Sunday, 30 December 2012

Haworth

Haworth is nestled in the hills of West Yorkshire and is a gorgeous suburb of Keighley.  We’d been before but Neil hadn’t been that impressed.  He mustn’t have been feeling too well that day as I’d liked it.

First thing first, Haworth is really awkward to get to from Manchester.  We’d been here before and had taken the M60, exited junction 23, drove through Hebden Bridge and picked up the road to Haworth.  It was a ball ache, although the road from Hebden Bridge to Haworth is absolutely lovely as the road hugs the hillside with beautiful views of the valley.  This time I had a ‘bright idea’ to take the M60, M66, A56, M65, A6068 and School Lane.  Firstly we got delayed where the M66 goes into the A56 as there was some road works going on.  Then we hit Colne.  I’d forgotten we had to go through Colne and I’ve never managed to get through Colne without some delay.  The problem is at the lights into Sainsbury’s as traffic always gets snarled up.  If there was a town crying out for a by-pass this was the one.  Once through the town we picked up School Lane for Haworth.  School Lane to Haworth is a lovely drive and almost worth all the cursing I did to get there.  It’s quite a tight drive down the road.  However the scenery is lovely and I guess that’s why the Brontes were inspired by the landscape.

This time I’d learnt not to park at the railway station as there’s a steep hill to hike up to the town centre.  Instead we parked on Rawdon Road (B6142) that had some free parking.  Although I do have a public service announcement to make: if you have dodgy knees or are a wheelchair user, Haworth town centre is scarily steep.
Main Street is where you will find all the shops.  The street is packed with characterful buildings and has cobbled streets.  This place really works its Bronte connection and the Bronte’s Dad Apothecary is now a gift shop.  It looked great with the old signage and the vintage advertisements for Coleman’s Mustard and Lyons Tea.  The first time we came there was a really fat cat flaked out by the window, however this time we couldn’t find it. 
 
Howarth is a good place to do your gift shopping: antique, vintage, crafts, books, collectables, farm foods, alternative and witchy.  You can also eat well with lots of little cafes, a fish and chip shop and pub grub.  We bought a nice rocky road from a local bakery.
I loved the sign of the alternative witchy supplies shop called ‘Spooks’.  So simple, but said it all.  I’m a fan of Venables and Bainbridge Book shop which is packed full of second hand books.  Neil managed to find an old NME annual.  Yorkshire Relics is good for collectables.  However they do know their stuff and you won’t find a bargain, but you might find what you are looking for.  There was a woman who kept pestering the guy who ran the shop about how he knew about the stuff he sold.  I just wanted to butt in and say ‘experience’.  
 
As it was Halloween time it was fun to see Haworth gets into the spirit of things.  There was a stilt walker dressed as if she was riding a dragon.  Some of the houses had Halloween decorations and the shops were decked out with pumpkins and scary stuff.  Ye Sleeping House B&B looked spectacular decked out as a house of horrors.
There is only one charity shop in town – Sue Ryder.  It’s just out of the town centre on the road down to the station.  It’s worth a visit as not only are the staff very friendly, but upstairs they have a nice vintage section.  Although be careful when you go up and down the stairs, if you’re tall you can easily hit your head as Neil did.
Behind Main Street there are allotments perched on the side of the hill, which was surprising to find.  There were lots of dogs in the town too and we had a stroke of a placid Golden Retriever.  Although I did spot a little blond girl dressed head to foot in peach – peach furry coat, peach tutu, peach shoes.  To top it all she was called Kylie – who in this day and age calls a kid Kylie?  Clearly someone who likes dressing a child head to toe in peach as a three year old version of Sarah Jessica Parker.
 
Just as we were going back to the car we spotted a black cat acting slightly strangely. It appeared to be on a mission or it was full moon.  On a whim we decided to follow it.  It stopped on a side street, but it wasn’t interested in being stroked.  Then out of nowhere a big black and brown furry cat came up to us.  It was so friendly and we had a stroke.  Then without warning it bitch slapped my hand.  I was quite shocked as it didn’t growl at me or give any signs of irritation.  The cats then wandered off together to a local cottage.  I did get some video footage of these cats – follow this link to You Tube.  They were cute though.
I really like Haworth and would happily spend a weekend here, either in a B&B or rented cottage.  It would certainly make the journey worthwhile as it’s such a nightmare of a drive. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Kirkby Lonsdale

I’ve been meaning to go to Kirkby Lonsdale for some time.  It’s in Cumbria and borders both Lancashire and North Yorkshire.  Handily it’s just a few miles from junction 36 on the M6.  I’ve been recommended this place by colleagues and since it was on our way home from our weekend in the Lakes I thought we should pop along.

We parked on the edge of the town in a one hour parking zone, so our trip was going to be brief.  I really didn’t know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s a picture postcard English town built from Lakeland Stone with tea rooms, gift shops, restaurants, pubs and an art gallery. 
Kirkby Lonsdale is very much geared up for the tourist market.  The town was covered in hanging baskets and flags – both St George’s flags and the Union Jack.  If I was to give a guess there must be some military link to the town especially as they have an army surplus store called GR & RD Taylors.

