wasn’t quite with the programme.

If you are a caffeine fiend there are plenty of cafes to keep you buzzing and not a coffee shop chain in sight (punches the air with joy!).  Baileys Tea Shop stood out for me - through the condensation on the window you could see the place was packed.  I noticed all the staff were dressed in Victorian outfits – black dresses and white frilly aprons.  I like a café with a bit of character and clearly the locals liked it too.

One place that really ticked my box for Ramsbottom was the sprawling antique shop called Memories Antique Centre, which was jammed to rafters with stock and customers. I would say it's more on the bric-a-brac end of antiques trade, but great if you are looking for something different and the prices didn't seem too extortionate.  There were again lots of musical instruments to purchase.  Apart from the strange looking zombie bears that disturbed me, you could spend hours looking for stuff in there.

Another funny sight we spotted in Ramsbottom was a frazzled mother pushing a pram whilst walking her new puppy.  The puppy was a small, black, little thing of indeterminate origin.  Clearly it had enough of walking and splayed itself on the ground in protest of being walked.  The mother was having none of it and the puppy was dragged along until the puppy started walking again.  I wanted to say to the mother ‘just put the dog in the pram’ as the poor puppy was clearly knackered.

There were quite a few pubs too.  Practically all looked like well-maintained establishments. Although I have no doubt there is a dodgy pub down some side street somewhere in Ramsbottom – it is the law for all northern towns.  There were a number of restaurants too, but as it was Saturday day time they were closed.  Apparently there is an excellent Italian restaurant too called Ramsons that has been in the Times top 100 restaurant list recently.  We haven’t tried it, but it is nice to know you can get top quality food in a small northern town like this one.

Just a couple more things before I sign off – there is a railway station in the town which is on the Bury to Rawtenstall line.  It is unusual as it runs old steam trains and it’s operated by the East Lancashire Railway company.  They run every weekend and during the summer months in the week too.  Check out the timetables online.  Also Ramsbottom is on the Irwell Sculpture Trail, which explains the large metal, horn-like structure at the T junction.  I think it is meant to be a fountain, but was full of rubbish when we saw it.

Wow - I wasn’t expecting what we found in Ramsbottom and I really recommend it as a place to visit if you are in this neck of the woods.  Whilst it has been likened by others to Chorlton, I think it is more of a mini Hebden Bridge although a touch less pretentious.  It is full of character and I’m definitely coming back.

Saturday 5 November 2011


Day 3

It was day three of our trip to the Yorkshire Dales and our final destination was Ripon.

After a checking out of the B&B we did a quick tour around Grassington to pick up sweets for our folks and we found out: (a) there was a charity shop Age UK tucked down a side alley - blink-and-you-will-miss-it; and (b) the sweet shop near Spencer Davies Solicitors doesn't open on a Monday - shock horror for all the fudge lovers out there.  Thankfully Chocolace came to the rescue and we stocked up on the sweet stuff.

With a car full of fudge we headed off to Ripon on the B6265.  Whilst I didn't expect much in the way of driving fun, this road was still a bit of a roller coaster ride - yay!  There were a few steep gradients to negotiate and some nice scenery to gaze at - albeit at high speed.

When we were getting close to Ripon we noticed the outskirts of the town was getting quite posh - very nice houses, manicured greenery and posh driveway entrances.  To me it reminded me of the well-to-do towns down south like Royal Leamington Spa and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Parking in Ripon was fairly straightforward with parking available on the cobbled town square and the Sainbury's car park near the bus station.  We opted for Sainbury's car park.

Wandering into Ripon we found the town to be well populated with charity shops.  Whilst I didn't find anything exciting myself, Neil did purchase a rare Tony Hadley single called 'For Your Blue Eyes Only' in stickered picture sleeve.  It's now on sale for the bargain price of £2.50 at Vinylnet.

Ripon is an interesting architecturally - it's a place that has evolved over the centuries and the buildings tell the story of how the town has grown from Tudor times to present day.  Although for modern day buses there are some tight street turns, which I'm amazed they can make without crashing into something or someone.

The town square is nicely cobbled and is clearly the focal point for the shoppers.  There are the usual chain shops that populate the square (Gregg's, Cafe Nero and Boots), but there seemed to be quite a few independent shops on the side streets including The Little Ripon Bookshop with its very friendly staff.  Ripon does have an obligatory Edinburgh Woollen Mill - a must for all well-to-do towns.   I also spotted a designer dress agency, which is a good indicator of a town's posh-ness and I'm sure it's a hive of activity for the middle class ladies of the borough.

I don't think Ripon is really that geared for tourists, unlike nearby York and Harrogate.  However I think that is a good thing.  We did spot a couple of army types striding through the town.  I somewhat suspect this town may be lively at the weekends with the local military letting their hair down.

Did I mention this was a city?  No, well it is cathedral city, albeit a very compact one.  So we headed up to the Cathedral through a very pleasant, period pedestrianised street with lots of interesting shops. 

