Sunday, 20 November 2011

Ramsbottom

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.