In the heart of the town square is a pretty crown like, stone seating area, with a parking area around it.  There are stone terraced cottages around this little square.  I can imagine quite a few of them are either rental cottages or weekend bolt holes for city dwellers in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds.
 
We tried to get an ice cream in the local Italian style coffee-cum-ice cream shop called Miaitalia.  However as it was a Sunday, the sole shop assistant was rushed off her feet with customers.  So instead we ended up having an ice cream from the local café in the town square, which was nice. 

There were plenty of dog walkers parading their pampered pooches through the town.  It seemed to be a well-to-do place where the locals take great care of the town to make a good impression.
On the edge of the town there was St Mary’s church which dates from the Norman times.  It’s very lovely and so in keeping with the fairy tale view of Britain.  The River Lune is beyond, but as time was ticking away and we didn’t get that far.

As we were only limited to an hour, it was only a cursory visit to the town.  Sadly we missed Ruskin’s View, which apparently is the loveliest view in England.  I wouldn’t mind spending a weekend in the town as the restaurants looked nice, although my friend who recently spent a weekend there said it was rather a quiet place in the evenings.  Regardless, this place bears a repeat visit, especially as it’s only seven miles from the lovely Ingleton – one of my favourite places just over the border in North Yorkshire.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Keswick

We’ve travelled to Keswick before as it’s a good place to go in the Lake District.  This is the main market town for the northern Lakes so you find lots of locals shopping for supplies as well as tourists. 

We parked in the Pencil Museum car park as the usual car park was closed for a conference.  I did think the cost of parking was overpriced, but with the level of traffic you get in Keswick on a Saturday you have to take a parking spot where you find it.

It was mad busy that day and the market was on too.  It was so difficult to pick our way through the crowds and the market stalls.  It was hard to tell whether the market was good or not with the throng.  Although standing above this melee was the Moot Hall, which is the home of the Tourist Information centre.  It’s also hired out over the year by a variety of people selling gifts and art works, so you never know what you will find there.
 Keswick is a great place for that member of the family who prefers a bit of retail therapy.  Honestly there is something for everybody here.  It’s a good mix of quality and regular high street shops.  There is a rather good antiques shop to browse around and also plenty of charity shops. 

One thing I always forget about when coming here is that Derwent Water is on the edge of the town centre.  It is an absolutely lovely lake and I much prefer it to Windermere.  Why?  I just think it’s prettier and it doesn’t seem to have the level of water traffic cluttering up the lake like Windermere.  Definitely make a point of visiting the lake, although this trip we were flagging as this had been our fourth town in one day.
Don’t do what we did and leave Keswick at 5pm as all the daytrippers and locals were heading home too.  We got stuck for ages in traffic after getting lost and there doesn’t seem to be a sneaky back route to escape either.
I’d love to come back here for a weekend, not only is it a pretty place, but there are lots of things to do in the evening with pubs and restaurants.  In addition, for those who like culture, there is Theatre by the Lake that regularly put on shows.  Keswick has a lot to offer for the day tripper and the weekend breaker – I’ll certainly be back here again.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Cockermouth

Having learnt our lesson to take in more towns on our journey, we made a detour on the way to Keswick from Whitehaven and ended up in in the delightful Cockermouth. 

Parking in Cockermouth is a bit of a pain.  Although cars can park on the main street, you need a special residents pass to park.  So we ended up having to park in a nearby pay-and-display car park on the edge of the town.
Cockermouth is absolutely lovely and was a genuine surprise after Whitehaven.  It’s a well-to-do place with lots of nice independent shops and restaurants.  It looks as if there has been some regeneration work in the town with new pavements and street furniture.  This care and attention to the town really makes a difference and as a result gives the town an air of calmness which is soothing.  I have a real problem with visual clutter in towns, by which I mean where signs, street furniture and bollards are placed haphazardly in a town without thought to the visual aesthetic of the place.  Looking back at my pictures from Cockermouth I realise why I found this place soothing – it’s really well tended.  The street furniture is consistent, neat and well designed; the signs and bollards match; the streets are tree lined and looked after; there are hanging baskets and floral displays; and the buildings are neat and painted in heritage colours.  It’s clear the locals take great care and attention in this place and Cockermouth shines for this fact.
The thing I loved about Cockermouth was the antique shops.  There were several and I really enjoyed having a good old browse.  Neil found one shop with lots of heavy metal records, but we really need access to a computer to check whether or not they were collectables.  Unfortunately the signal for our smartphones was pants and it was nigh on impossible to check.  So we sadly had to leave them there for another collector to find.  They probably weren’t worth anything though.
There were quite a few charity shops too.  The stuff they stocked was okay and Neil found an album in Oxfam at a reasonable place and the shop assistant was quite keen to talk to him.  Neil eventually managed to tear himself away. 
Although the one thing that caught my eye which didn’t look particularly good was the poster for the appallingly titled ‘Cock Rock ’.  I have to say the line-up was really random and certainly didn’t meet the standard of a rock festival – Tinchy Stryder, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Goldie Lookin’ Chain.  The closest band to the definition of rock was the Buzzcocks and they were originally a punk band.   Although it was only £60 for camping tickets and it did have a reggae tent and healing area.  I guess this was a very low rent version of Glastonbury for Cumbria.
Whilst we didn’t get much chance to explore the town as we were restricted with the parking, I’d love to come back here.  Cockermouth itself is technically not in the Lake District and it’s not the easiest place to get to as it’s miles away from the M6, however this place has a great vibe.  So to make the journey worthwhile I’d definitely want to spend a weekend at a local B&B or even rent a cottage for a week as it seems such a chilled and nice place to visit.  