The Cathedral itself was a lovely building with a touch of the York Minister about it, although not on the same scale.  The Cathedral was free to get into, although they were more than happy to take donations.  It has a grand scale to the place and there was a huge organ, which takes centre stage in this church.  There was someone tinkling away on the organ, which was nice to hear as you never really see these things played on outside of a mass.  If you are feeling generous you can buy a valve to help the Cathedral upgrade the organ.  It wasn't overly commercialised and I was surprised to find it did attract quite a few visitors for a Monday.  It is definitely worth a wander and maybe a little prayer if you are that way inclined.

We decided to head back to the car and found that there was a little arcade that led through to Sainsbury's.  This is where they kept all the cheap shops and even more charity shops, which kept us browsing for  little bit longer.  Finally we headed off home, but word of warning it's quite easy to get lost on the roundabouts trying to find the motorway.

Ripon is lovely and a dinky little city.  I liked the place and if you are passing by it is worth having a wander and cup of tea for an hour or two.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Road from Hawes to Kettlewell

Day 2

The decision was to take the short route. Ever since the Drunken Duck incident in the Lakes I've always been nervous about going off the A & B roads. However Neil wasn't very well so I thought we'd risk the Hawes to Kettlewell road.

We passed the Wensleydale Museum although there wasn't a cat-in-hell's-chance of getting Neil to step over the threshold of a cheese museum as he is very cheese averse. So we zoomed on by and headed to the hills.

The road from Hawes to Kettlewell is the type of road where you end up offering prayers to your relevant God to help you get through it. Prayers hit early on for me as the road was narrow and wondered what on earth to do if someone was driving the other way, especially if they were going fast. If you had a crash on this road you'd be lucky to survive as there are hardly any motorists on this road, it is far from civilization and it would be unlikely there would be a decent mobile phone signal to make a call. Seriously you have to take this road at a sensible speed.
You also need a car with a bit of power to get over the hills. 'Lil Princess with her 1398cc engine was struggling getting up the 20% gradient hills. I must have changed gears hundreds of times to negotiate the steepness of these hills. Neil was feeling green at this point and cursing my decision to take the short route.

So the downside of choosing this road is that it can be rather narrow at times, it’s exceptionally hilly and goes through the middle of nowhere. However, and it is a big HOWEVER, this route is fantastic! Despite the grey overcast and drizzly day the views were great and on a clear day they would be fabulous. The dales are amazing - it's like a massive lumpy blanket with its hills and valleys. Up and down, bend after bend, this route was challenging and fun - it was such an absorbing drive.

The one thing you can't miss on this route is sheep. Sheep on the side of the road, in a field, on the side of very steep hills - they are everywhere. Although thankfully there was no sheep road kill to be found. These sheep will no doubt end up as someone’s Sunday dinner, but by God they did they have an idyllic life on these undulating hills.
There was the most beautiful valley with a very rocky river running through it. I spotted a farmer looking out over it at his flock of sheep. I couldn't help but think this farmer was thinking 'what a wonderful and peaceful place this is'. In this frantic world we live in it is nice to know that not too far away we can experience nature in such a beautiful place. There is no need to go off to far flung reaches of the world to find a little bit of heaven. For me this is a little piece of heaven and was my green fix for the year. Having spent most summers for the first 18 years of my life in Galway in the West of Ireland, I do appreciate the countryside, the slow pace and the quality of life.

Anyway back to the road. Yes - hills lots of. Yes - very steep at times. Yes - can't go too crazy with the speed or you DIE!
I loved this road and not too much road kill either as there is not too much traffic to squish the local critters.

We eventually picked up the B6160 and headed off on road kill graveyard to Grassington.

If you have chance to go on this road, especially on a beautiful blue sky day, take a drive on this road - it is beautiful!

Thursday 27 October 2011


Day 2

On the A6255, just after Chapel Le Dale, you get a fantastic view of the Ribblehead Viaduct which is part of the Settle to Carlisle railway.  Wow - it looks amazing set against the Yorkshire Dales and what a feat in Victorian engineering.  It is worth the drive alone to see this fantastic site.  So slack-jawed in awe we drove on to Hawes. 

We parked in the car park on the edge of town and paid our dues.  There is some on street parking available, however Hawes was rather busy with tourists and bikers that day.  The town was half open with shops as it was a Sunday.  The town is predominantly centred on the main road which runs through the town with pubs, cafes and shops, which eventually splits into two roads to accommodate the one way system.  At the edge of town there was some very literal one man and his dog style roundabout art.  It was surrounded by fencing which spoils what could be a rather surreal scene. 

Cutting through the town is a fast flowing river - it must be bloody noisy for the neighbours especially if it has been raining.  God forbid if this breaks its banks as the town would be flooded.

Outside the Little Cheese Shop we saw a surprising sight of a copper-coloured hen strutting under a picnic bench.  It was extremely calm as we took a couple of photos.  It probably felt safe being near the Little Cheese Shop - I'm sure it would have been somewhat nervous if it had been outside the butchers. 

There is a lovely home furnishing place that does bespoke wooden furniture called Bear Cottage Interiors.  The furniture was built out of solid wood and you could still see the tool marks.  It's the type of solid furniture that could last for hundreds of years.

