Tuesday 15 March 2011

Yorkshire - Saltaire, Ilkley and Skipton

One of my decadent pleasures at the moment is taking the car on day trips to northern towns. Given the price of petrol these days it is an expensive treat.

The night before the trip I watched the BBC weather and discovered to beat the bad weather predicted a day trip to Yorkshire was advisable. So out came the map and three locations were selected - Saltaire, Ilkley and Skipton.

Technically Saltaire and Ilkley are in Bradford - not exactly a day trip destination. However these outskirt towns proved to be a real pleasure.

After navigating the terminally dull ring road that encircles Bradford eventually I found Saltaire. Make sure you look out for the 'Salt Mills' sign otherwise you will be completely scuppered trying to find Saltaire without a sat nav.

The Salt Mill is an imposing building built in characteristic York stone. There is something about the scale of the building which is quite breathtaking. Ever since going to Agecroft Power Station in Prestwich on a school trip, I have a thing for scale. If you have been to Tate Modern, you would understand my fascination.
I didn't know what to expect to find at Saltaire and the Salt Mill except David Hockney exhibition. Little did I realise what a gem I would find. It is a mad building - half of it a proper work building - Pace Technologies. The other half is a mix of quirky shops and cafes interspersed with art. Initially on entering the building, the first shop I came to was a very large, ex-mill floor with lots of pretty stuff to buy. It was disorientating because of the scale of the building – it was like putting on glasses with a new prescription. On the walls were art and in the window spaces Victorian ceramics. It has the mad combination of Victorian mill with twenty-first century minimalism with a splash of Victoriana and 60s California pop art. I just loved how one could pass by kitsch cards and very expensive modern art. It was wonderful how this building rolls from boutique to art to cafe to art. I was really bowled over by the place.

On the late Friday morning I was pleasantly surprised to fine we weren't alone – the place was populated by arty pensioners, arty parents and young children and arty art types with time to indulge in the New York loft arts fantasy in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Normally I rail against such things - Hebden Bridge's twee, middle classness of organic healthy living pisses me off regularly. Although when needs must it’s good for getting wool for knitting. Look I could always knit from the age of 6 - cast on and off and knit and purl and cable if needs be - I'm from a hard core family of farming class knitters you know. It's not a twee affectation - rant over.

Saltaire gets it right for me. I think such brilliant modern art gives the centre the edge it needs not to fall into that twee trap. I loved the antiques shop - just loved it. It's like a mad museum of gaudy colours and styles - although slightly more organised than the usual charity shop or jumble sale. There were a couple of cafes - one of which is supposed to be in the good food guides. I never got chance to sample anything, but the smell did remind me of school dinners. The top floor cafe cum restaurant struck me as an interesting place with the massive, perfectly presented drapes over the mill windows and it occupied the same place as the florist. I loved the florist and bought a Asplenium - Birds Nest fern to the plebs like me - to go into my lovely half priced planter from Habitat. It was funny how the cafe also sold the plants for the florist. Every floor had some kind of delight - a history of Saltaire narrated by some Yorkshire bloke, a visual display of Hockney's latest Ipad picture, a rug and cushion store and some mad, modern cuckoo clocks. My only gripe was one store which had a do not touch sign for every display - it struck me as very kid-a-phobic and made me determined not to buy anything in it.

We quickly nipped into Saltaire - model village - nice terraces, civic buildings and college in York stone - all very nice. There was a great little bakery and tea room which did some good and cheap takeaway pies and slices. There was a queue outside and that is always a good sign - although the shop was very small. There was a regular corner shop, which to Neil's surprise had four different types of Ben and Jerry's he had never had and this developed swiftly into ice cream envy as sadly we were at the start of our journey so couldn't purchase any unless we wanted Ben and Jerry's milkshake by the end of the day.

I just LOVED Saltaire - it's ace. Although could have done with a touch more modern art.

Next on the itinery was Ilkley. Getting to Ilkley from Saltaire meant a drive over Ilkley Moor. It was a pleasant drive on what was still a nice day. We drove past the Cow and Calf, a rock feature that overlooks Ilkley. Ilkley itself is a good, solid, Yorkshire spa town. Unpretentious although does seem to have an alternative undercurrent as there’s a complimentary medicine festival coming up, which I would love to indulge in.

There is one thing you will never do in Ilkley and that is starve. The place is awash with eateries of all descriptions high street chains and one off wonders, coffee shops and of course, this being Yorkshire a branch of Betty’s Tea Rooms. I was having a ponder lately and realised that the one thing really missing in Manchester is a proper, old style tea room. Yorkshire has got this right with Betty’s and in Dublin they have Bewley’s but in Manchester there is nothing of this standard. Yes there are plenty of coffee shops, deli cafes and the odd trendy tea shop, however nothing with crisp cotton tablecloths, a good variety of cakes and sandwiches and a range of good teas and coffees. I do often have fantasies of opening a tea shop with the triple threat of damn fine beverages (tea, coffee and soft drinks), great cakes and fresh well-made butties, all in a fabulous, ideally Victorian, establishment. If anyone has several thousand pounds to invest in my idea, please contact me.
Back to Ilkley – parking was a bit of a nightmare – three rotations of the car park and eventually I found a spot. This difficulty was not down to the size of the car park, which was ample, but the fact this town seemed pretty popular. There were plenty of people on the street – naturally lots of pensioners, well to do middle aged Yorkshire ladies and mums with young kids.

We did our usual trawl of charity shops and although Neil managed to purchase lots of Indie cassettes I didn’t buy anything. Although Gemma’s hospice shop did have set of six crystal whiskey glasses, which I’m still kicking myself for not buying. Apart from that it was the average standard of stuff, although being in close proximity to Saltaire, I can’t help thinking the antique shop there does a regular trawl through the local charity shops.

Ilkley has a nice compact feel to the place with everything in a reasonable distance of the main shopping area and the station practically deposits you in the centre of town. It was all very pleasant I must say and well worth a visit.

As I couldn’t face negotiating the terminal dullness of the Bradford ring road system, we took a trip onto Skipton, technically in North Yorkshire. It was a nice drive through the countryside and we took the first turn off to Skipton and parked on the edge of the town centre, which was a good idea as it is a ruddy nightmare to drive through the town. Unfortunately, despite my best attempts to escape the bad weather, we hit upon rain in this town. Not too much of a chore as this town is market town as it is jam packed full of shops in the nooks and crannies of side streets that radiate from the centre. The first time we went last year, it was a sunny Saturday and the places was crammed with what appeared to be half of Yorkshire trying to negotiate the market stalls and shops tightly packed on the main street. It did my head in and didn’t give me a great impression of the town. This time it was a Friday afternoon and was a much quieter affair although still bustling.
Again plenty of places to eat and drink, but we were being good and didn’t indulge. We did spot the most gorgeous white dog. It was as I say ‘a well-loved’ dog with its rotund figure which you would be quite easily mistake for a sheep. I can’t tell you the breed but it did have a curly tail.

Plenty of charity shops again and Neil, shock horror didn’t get price rage in Oxfam books and purchased some indie records. Again like Ilkley nothing outstanding in the shops, but as you know the best stuff gets picked up quickly by the local antique shops.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long as we had a dinner engagement that evening with my best friend.

All in all it was a pleasant day out, but word of warning if you are coming back from Skipton towards Manchester try to avoid Colne – it’s a bloody traffic nightmare due to badly designed access to the local Sainsbury’s.