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Cheshire Set - Barrel Hopping Travel Article Competition

Just to let you know I've entered the Barrel Hopping travel article competition.  My travel article is called The Cheshire Set and funnily enough it's about my travels in Cheshire.  If you could spare a moment and a couple of mouse clicks and vote, retweet, Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest.  Here is the link to The Cheshire Set - http://barrelhopping.com/england-cheshire-northern-towns/.  The voting button is a little gold star at the bottom of the article - please click.

Thank you kindly for your help!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Whitehaven

I should have really checked the distances and times properly before driving up to Whitehaven from Grange-Over-Sands. We should have really stopped off at a couple of places on the journey up. I should have really tried harder to over take the Danish car in front of me which was going terminally slow.  Then again it is hard to find a place on the A595 to overtake with all the twists and turns on the road. I practically punched the air when they finally turned off at St Bees. Then again we should have turned off there too as St Bees is supposed to be a lovely place.  On the plus side of the one and a half hour journey it was a pretty drive.  The A595 harks back to 60s and it's scenery you'd find in an episode of "Heartbeat".  The weather was also good with pretty blue skies.  At Egremont I did find the cheapest petrol in Cumbria,  Although passing by Sellafield was a bit spooky for obvious reasons.

Whitehaven is a harbour town on the Cumbrian coast.  Technically it isn't a part of the Lake District although it's not too far from Ennerdale Water.  Whitehaven has a compact town centre that is part pedestrianised. The buildings reminded me of the old buildings in Dublin close to the River Liffey, with their rendered frontages painted in various colours. If it hadn't been a bright and sunny day I think Whitehaven could have been a bit depressing.  It has a down-at-heel edge despite the obvious regeneration monies being pumped into tarting up the town.

We parked on the edge of the town centre near the Leisure Centre in the pay and display car park. It was a short walk into the centre where we found a mix of local shops from a tattoo parlour to cafes and little gift shops. There was an outdoor market too, but is wasn’t particularly inspiring as it was full of the usual cheap tat.

The charity shops weren't very exciting to be honest with you. Although that day they weren't particularly busy as the elusive summer sun drew people outside to the pubs and BBQs.

Whitehaven is a down-to-earth town with some chav type elements. One man with his chest puffed out was walking a staffy type dog.  The dog was showing its dominance by barking at all the other dogs.  One brave street artist asked whether the chap wanted a portrait of his dog, but the dog owner declined.  For some bizarre reason I had an image in my head of him and the dog looking rather proud from an oil painting over his mantelpiece.  Although in reality the spot above the mantelpiece would be pride of place for the 50 inch plasma telly.

The harbour was lovely and it should be with the amount of regeneration money that had clearly been pumped into the town. There were banners along the harbour front indicating the Olympic torch had been along here. There were plenty of seagulls making a nuisance of themselves. One psychopathic seagull was terrorizing all the other birds.  Another regurgitated its food to share with another seagull and then ate it again. They are so disgusting and this did nothing to quell my seagull phobia.

We did notice a pub called the Vagabond with a painted sign of the cover of Bob Dylan’s "Nashville Skyline" album. I bet this place did some live music, although I did think Whitehaven could be a hairy night out at times.

If it weren't for the sunshine I don’t think this would have been such a nice place to visit. Definitely take in a few towns on the way there to break up the monotony of the journey. I'm still kicking myself we didn't visit St Bees, which is the beginning of the coast-to-coast walk.  My friend spent her honeymoon walking the coast-to-coast raising lots of money for Christie's Hospital and the Bolton's Women's Refuge in Bolton.  Her fine, if not barking mad, efforts were justifiably splashed over the local press, although she did draw the line at Granada Reports filming her wedding.

It's worth visiting Whitehaven, but make sure you visit a few other towns to break up the journey, although Sellafield doesn't quite float my boat.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Todmorden

Todmorden is nestled in the Pennines on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire.  Over the years it has been in both these counties at some point.  After the last boundary change Todmorden is now in West Yorkshire under Calderdale Council. 

Over the years I’ve been known to pop by Todmorden when in the neighbourhood.  I have had ambivalent feelings towards it, but finally I’ve begun to warm to the place.  Its neighbouring town is the rather quaint and middle-class Hebden Bridge.  The gentrification effect of Hebden Bridge has begun to make inroads into Todmorden and it has begun to polish up its act.  Whilst it doesn’t have the quaint prettiness of Hebden Bridge, it has an eccentric element to it which may explain why the locals nickname it ‘Oddmorden.’ 

One thing which is distinct about the town is the large railway bridge that cuts through the town. Apparently it used to have lots of railway stations around the town as it was a hub for a few railway lines. The town itself is built from the local stone, so it has that Pennine town character which is distinctive.