The bikers had took residence in the Penny Garth Cafe which did two tone whippy ice cream.  Finally I didn't feel too stuffed so I indulged in the ice creams, which was fine as you can't go too wrong with whippy ice cream.

There were some stern looking old ladies stood inside the Village Hall foyer gossiping.  There was a sign saying there was a book sale inside.  I do like a book sale and inside the Village Hall we found a little bookshop wedged into a side room.  It was packed to the rafters with books.  There was barely room for people to pass the shelves.  Unfortunately, as the weather was not good, it appeared half of Hawes was browsing in the shop.  So I made a swift exit before I succumbed to claustrophobia. 

We had done Hawes and as Neil wasn't feeling too brilliant we decided to head back to Grassington.  However we had a choice to make - should we take the longer route on the A roads or the short route on a side road over yonder hills... decisions, decisions, decisions....

Sunday 23 October 2011


Day 2

Ingleton was my favourite place on our trip to the Yorkshire Dales.  Its stone viaduct and pocket sized loveliness were delightful.

First thing to note is that you can park on the street on the edge of town, thus avoiding parking charges in the local car park.

The second thing we found out was that particular weekend there was a Folk festival on and we did spot some musicians go into one of the local pubs to set up.  I like to see these country towns celebrating things, be it food, literature or the arts.  It's a great way to import a little bit of culture for the locals who often have to travel to the cities to get their culture fix.  I spotted on the notice board in Grassington there was a theatre club which did group trips to northern theatres.  Putting on these local events is a cunning way to attract tourists into the town and spend their cash.  Given how pretty Ingleton is, I didn't mind.

Thirdly, I discovered why the charity shops in the Yorkshire Dales were not that exciting - there was a vintage shop called  Fanny's Vintage Retro & Antique Home Style.  They must trawl through the local charity shops regularly to stock their lovely shop.  I found the most gorgeous tan leather vintage handbag and flower brooch.  I did manage to extract myself  from the shop without purchasing them, however I did ask myself that fateful question 'would I regret leaving these in the shop?'  The answer was 'yes' and I went straight back in and bought them.

Fourthly, quite a few of the shops were open on a Sunday, so it is worth a visit.  There was a Geology shop selling all things minerally and crystally.  Whilst the shop was definitely on the geology side of the old mystical crystal debate, there was a new age CD on in the background - so I reckon the owner was hedging his bets with his clientele.  There was also a cafe-cum-outdoor pursuits shop called Inglesports and it was packed full of bikers - I do love to see shops diversify into cafes.  There plenty of other cafes to choose from too - so whatever your tastes you'll find a place to eat.  There is a blink-and-you-will-miss tiny little cake and coffee shop called Frumenty and Fluffin.  It appeared to be selling the most lovely cakes - sadly I was still stuffed from breakfast to indulge.  So next time I'm in Ingleton I will stuff my face here.

Ingleton is a twee-fabulous place to visit!  Apparently it is a good base for all things outdoorsy like walking, cycling and caving - not that you will catch me doing such daft stuff like that.  So whatever your tastes, Ingleton has plenty to offer.

Wednesday 19 October 2011


Day 2

After Skipton and a slight detour we got to Settle. We managed to get parked on a side street and walked into the town.

The place was busy with walkers, cyclists and motor bikers. Whilst there were less shops open here than in Skipton, if you are looking for something to eat there were plenty of places from the Ye Olde Naked Man cafe and bakery, The Fisherman Chippy (which was doing brisk trade too) and the local pubs were doing Sunday lunches. Neil sampled a sweet chili chicken slice from the Ye Olde Naked Man. Whilst he said the chicken was nice, the sweet chili sauce was not as spicy as he would have liked. They did seem to have nice cakes there too, but I was still too stuffed from breakfast to indulge.  If I came back again I'd definitely pop in for lunch, as they had a little cafe too.

The quite a few of the shops were closed, but there were a few open enticing the passing tourist including an Age UK charity shop, a gift shop and a secondhand bookshop. Outside the secondhand bookshop was a gorgeous chocolate and white sheep dog. He was doing a fine job of guarding the bookshop and you almost had to step over him to get in and out of the shop. I didn't mind as he was lovely. The charity shop wasn't exciting, but at least it was open and had a few people browsing its wares. I noticed one gift shop that was closed had that yellow transparent blind over the window to prevent the sun from fading the stock. This gave me flashbacks to the 70s and Cheetham Hill where it was practically the law to have all shop windows shielded in the stuff.

The weather was a constant drizzle so we decided not to hang around. Before we left I did go to the local public toilet, which was a vandal proof affair in industrial steel. By God the designers went hell for leather on the soviet cold war steel look. Every surface was steel, even the celling if I recollect correctly. The doors weighed a ton and some of the lights were out that made the look even grimmer. It was the most oppressive public toilets I've ever been in.  If anyone from the council reads this - please replace the lights.

