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.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Leigh - the town that major high street chains forgot

It was a grey September Saturday and a rare day off for Neil, now the footy season is upon us (he works at Kingbee records with two football fans, so he has to hold fort most Saturdays till the end of the season).  Neil being a dessert-a-holic, he insisted we visit Applewood Farm pub in Astley to work his way through their fabulous dessert menu.  I ordered a sherry trifle - light on the sherry, but heavy on the cream.  Neil ordered a slab of their finest toffee waffle cheesecake.  Mine was lovely and Neil's was fab - really one of the best places for desserts in terms of huge sizes, great taste and value for money.  As for their mains dishes, they are fine - they make an effort and the chips are cooked well, but their dessert menu is outstanding and they do cake-away too.  Next time we go, we are just sticking with the dessert menu.

Anyway, as I had a cold and didn't feel like treking far so I thought we should go to Leigh next to Astley.  I had checked online and they had lots of charity shops - that's all I knew of Leigh apart from Andy Burnham being the MP (amazing eyelashes btw).

I had been curious to find out why people from Leigh liked to differentiate themselves from Wigan (town full of nutters - see blog).   Maybe it was because they were classier than the Wiganers.  However on the drive it went from leafy, residential Astley into red terrace, ex-mining town Leigh and thought I may have to revise my opinion. 

After negotiating the mini roundabouts we realised Leigh wasn't going to be the most affluent of towns with it's endless fast food emporiums. Parking in Leigh is a bit of a bugger.  We went into the car park near the market / shopping centre and had to wait to get a parking space.  Then we were shocked, considering the down at heel nature of the town, we had to pay to park - I mean 50p for one hour!  We certainly weren't going spend anymore. 

So we wandered through the shopping centre - nothing exciting to report.  Lots of chav families and rough looking people.  As we wandered through to Bradshawgate, we passed the Bus station - a classic example of Greater Manchester Transport 80s style of bus station.  There was an indoor market selling lots of cheap stuff.  But there was something missing in this town - something shop related.  Apart from Chav style shops - Argos, mobile phone shops and cheap chains like BM bargains - there were no high street chains like Dorothy Perkins, WhSmiths or Burtons.  There were little clothes shops that looked like they had graduated from the Market to the cheap lets on Bradshawgate.   Although people were still well catered for - if you were a big lady there were a couple of plus sized shops too.  There are some towns out there wanting to keep things local from the big high street chains - in Leigh they have made that happen but not through choice.

The biggest surprise was the cafe culture - I was amazed about the number of cafes lurking on practically every street corner - there was even a Costa.  A takeaway van had gotten in on the act and had a number of tables and chairs under a large gazebo type structure packed full of customers.  There is an endless supply of tea, coffee and vimto in Leigh, along with all day breakfasts and vats of chips.  None of these cafes looked particularly healthy, but clearly Leigh residents liked to get out there to have a good gossip with their friends.

Charity shops - there were plenty.  The British Red Cross was off  Bradshawgate and was a neat spacious shop specialising in lots of wool based products.  There was a lovely sign from one of the ladies working there saying the books were in alphabetical order, however due to her lack of DIY skills they didn't have anyone to put together more bookcases.  So if you are from Leigh with DIY skills, please pop down and volunteer to put up some more bookcases so they can put the rest of the books out.  There was a YMCA, PDSA, Oxfam (not over priced for once, but didn't have vinyl records), British Heart Foundation, DEBRA and Wigan and Leigh Hospice.  I'm sure I must have missed one or two from the list.  Neil found it disappointing from his perspective as their was hardly any vinyl albums and singles, just CDs and cassettes.  The books for me were just main stream.  The dead old lady knick-knacks weren't exciting although they were in good condition.  Most shops you could get round without much trouble.  Although I did think there may have been a lack of stock available as it was a little too roomy in some of the shops.

So in less than an hour we made our way round Leigh.  There were kids high on caffeine based energy drinks, hard-worn working class men were eating pies in the street and frazzled families getting their kids ready for the start of the new school year.  I did work out that the Leigh accent was not the weird Wigan accent - maybe that is why they don't want to be classed as Wigan and there were no nutters either.

Leigh is definitely the town that the high street chains have left well alone - thankfully as it gives Leigh character.