Todmorden has a market which is both indoor and outdoor.  If you have read previous blog entries, you may know I have ambivalent feelings towards markets.  This one is a nice mix between the cheap tat, interesting vintage, alternative and farmers market style.  The indoor market is nice; whilst it’s not huge it has a good mix of stalls.  As you enter the market there is a smart looking coffee stall selling proper coffee and also a little florist too.  There was a wool stall where I managed to pick up some cheap wool for my epic knitting project.  Outside amongst the cheap tat stalls you can find some nice homemade cakes, weirdy beardy mystical stuff and craft stalls.  A rather bizarre sight was of a toy Collie dog tied to the railing advertising dog beds for £2.99. Top marks to Todmorden for this market.
Clearly as Hebden Bridge is the nice shiny, high achieving and middle class cousin to Todmorden’s slightly scally, working class roots, the town has bucked up its ideas.  There was a little cobbled street in Todmorden which now possesses an art gallery, nice gift shops and Thai restaurant-cum-pub.  We also found an antique shop round the corner that had a mad, mounted badger head.  I dare not think whether it was real or not – as you can see it was truly scary.

Next to the antique shop is the Bear Café, a nice vegetarian café that also doubles as a whole food and health shop with lots of natural lotions and potions.  I managed to get some tea tree oil and Dead Sea mud stuff for my troublesome scalp.  The frontage to the shop was lovely with its double fronted Victorian windows and restored original sign above the shop. 

There are a few charity shops in the town and whilst there is nothing wildly exciting to report it’s nice to have a potter round them.  If you are into vintage you’re bound to find something to catch your eye.

Oddly enough the local off-licence does some nice wine.  I always remember we picked up a good bottle of wine called Giddy Goose Sauvignon Blanc from here years ago.

On previous visits we have found quite a good second hand bookshop on the edge of town.  You can’t miss it as it has that old style transparent yellow blind which is to stop the stock fading in the sun.  I hope it’s still there.
On the outskirts of the town, up a little road and on the side of the hill is the Top Brink pub.  It has been going for years and seemed to do well.  We’ve eaten there a couple of times and it does nice food – not quite your gastropub stuff just well-made food without the fuss.  It’s a lovely pub in the middle of nowhere with fab views of the Pennine Hills and sheep.

Whilst Todmorden is not as slick and smart as nearby Hebden Bridge, it has bags of character with lots to interest visitors.  There is a micro-brewery and art gallery called Bare Arts - I love the odd fusion of beer and art.  The fact it has been going 12 years shows there must be something in it. The town also has its own community theatre called the Todmorden Hippodrome, which holds regular amateur shows and has a youth theatre.  Once you get under the surface of a town you find these little gems that makes the place vibrant.  I’ve definitely warmed to this little town, although it was a shame the weather was so dull the day we went.  So when you’re next passing through Todmorden on your way to Hebden Bridge, take a pit stop here and have a wander – it’s definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Kidderminster

I took the A451 from Stourbridge to Kidderminister, which was a lovely leafy road through the countryside.  I managed to hit three counties on that road: Staffordshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands.  It’s a beautiful run with a few pubs en route offering lunches.  The roadside borders were alive with elderflowers and poppies punctuating the hedgerows.  It was a perfect example of the English countryside.

Somehow I managed to take the wrong turning and ended up in Wolverley.  So a quick spin round on a roundabout and I was back on the right route.
I don’t know what I was expecting from Kidderminster, but it wasn’t this.  The name Kidderminster sounds quite affluent and leafy, but in reality it wasn’t a well-to-do place.  On the route into the town centre there was a really scruffy row of shops with dodgy looking shops.  One shop was called Amsterdamned – I can only assume it was a hydroponics shop.

I parked at the Swan Shopping centre.  Again, like Stourbridge, it was one of those awful 70s built concrete precincts and as ever was fairly uninspiring.  The main shopping streets were pedestrianised and there was an outdoor market selling cheap tat.  I did notice there were hi-vis tabards available for kids with phrases like ‘Daddy’s Little Helper’ in both yellow and vivid pink.  

There was a poster promoting a John Denver tribute act due to play in the town.  I’m curious to find out why would anyone want to be a John Denver tribute act and also why would then would they play Kidderminister of all places?  Then again the legendary Robert Plant comes from Kidderminister, so it's probably not that odd.  The musical life of a town can be rather bizarre at times. 

Looking up you could see how the old original buildings were incorporated into the new featureless buildings.  I assume that was something the town planners insisted upon when the precinct was being built.  That said the town hall did look nice and historic. 
There was a big retail park to the rear of the main pedestrianised shopping area – M&S, Next, DW Sports shop and fitness and Debenhams.  I found myself in Debenhams browsing the racks and bought myself a top to go with my brown boots.  It was quite odd not having Neil with me.  I’m so used to him looking bored and posting on Facebook whilst I’m shopping.  In Holland and Barratt I saw a distressing sight of a fat bloke in a vest – it was not a good look unless you are David Beckham.