Settle is a nice traditional Yorkshire town, with plenty of places to get refreshments.  Although for shopping purposes, Saturday is probably a better day to go.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Skipton - Second time round

Day 2

It's not the first time we've been to Skipton and it's not the first time I've blogged about this place, yet it was the first time we had visited it on a Sunday. Sundays can be a bit hit and miss for random trips to northern towns, however we weren't disappointed with Skipton.
Stupidly I'd forgotten to pack my waterproof jacket for our trip and although Saturday was a lovely day Sunday was not - the Yorkshire Dales was drizzle central. So the priority was to purchase a cheap waterproof jacket. Thankfully Skipton had some outdoor outfitter shops to sort me out. The first one, near the canal, was very expensive and some of the coats cost as much as an iPad - so I passed on that shop. There was another shop in the town centre where I managed to pick up a cheap waterproof for £9.95 - bargain!
Anyway we had parked in the steep car park near the canal. Luckily we chanced upon a farmers market that day, which had lovely local produce on offer. After salivating round the market we headed off into the town centre. Surprisingly there were a number of shops open, including most of the charity shops - result! There was nothing of interest for Neil, but it was nice to have a browse without the madness of the Saturday shoppers.
Another good thing about Skipton on a Sunday is the distinct lack of the general market on the main street. Every Saturday there is a general market, which is always packed and located far too close to the pavements so it is awkward for pedestrians to pass. On a Sunday Skipton is a much more chilled place and actually a more pleasant place to be. We found Emma's Apothecary and Homestore which is in a shopping arcade off the main street. It is a great place to get reasonably priced Christmas gifts. I got a couple of bars of lovely scented soaps and Neil got a catnip toy for Sam the cat.

I've always found Skipton a nice place to go and on a Sunday it is very relaxed, although it's best to get there after 11.30am if you want to indulge in some shopping. Okay so you do miss out on the local butchers, the bakers and some of the mainstream shops that are closed, but if you are like myself and hate the hubbub of the Saturday shopping Sunday in Skipton is bliss...

Thursday 13 October 2011


Days 1, 2 & 3

Being in Grassington is like being on holiday abroad.  It has quite a foreign quality for a city dweller like myself.  I guess this is how foreign tourists perceive England to be - a land of country villages, stone built cottages in cobbled streets and traditional black and white pubs.  As you can see from my blog I like to visit that version of England, however it is a different England from the one I normally live in.

Grassington is first and foremost a lovely place to visit.  The cobbled square is the heart of the village with its four pubs - The Devonshire Arms, The Black Horse Hotel, The Grassington Hotel (hotel, restaurant and bar) and the Foresters Arms.  There are a couple of sweet shops selling vast amounts of fudge, a wool shop, older ladies clothes shop, a geology shop, gift shop, a Spar (but it doesn't sell newspapers by the way), a Barclays bank, a chippy, deli, paper shop, Indian restaurant / takeaway and a hidden Age UK shop you have to look down a side street to find.  It is a compact village and it takes about five minutes to get round it.

We were staying in Grassington Lodge on the next road to the square.  We had found it on Trip Advisor which rated it as the number one place to stay in Grassington.  After our two nights there we would highly recommend it too.  The room we had was compact, but it was fine for our needs.  They have different rates dependent on the room.  Ours was one of the cheaper rooms, but the facilities were fine with an en-suite with shower and Molton Brown bathroom products.  If booking you do need to watch out as one of the rooms doesn't have en-suite, although it does have a separate private bathroom.  After an experience in a Whitby B&B we are always careful to book a room with en-suite.  Anyway the room was fine and nicely decorated.  The B&B itself was immaculate with classic modern decoration.  Too many times we have stayed in places that seemed straight out of the 70s in decor.  Clearly the owners take great pride in the B&B and it shows in the way they take care of the place.  There was free pre-dinner sherry available and mint chocolates in the hallway.  The breakfasts were great with a full Yorkshire breakfast, scrambled eggs and salmon and they also did porridge which wasn't on the menu.  They did decaf tea too, which for a non-caffeine person like myself is a blessing.  I have to say it was a really pleasant stay and the owners were friendly.  Plus there was a little black cat with a spot underneath its chin lurking outside the B&B, which gained extra brownie points from me.

Both nights we stayed in Grassington we ate at the Devonshire Arms.  We were going to eat in different places, but after the first night we knew we had to come back for the Sunday Steak night.  We had a recommendation from Neil's Mum who'd been to Grassington before.  The pub had a restaurant area, but it was fully booked up.  Thankfully we could still sit in the rest of the pub and still be able to order food.  I had a steak and mushroom suet pudding which was divine.  The chips were slightly underdone, but I wasn't bothered to complain as the suet pudding was fantastic and more than filling.  Neil had the pork medallions in three pepper and brandy sauce, which he loved too.  Whilst the Devonshire Arms is an unassuming, traditional black and white pub, the food was outstanding.  On the Sunday we had two steaks and a bottle of wine for £25.  It was nice, but not as fabulous as the night before.  This time we had room for pudding - I had sticky toffee pudding and Neil had cointreau cheesecake.  They came out and looked fantastic - and tasted great too.  The food is definitely the star of this pub.