I grabbed a bite to eat in Frankie and Benny’s as I was starving and needed something to cheer myself up as it was turning into a depressing visit.  Although I think the staff weren’t used to people eating alone.  That’s something I find annoying in restaurants as they are not geared up for solo diners - it’s as if I had leprosy or something. 

Charity shops were plentiful in this town.  One old lady in a charity shop had clearly made the effort in her appearance to go out shopping, which was nice to see.  I’m still kicking myself as I did not buy a pair of bright yellow, glass vases I spotted in one charity shop.  If they had been cheaper I would have definitely bought them.
 
Time was running out on my car park ticket and I was quite glad to go.  Kidderminster was a non-descript town and any heritage the town had was subsumed into a red brick precinct hell.  The place was definitely more chavvy than Stourbridge.  I can hazard a guess local people tend to head to nearby Birmingham on a Saturday afternoon rather than spend time shopping here.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Stourbridge


Neil was going to the annual Kaleidoscope meet up in Stourbridge and I didn't want a repeat of last year.  He managed to get on the wrong train home and ended up going south instead of north.  Only by the miracle of Blackberry, when I was at my friend’s fortieth birthday party, I got him on the right train home.  This time I was driving, so if we got lost, we’d be lost together.

Before the journey had started I was having problems with Google maps and iPhone maps as they were giving me some torturous route through Wolverhampton centre.  “Sod that” I thought as it was a sure fire way of getting lost.  I wanted lots of motorway with minimal A routes.  Indeed I found a route that was five miles longer, but five minutes shorter with little chance of getting lost – perfect!

Anyway M60, M62, M6 (a road I have always called the work of the devil and which most people would agree with), M5, Junction 3, A456 and A491.  Apart from the variable speed limit on the M6 (shakes fist at the devil) and some road works on the A491 we got there in a little over 2 hours.

We parked in the Ryemarket multi storey car park.  It was one of those grim 70s concrete hells with the most awkward supporting pillars that makes it difficult to open car doors.  A lovely old lady gave us her pay and display ticket for us to use - what a great start to our trip!




We found the Talbot Hotel in the heart of Stourbridge and I bade farewell to Neil.  I wasn't fussed about spending seven hours watching old telly clips and rare Top of the Pops shows as I had plans – there were two towns to visit.  The first being Stourbridge and the other being Kidderminster.  Not exactly Northern towns, but I can encroach into the Midlands from time to time.

Stourbridge town centre is surrounded by a ring road; you could say it’s a modern day moat cutting the town centre off from the rest of the town.  Later that day I was seriously cheesed off by that ring road as it was difficult to find the right turn off for the car park when I returned from Kidderminster.  It can really do your head in trying to remember which lane to keep in for the turn off.

Back to Stourbridge – admittedly it wasn't the most exciting town in the world.  There was a 70s precinct hell in the shape of the Ryemarket.  It had a mouse mascot called Ryely, which in truth looked a bit scary.  The public toilets were clean and well maintained, although they had the weakest hand dryers known to man.  There was a Waitrose which is my barometer of affluence, but I didn't see much signs of it in the town.
 
The high street had the most proliferation of shops.  There were lots of charity shops and I popped into a couple.  I noticed wool seemed to be a popular donation in this town.  Although without Neil to check out the records I can’t say whether the shops were good, bad or indifferent on the musical front.




I did try to find somewhere to eat, but there wasn't an amazing selection.  I did eventually have a coffee in Costa on my return from Kidderminster and I managed to confuse the staff with my drinks order – soya, decaf, cinnamon latte.  Poncey I know, but that’s how I like it.  I did notice a bookshop not only doubled as a coffee shop, but also offered a counselling centre and pregnancy support service.  I know bookshops are struggling and need to diversify, but this goes to another level of multi-tasking.  Admittedly I do think it’s a brilliant idea and if this manages to keep the bookshop open good on them.

It’s a down to earth town that’s a bit chavvy in parts.  I did notice one strange, old lady with white hair styled with tight curled hair to the front with long, straight hair at the back.  It was quite a bizarre look and she looked fierce.  It was as if she found a style she liked in the 60s and is resolutely sticking with it.

The buildings were a mish-mash of styles, era and sizes, all of which were tightly packed together to make up the streets.  There was a little arcade which ran between a couple of streets with a charity shop, café and spiritual centre, which was nice.  Although there was the saddest looking market called Smithfield Market tucked away on a side street.  Only a handful of purpose built stalls were open selling handmade jewellery, cards and reading glasses.  How they could make ends meet I’ll never know.  

Stourbridge is really missing a proper shopping experience as you would be hard pressed to do all your Christmas shopping here.  Although I did notice on my many circles of the ring road there was a rather large building site and I'm hoping this is a new shopping centre as Stourbridge does need some retail revitalisation.

Finally 7pm came and I retrieved Neil from the Talbot hotel.  He had a great day watching old Top of the Pops episodes and chatting to his friends, whilst annoying the other people at the event with their animated banter.  I too had an interesting time doing solo town visits; however I did miss having Neil on my travels as you need to share this sort of thing with another person.  Next year I think Neil will be risking the railway to get to Stourbridge and now at least he has his own Blackberry to find his way home.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sheffield


Wow! Such a blast from the past - from 1990 to 1992 I spent two fantastic years here. It was a roller coaster ride and I had a memorable time here: City Road, Tavistock Road, the Leadmill, Cario Jaks, Nelson Mandela Building, the Yorkshire Grey, The Crucible bar, The Porter Cottage, the Nursery Tavern, the Frog and Parrot, The Damned, stupidly missing out on seeing Pulp and Blur, The Stag, the Howard Hotel, Sheffield City Poly Drama Society, Abbeydale Road, Sheffield Library and fines, Ecclesall Road, The Moor, Endcliffe Park, Boddington the Hamster and the list goes on.

I studied at the Poly doing a Public Administration degree, but got sidetracked by the Drama Society and eventually dropped out of Poly.  No regrets, apart from not transferring to the History of Art, Design and Film course. Twice I ended up in casualty: nearly breaking an ankle in a nightclub and as a result ended up on a drugs trial - pharmaceutical not judicial; and then chinning it down a dry ski slope almost breaking a finger and giving myself concussion. The people were fantastic too: Rachel, Mark, Jack, Pip, Charlie, Andy, Sati, Jon, Rachel, Matt, Alison, Jack, Mark... and my constant touchstone and bestest mate Shaun.

I've been back a few times since for business, a wedding and the occasional nostalgia trip, but the lure of Sheffield is strong and emotional. I could do a bio entry but... to be awkward I'll leave it at that apart from my last day living in Sheffield. I went to have a wander around Endcliffe Park and heard two singer / guitarists sing 'Here comes the Sun'. This has become my theme song for Sheffield and every time I hear it I'm back here in my mind. The stories I could tell, but however tantalising the teasers are I won't - the best of times and not the best of times too, but a fantastic experience all the same.

So in 2012, 20 years later, I find myself back in Sheffield. Sheffield has absolutely transformed over those 20 years and I’m thrilled to say, on the whole, for the better.

Our first port of call was Nether Edge.  As we were coming from Bakewell, we drove through Totley and down Abbeydale Road. I had forgotten how green and lovely the road was, that was until we hit Nether Edge. I swear from my memory Nether Edge was never that scruffy, but time can put a rose tinted view on the past. Obviously I had to do a detour to check out the house I used to live in. Nothing much had changed apart from some double glazing, a sky dish and some wheelie bins. It was probably still a student house and I have fond memories of my attic bedroom.  Although I did accidentally set fire to it, but it’s amazing what a sample pot of paint can hide.

Next on the road trip was Hunters Bar and I had the bright idea of cutting across town using the side roads. Mistake! Since the early 1990s road humps have spread across the country like a lumpy rash and Sheffield hadn't escaped.  So my poor car had to navigate the endless humps littering the tree-lined streets. It didn't help either that over 20 years had passed and my knowledge of the Sheffield back street had completely escaped my brain. Eventually I finally found the turning onto Sharrow Vale Road and parked outside Porter Book Shop.

Sharrow Vale Road reminds me of Chorlton with its quirky shops, fancy eateries and well-meaning fair trade shops. I was really delighted to see the Porter Book Shop.  Back in the day it had been my favourite shop on the road and I'd often spent plenty of time browsing the plays and classics. So obviously I had a quick browse and nothing much had changed – it was still flogging classics and second-hand text books to students.

Further down the street I recognised the post office, the local chippy and the Porter Cottage pub. It was such a bright and sunny day it brought back such fond memories especially of nearby Endcliffe Park. By the junction I found a wool shop - woo!  So Neil adopted his usual position - waiting outside of the shop posting stuff on Facebook, whilst I tried to find the elusive Sirdar Indie wool. Sadly they didn't stock it, but the staff were far nicer in telling me.

As I recollected from previous visits Eccleshall Road was a good hunting ground for charity shops - so Neil was pleased. As we weaved down the road we spotted some other people doing the charity shop rounds. Thankfully they weren't looking for records, otherwise that can cause a log jam whilst browsing the records. There was one charity shop called the Big Green Bag that stuck in my mind.  It was really well laid out in a vintage shop style.  I have found that some charity shops have now adopted this look and I think this helps them to sell the stock more effectively as it doesn't look like a jumble sale.

The vibe of Eccleshall Road really reminded me of Fallowfield, with every other shop a bar or a restaurant with student offers. As you would expect over 20 years much had changed in terms of shops, however the student population remains despite their transient nature.  Students bring an energy which makes Hunters Bar a bright and vibrant place in the term time. 

Sadly as time was pressing, we didn’t make it to one of my favourite places Endcliffe.  Such a shame, but damn the parking meters on Sharrow Vale Road.
 
Final stop of the day was Sheffield town centre.  We parked on the edge of town and walked into town through Atkinson's department store onto Sheffield Moor shopping area.  I used to work at the Boots the Chemist along here and sure enough it was still there.  Though though shops had come and gone the 60s precinct remains looking worn and tired.  However further up the road things had seriously changed.