On the Saturday night after we stuffed ourselves with delicious food, we went to the Black Horse Hotel for a drink.  As it was a lovely evening we sat outside on the picnic benches watching the red crescent moon.  It's unbelievable we could do alfresco drinking in October.  Even on the Sunday night we still could sit outside despite the rainy weather that day.  This time we sat outside the Grassington Hotel with a glass of red wine.  What a beautiful place to be...

Saturday 8 October 2011

B6160 - Road from Richmond to Grassington

Day 1

Over the years I have developed a fondness for driving on challenging country roads - the type you need to really concentrate on or get killed.  Roads like the Llanberis Pass near Snowdon, the A537 Cat and Fiddle between Buxton and Macclesfield and the A814 from Tarbet to Helensburgh.  By God you need a stiff G&T at the end of these journeys.

Anyhow, I thought why not write up some of those road experiences.  So here goes - my new feature 'Life on Northern Roads'.

So we headed out of Richmond on the A6108 towards Grassington.  It's not often you see road signs warning you of learner tank drivers, but we were close to Catterick Garrison so it makes sense.  I always find it a bit spooky going past Ministry of Defense sites - maybe its all that high security fencing, military grey paint and the fact there is lots of live ammo behind those fences.  When we got to Leyburn, we picked up the A684 towards Hawes. 

I have to admit after many years of considering the speed limit as a suggestion from the Department of Transport, now I drive like a granny.  In part due to my ageing car (Lil' Princess - Nissan Almeria now 11 years old) and in part the fear of getting points on my licence. I have begun to be one of those people who drives at safe speeds especially on roads I don't know, whilst pissing off hundreds of motorists who now whizz past me.  So it was no surprise that I was soon overtaken by a red sports car and a bronze-green 70s classic car.  I don't notice or know car makes, just colours.  Despite my feminist inclinations I do correspond to the female stereotype where cars are concerned - ooh nice colour, it will go with my handbag.

I mentioned in Richmond that I had noticed lots of motorcyclists and it was on these roads I realised why they were in the Yorkshire Dales - the roads are just fab for them.  God knows how many of them passed me by during the weekend.

Anyhow back to road trip; we found our turning onto the B6160 and the first thing I noticed was a hedgehog squished on the road.  It turned out roadkill became an all too familiar feature on the B6160.  I swear over the 20 miles we travelled on this road we saw over 100 squished animals; hedgehogs, rabbits, squirrels, birds of prey, game birds, foxes and small creatures of indeterminate origin.  It did get to the stage where I began to get quite queasy at the sight of these flattened and bloodied creatures.  It was like watching a roadkill horror movie.  At one point I saw several pieces of fox strewn across a stretch of road - it was barfville.  However its brilliant if you are into eating roadkill, then it was like an amazing buffet.

Back to the road and I had a de ja vu moment looking in my rear mirror - the red sports car and a bronze-green 70s classic car were behind me again.  How I got ahead of them at my granny speed is a complete mystery to me, but sure enough, when the road allowed, they overtook and shot off into the distance.

I did notice on the journey there were lots of classic cars out on the road - really old ones that are used for weddings, phallic sports cars and those weird kit cars that look like they are made out of drain pipes.

The B6160 is quite a hilly road with quite steep hills, so you do need a powerful car to motor up them easily.  Lil' Princess doesn't exactly have the most powerful engine - 1398cc according to the manual.  So at times we did labour up the hills - pissing off the motorists behind us.  It's became quite a common theme during our road trip - pissing off the motorists behind us.

As it was a B road, the vast majority of the road was easily accessible for passing traffic.  It was only on the rare occasion that the centre markings disappeared and you had to be careful.  That was generally through the villages - Kettlewell, of Calendar Girls film fame, springs to mind.

This road takes you through the Yorkshire Dales and, as the weather was surprisingly good for October, the views were great.  There was some stony stuff jutting  out from the side of the hills (as you can guess I'm no geologist) near Grassington which looked impressive and the walkers underneath seem pretty amazed by it too.  This is the best thing about driving in the countryside - you get that fix of all things green and nature that you certainly don't get in the city.  There were tons of sheep everywhere grazing at time on the sides of very steep hills.  You have to be honest and say the next time you see these sheep they will be on your plate as roast, kebab or curry.  However you have to admit they did have a glorious start in life munching grass, overlooking wondrous Dales far from the madding crowds.

So after negotiating numerous hills and hundreds of gear changes we got to Grassington.  I have to admit I was a little frazzled by the end of the journey with having to concentrate carefully on the road, trying to avoid roadkill and having countless motorists and motorcyclists overtake me.  It's a good road to drive down, although you do need a strong stomach to cope with the gore of the roadkill.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Richmond - the North Yorkshire one

Day 1

Before planning our trip to the Yorkshire Dales I'd never heard of the town of Richmond.  Obviously I knew of the Richmond down south, but not the Yorkshire one.  So I thought I'd better have a quick look on wikipedia.  Market town - check!  Georgian history - interesting!  Fab reviews - Bingo!

So after a two hour journey from Manchester we made it to Richmond.  The journey was a bitch as we hit two sets of road works on the M62 and the A1.  Both sets of road works were doing that awful 50 mph average speed limit camera thingy.  My poor right foot developed cramp trying to keep a steady 50 mph.  It got so painful that later in the day I had to rub Nurofen gel into my foot to ease the pain.

Anyway, Richmond appeared to be built into a side of a cliff, with lots of cobbles and a mad one way system.  Getting parked was a nightmare and after 15 minutes of trying to find a parking space we nearly left.  Thankfully we spotted a local Cooperative supermarket at a mini roundabout on the edge of the town centre.  We managed to get parked and had 3 hours free parking too.

Wandering around Richmond it was a nice, solid, unpretentious Yorkshire town. The skyline was dominated by Richmond Castle, an English Heritage site.  The streets were cobbled and the town square housed a nice market selling local produce. 

There were a few charity shops for us to explore, but there was nothing exciting to report.  We also popped into the secondhand book shop and a rambling antiques shop.  Neil complained the shops were rather small, but that was down to the town's Georgian architectural heritage.

We had some fish from Barker's Fish and Chip shop.  There was a queue in the shop, but it was worth the wait as the fish was nice with lovely crispy batter.  There were quite a few locals in there which is always a good sign.  We followed this with a 99 ice cream from the market and were served by a girl who clearly didn't want to be there.

The local accent was a bit of a mix between Yorkshire and the singsong North East accent.  I suppose since Richmond is so far north in Yorkshire there will be cross border activity with the folks from County Durham.

The town itself is not too touristy and it was not overrun by high street chains.  I did notice that it seemed to attract a lot of bikers and it later became apparent why they were there.

So after a quick trip to the Cooperative supermarket (to justify using their car park), we headed off on the B6160 to Grassington.

Monday 3 October 2011

The Yorkshire Dales

Other than Emmerdale and All Creatures Great and Small, the Yorkshire Dales have always been a bit of a mystery to me.  So when Neil suggested we go away for his birthday weekend and I thought the Yorkshire Dales would be a good place to go.  Neil's Mum had been to Grassington a few times, so we thought it might be a good place to base ourselves for the weekend. 

After a couple of hours on the internet and Trip Advisor we were booked into Grassington Lodge - apparently Hayley Westenra, Phil & mad Tory Kirsty (Location, Location, Location) and the Snow's (Peter & Dan) stayed there too.  It seemed really nice, reasonably priced and came highly recommended.  I now swear by Trip Advisor these days after a few B&B and hotel disasters we've had over the years - Howden, Whitby and London are etched into my mind for all the wrong reasons. 

So for the past few weeks I've been pouring over maps planning our road trip around the Dales.  In the end we went to Richmond, Grassington, Skipton, Settle, Ingleton, Hawes and Ripon.  I'm also including special features this time with two road review - the B6160 and the Hawes to Kettlewell road.

I hope you enjoy reading the blog as well as we did doing the road trip.

Friday 30 September 2011


Day 2

Our final Lake District destination of the day - Ambleside.  In 2004 we spent a few days here at the Compston House American Style B&B.  It was a nice B&B that served massive portions of pancakes for breakfast.  It was here we discovered the delights of Pingu too.  So it was good to see it was still going as we drove into Ambleside.

So had things changed in seven years?  Yes and No.  The library hadn't changed, quite a lot of the shops and restaurants were still there including the weird Thai restaurant.  There was the scary looking sports bar still going, which had the music quiz machine we got addicted to.  There were some new shops including a Costa (they get everywhere these days, though the cinnamon latte is fab).

Lucy's Restaurant and Provisions Shop had changed - it was just a restaurant now and the lovely shop selling all sorts of wonderful stuff (flavoured vodka and fab bread as I recollect) had gone.  I was sad.  However when we got home I went online and discovered the shop had just moved to the other end of the village.  As with any town over time things will change and shops will morph into bars, cafes or other shops.  I'm very glad Lucy's has survived and thrived as it was a fab place.

Ambleside was bustling with life - all shapes and sizes.  I find Ambleside has more about it than Windermere.  Maybe because Windermere is split between the lakeside Bowness-on-Windermere and Windermere Town.  Possibly it's not too close to the Lake so it doesn't get overly commercialised with the daytrippers.  Ambleside still is packed with tourists, but more of the walker types who go up hills and do daft things like that.  I recommend it as a place to base yourself for a few days to explore the Lakes and not get bored in the evenings.

As we had a seriously packed weekend with seven northern towns / villages in two day we cut short our trip to Ambleside.  It had been a lovely weekend despite the changeable weather, but we were tired and needed to get back to reality.  It took us two hours to get home, but thankfully this time it was a traffic jam free journey back.