Sheffield has undergone a massive transformation over the years.  The railway station has been renovated and now opens up onto a modern steel and water sculpture.  Up the hill, opposite the Library, the wonderful Winter Gardens has been built and now houses an art gallery and cafe.  The Crucible and the square outside has been revitalised.  The Peace Gardens by the Town Hall has been opened out and remodelled.  As it was a sunny day, the Yorkshire folk were taking full advantage by sitting in the gardens eating their lunch.  By Sheffield City Hall John Lewis had opened and I made one last ditch attempt at wool shopping in their haberdashery section.  Joy of joys, they stocked Sirdar Indie wool and had the shade I wanted, which miraculously was from the same batch.  It has to be said, simple things like wool give me pleasure.


We then wandered down Division Street.  This is one of my favourite streets in Sheffield as it’s a sort of indie street, with independent stores and boutiques, bars and pubs, second-hand shops, cafes and the odd charity shop.  Neil managed to find a vinyl My Bloody Valentine LP, which was an excellent find.  I guess you could say this street is a bit like the Northern Quarter in Manchester, thankfully without the drugged up scallies.  At the end of the street was Devonshire Green, a newly built park, which was full of students and workers sunbathing.

Our time in Sheffield was up - damn those parking meters.  We didn’t get chance to explore the city thoroughly, but what we did see was lovely.  The town planners had done a good job transforming the city over the past 20 year.  Normally I usually ask ‘what were they thinking of?’  However the Sheffield I remember 20 years ago had been haunted by some seriously bad 60s architecture.  Time and tons of regeneration money has been well spent. 

If I was a student today I would be so excited about studying in Sheffield now.  Sheffield Poly is now Sheffiled Hallam Universtiy and it has worked hard to shift the shadow of being a former Poly.  It's now a well-regarded University and I think it's wonderful they have an Andrew Motion poem on the side of a building you can see when you leave the railway station.  The old Nelson Mandala student union is now located in what used to be the Museum of Popular Music.  This is on the doorstep of an independent cinema and arts centre.  The great thing about Sheffield is the fact it has a village feel and has extensive greenery you don’t find in the likes of Manchester.  The one thing about Sheffield I don’t miss are the hills - some are like cliff faces and are completely evil to walk up!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Matlock

Matlock is only a 15 minute drive from Bakewell. I really didn’t know much about the place apart from it being a former spa town and I have a fondness for spa towns – so I was hopeful this would be a good place to visit.


We managed to get parked up at the pay and display car park at the Coop, which was above a small market.

Matlock is a pretty town and someone we knew said it looks a bit like Switzerland in parts. I’m not too sure about that myself, but it was a rather hilly town. There was a rather imposing house on the top of the hill overlooking the town – there must be rather fab views to behold up there.

There are plenty of shops to browse round in Matlock. I liked the old-school art supply/stationary shop with its vintage double fronted glass windows.  You still can get Basildon Bond paper in there, which was the writing paper of choice in my day.

I do like a good wool shop much to Neil’s annoyance. Lately I’ve been on a mission to find a teal/purple shade of Sirdar Indie wool. So I was overjoyed to find a wool shop in Matlock. When I asked the assistant in the shop if they stocked it, they were rather disdainful and almost rude in their response of ‘No’. I felt as if I had been a chav asking for the Daily Sport in some really posh newsagent. Is Sirdar Indie Wool the chav of the wool world? I really love its chunky, bold colour, wooliness.

I needed some cheering up at that point and thankfully found a nice, twee craft gift shop. Staff were much nicer in there and the shop gave me some great ideas for craft projects. I’m now half way through making a fabric message board.

You can’t get away from the fact there are plenty of antique shops in the town. On the south side of the river there was a street full of them. I could have spent hours there as well as a fortune. The Matlock Antiques and collectables was the best. There were just rooms after rooms of stock. If I recollect correctly there was also a little café in the back of the shop. Neil managed to drag me out of the shop without me doing major damage to my bank balance.


The charity shops were okay. With so many antique shops in the town I reckon they regularly trawl the charity shops for the decent stuff, so it would be hard to pick up a treasure here. I did have to stop Neil from buying a short wave radio though. At home we are overrun by radios and a quick tally in my head reckons we have a minimum of 9, although I’m sure we are in double figures.

I did overhear an old lady with a London accent saying to the shop assistant in a charity shop about how lovely the people are in Matlock and how she liked living there. Although in the next breath she did mention there was a local drug problem in the town. She would report her neighbours to the police, but was worried they would kill her cat if she did!

The two distinctive things I noticed about Matlock were that as that the Derwent river splits the town into two, which reminded me of Whitby, but on a smaller scale version. The other thing was Hall Ley Park by the banks of the Derwent. You rarely get a park slap bang in the middle of a town and this park was not your traditional English park. It was quite like the parks you find in the heart of Paris, with clay footpaths and lots of outdoor activity areas. I loved the fact it had a skate park for the young people and these are the best ways to engage this age group in positive activities. Councils are often not keen on these with the problems you can get with the skating sub culture. Although as long as you site them correctly and effectively monitor them they are great. Can you tell I’ve worked in regeneration? Anyhow skate parks are ace!