Friday 23 September 2011


Day 2

On the road to Ambleside via Coniston I realised why we didn't go to the Lake District often - Neil gets travel sick on hilly, Top Gear style roads.  Maybe it was the Lonesome Pine beer he had the night before, but to be truthful it was the rollercoaster style roads that were making him green.  I had to slow down and the 14 mile drive to Ambleside was much longer than anticipated.  Thankfully there was no other drivers getting frustrated behind me and I managed to get Neil to Coniston, without him vomiting in the car.

The last time we went to Coniston in 2004, the place was definitely entrenched in the 1950s.  In the space of 7 years it had edged closer to the 21st Century - early 90s I reckon.  Coniston is obviously famous for Donald Campbell's ill-fated attempt to break the water speed record in the Bluebird.  However when we wandered round the graveyard we found John Ruskin's grave, the famous Victorian Art Critic.  The headstone is a lovely arts and crafts style affair and very becoming of the man.

We parked next to the toliets by the vistor information centre.  Neil made good use of the toliets, however they weren't a patch on the Cartmel Racecourse toliets which were lush in comparision (and less smelly).

Coniston was busy with walkers and tourists.  The shops were open and trying to cash in on the summer season.  If you wanted some supplies, trinkets or walking gear you were in luck as Coniston catered to all your needs, unlike Ulverston.

Neil had finally regained some colour and felt like he could face the rest of the 7 mile journey to Ambleside.  So slowly (30 mph) we headed off, with me praying Neil wouldn't be sick in the car.

Saturday 17 September 2011


Day 2

Ulverston - don't go here on a Sunday, the town is closed.  There is seriously nothing happening here.  It's not the most exciting places in the world when the shops are open, but on Sunday it's dead except for a couple of shops hoping to trap misguided tourists like ourselves.

We thought we'd get something to eat so went to the Mill at Ulverston.  To be truthful I can't recommend it.  The chips were half done - half the chips were cooked and the half the chips were not.  How can places get chips wrong?  It's beyond belief, but I've seen this happen before - the Blundell outside Horwich a prime example of how to do underdone chips.  I had a chicken and bacon sandwich and it was minging (to non northerners - horrible).  It was something you rustle up for a kiddies picnic - a soft bread bap (roll) you would get in a six pack from Asda, filled with one of those horrible pre-mixed chicken and bacon sandwich fillings swimming in mayo.  I left most of it as it was just so vom-inducing.  Neil's was better, but he had the same problem with the chips too.  We just couldn't get out of there fast enough, I even left my drink.

Quite frankly I was happy to leave this place.  So we made a speedy exit from Ulverston and hit the high road to Ambleside via Coniston.

Monday 12 September 2011


Day 2

I loved Cartmel - it's such a dreamy, picture perfect village.  I honestly wasn't expecting much from Cartmel.  On the map it didn't seem like much - just a blink and you will miss village.  However in reality getting there is a bit tricky, as the roads to get there were predominantly narrow and difficult for two cars to pass. 

On getting to the village, as it was so busy, we couldn't find any available street parking. So we had to negotiate our way through the streets to the car park at Cartmel Racecourse.  The Cartmel Racecourse car park is a very plush affair with its gravel driveway and pavilion style toilets with waiting area.  I bet this place is packed on race day.

It was a Sunday so we didn't expect much to be happening in Cartmel.  However we were surprised - there was an oriental rug sale on at the local village hall.  A couple of old ladies were also having a garage sale with lots of odds and sods.  Neil was curious about a box of VHS videos, but I had to tear him away from it to explore the village.

The village is quite different from what you find in the Lake District.  The village has an architectural cohesiveness, where there are no oddities or eyesores, which is brought together in local lakeland stone. 

To our surprise quite a few of the shops were open.  Most importantly the Cartmel Village Shop was open selling Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Obviously we bought some along with some marmalade - both were lovely.  There were shops selling all sorts of things including kitchen equipment, toys, wine, hardcore local cheese (Neil steered clear of this place) and artisan bread - you will find most things in Cartmel done in a twee, local stylee.

Cartmel is also known for its restaurants.  The most famous is L'Enclume, the Michelin Star restaurant with a serious, hardcore foodie menu at eye watering prices.  My best mate Shaun, recommended the Rogan and the Cavendish Arms which looked lovely.  There were other cafes and pubs offering a range of delicious food for all palates and price ranges.

In the village is a 12th century priory that dominates the skyline.  We did try to have a look around, however it is a working church.  The 11am Sunday Mass was on, so we slipped out and wandered around the graveyard.  We also found a ginger cat sat on a window ledge of a local cottage watching the world go by.  Thankfully it didn't mind us stroking it.

As it was too early for lunch and we were still full from breakfast,  we decided to move on to another town.  I made a mental note to have an overnight stay here - there were double the amount of pubs than Grange-Over-Sands (four in total) and the foodie places looked delicious.

So off we popped on our journey around the Lakes.  Next stop Ulverston...

Sunday 11 September 2011


Day 1 & 2

As we were driving towards our final destination for the day Grange-Over-Sands, the clouds started to roll in and a fine drizzle was forming.  Oh well this is the Lakes, as night follows day, so does rain follow sunshine. 

We got to Grange-Over-Sands about 4pm and found the hotel - the Lymehurst - quite easily on the edge of town.  The town was more residential than shop based with lots of sturdy stone buildings.

The hotel was a hotel / B&B hybrid as there was no proper reception area and you had to buzz for attention.  However the room we had was definitely hotel standard with super-king size bed, spacious room and really nice bathroom with modern fittings, which appeared to be recently refurbished.  The hotel was very clean and you could not fault the standard.

We then headed off into the town to find some charity shops before they closed.  We found one near the hotel, Age UK, which did a great line in knitting related products.  Lots of dead old ladies knick knacks too, however nothing much in the music line to interest Neil.  We went onto the main road and found the other charity shop had just closed, which was a nuisance.  Neil was getting niggly as the drizzle had turned into light rain and showed no signs of stopping.  So we sheltered under the ornate canopy covering a parade of shops.  One was the Chocolate Shop with lots of cocoa based delights.  Further down there was a fab bakery-turn-cafe called the Hazlemere Cafe, which was packed full of people enjoying afternoon tea.  It had a sign saying it was one of Rick Stein Food Heroes places and by the looks of things I could easily believe it as it looked delicious.

It was still raining so we decided it was time to head to the pub.  There was the Sands, but that looked liked some scary sports bar which we wouldn't be seen dead in.  Then we found the Commodore down near the front on Main Street.  It's your very traditional pub with whitewashed walls, beams and olde worlde knick knacks.  It was good to see they did a range of weirdy beardy beers and we tried Lonesome Pine and Flying Elephant. It was an animal friendly too. The pub had a games area with pool and darts, a bar area seating and a quiet area by the toilets.  It was also blessed with two things which make pubs brill to us: a jukebox and a games machine that had Top of the Pops quiz on it.  This pub scored some serious brownie points and so we made a mental note to go here in the evening.

Finally we had a break in the clouds and it stopped raining so we decided to take a walk down the promenade.  Looking on the map as it was next to Morecambe Bay and the fact it had 'Sands' in its name, I thought Grange-Over-Sands would have a beach.  I was mistaken, it had fields with sheep that moved as if they were on roller skates.  Clearly the land had been reclaimed, but I wanted beach!  However from the signage along the front walking across the fields to find the beach was considered a bad thing, something to do with quicksand.  Anyhow, we ploughed on - surely there was something of interest along here. 

We found a derelict lido with signs of 'danger of death' and 'deep water'.  There was a volunteers cafe that was closed.  The railway ran the length of the promenade so there were the occasional railway bridges that crossed back to civilisation.  I had heard Grange-Over-Sands had had a swimming pool built a few years back, but had to close due to structural issues.  Apparently it was stunning to swim in as it had views over Morecambe Bay, however it was beset with structural issues and had to close for health and safety reasons.  Anyway, we carried on walking hoping to find something. 

Looking over Morecambe Bay I spied Heysham nuclear power plant - one of the scary things about Cumbria and North Lancashire is the whole nuclear power plant stuff.  I used to have scary dreams in the 80s about nuclear disasters (not good for a child with a highly active imagination). Also Pat, who I used to do a paper round for, had to have her thyroid removed as she had cancer due to the Windscale disaster in the 50s. 

In the end we only found ornate benches with frogs on them and gave up our search to find something interesting.  So we decided to head back to the hotel.

On our journey around Grange-Over-Sands we discovered we only had three options for food in the evening: the hotel, the Fish-Over-Chips cafe and At Home Cafe and Bistro.  We decided to have a look at the At Home Cafe and Bistro.  This proved to be an excellent choice and we decided to go for the 3 course meal.  My Cumbrian chicken in mustard sauce was fab.  The chicken was stuffed with cumbrian sausage and poached - it was so lovely that Neil was jealous.  His steak was nice too, but mine was nicer.  As we rolled out of the Bistro we headed to the Commodore.

The Commodore had a lively atmosphere and was packed full of locals and tourists.  Neil spent a small fortune on the Top of the Pops Quiz game and eventually, after losing due to bizarre questions, we retired to a corner seat to put lots of 80s tracks on the jukebox. 

There was a big party of people having a laugh and one of them put on 'Lady in Red' for the lady in red in their party.  I discovered in the Co-op next day that it had been the leaving do for 5 people at the Co-op and they had a good time, but were suffering from hangovers.  It was a good night with myself and Neil getting nicely trollied on the weirdy beardy beer and wine, hogging the jukebox with our music tastes.

Next day, with a tender head, I made it to the hotel restaurant for a full English breakfast.  It was very nice and tasty - clearly they used good quality ingredients.  They also did decaf tea, which scores highly in my caffeine free world.  I managed to acquire some danish pastries for Neil and we packed up our stuff.  The hotel is really nice and I do recommend it, although I would be hard pressed to find anything to do on more than one night in Grange-Over-Sands apart from the Commodore.

We checked out and headed towards the car boot sale on the way out of town.  We paid our pound to get in and spent a maximum of ten minutes looking at stuff before heading off.

So what do we do next?  I'd heard Cartmel was good and was only a short drive away... Oh well, we might as well give it a go.