Matlock is a lovely little town with its quirks and cuteness, although it has suffered a little with the recession.  You can’t keep a good town for long and this is a good town so it’s well worth a visit.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Bakewell

Bakewell was the base for our mini break. I’d been to Bakewell years ago on a random drive with my mates from Sheffield. On that trip I discovered I didn’t like Bakewell tarts, but I don’t hold that against the town as it's a very nice place.

We found a nice place online called Bagshaw Hall which had Sleep Lodges. Our room was in the Sleep Lodges and whilst the name ‘Sleep Lodges’ doesn’t sound promising the room was lovely. All the rooms in the Sleep Lodge had names and we were in the Ray Mears Room. The room had a fab view of the countryside and wasn’t overlooked. The rooms were tastefully decorated with a kitchenette area with table and chairs. I really like the kitchenette idea as you can make small meals instead of having to eat out all the time. I wish more places did this and it did make up for the fact they didn’t offer breakfasts. The bathroom was nice with a full size bath, with heated towel rail. All in all it was a nice, clean and comfortable room with the benefit of off road parking. The only thing which I wasn’t keen on was the fact the place didn’t have a proper reception area. We had to call a mobile number and then they appeared with the keys to the room.

The walk from the accommodation to the town centre was down a very steep hill, however the views were lovely. We did find a lovely ginger and white cat nearby which took residence on a vintage red Audi.
Bakewell is a rather dinky, twee and very lovely town where most buildings are built from the local stone. The town planners clearly want to conserve the heritage of the town and the new build flats were made to blend into the existing buildings. I really like this attitude as too often I’ve seen some planning disasters where inappropriate new builds can really spoil a place.

I really like the fact it has a river running through it and could have spent hours watching the birds and the fish. On the bridges you could see the trout in the water trying to keep still against the flow of the river. The ducks and the coots were rather entertaining as they were having battles with the ravens. The ducks were very used to humans and often you could find them wandering in the town – we found some nesting on top of a wall.
Monday is one of the best days to go to Bakewell as they have the Monday Market. We felt we were some of the youngest people there by at least 20 years – it was a pensioner’s paradise that day. Cafes were doing pensioner specials, charity shops were brimming with them and often they had a little dog in tow – normally an elderly terrier. There is also a farmers market too on the other side of the river next to the campsite.

The shops in Bakewell cater well for the tourist. There are plenty of cafes and pubs doing food. The jewellery shop did jewel encrusted dog collars and there was even a needlepoint shop with needlework pictures of Will and Kate. It’s worth exploring the side streets for some unexpected gem of a shop. The bookshop was very friendly and it’s worth having a look at what’s happening in the town hall. On the Sunday we found a record fair and Neil found some reasonably priced 60s singles in nice condition.

On the outskirts of the town there’s a small retail park with discount, craft and food shops. Again it was packed full of pensioners. I really liked the craft/food shop in the centre of the retail park and the ducks were sat outside soaking in the sunshine. I haven’t seen as many tame ducks since the ones in Holmfirth.

As we were there for two nights we had a chance to explore the town’s night life. Sunday night was dead and Monday was a little bit better. We ate at the Peacock pub on the first night as recommended by the Sleep Lodge owners and the food was good. The pub had a juke box so that kept Neil entertained for some time. On the Monday we went for fish and chips in the restaurant side of a chippy. We weren’t that impressed with the place as the chips were not good, although the lemon sole I had was nice. The Rutland Hotel had a public bar, but it was empty apart from us. The Red Lion had an annoying barman, so we only had a quick drink there. We also found that the Queens Arms and the Wheatsheaf did Desperados beer – last year we discovered its delights in Paris and it always reminds me of our trip. We stumbled on the Castle Inn on the Monday night and we were kicking ourselves as we should have found it sooner as it had a quiz machine. It kept us amused, although more amusing was a mad woman who came into the bar with her ghetto blaster playing 70s music. She seemed to be well known to the bar staff and seems to be a bit of a ‘character’ i.e. barking mad.

On the last day we had breakfast at the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop. Whilst I had a lovely bacon butty, Neil had a bakewell pudding. Bakewell pudding for breakfast? Well why not! However he did find it a bit too eggy for his tastes.

Bakewell is a great place to find yourself in, although if you are looking for a ‘banging’ night out I’m not sure this is the place for you – well on a Sunday and Monday nights. We were blessed with glorious weather despite the fact the days had been forecast for rain. It’s a great place to base yourself for a trip to the Peak District and I really enjoyed the mix of town and country in Bakewell. The only downside is getting to it from Manchester as the roads aren’t brilliant as those damn Pennine hills get in the way. It’s much easier to get to it from Sheffield. Bakewell is definitely a nice place to wind down on a long weekend.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Buxton


We decided to take a short break to the Peak District in Derbyshire and I had plotted a plan to take in three towns, one city and a suburb over our three day trip.  We don’t seem to go to Derbyshire at all - I don’t know why as it’s very pretty and on the door step to Manchester.  Anyway as luck would have it the weather forecasters had predicted rain, but due to the vagaries of the British weather we drove off in glorious sunshine.

Our first port of call was the spa town of Buxton.  It was our journey to Buxton that made me realise why Derbyshire is not high on the ‘Life in Northern Towns’ agenda – the journey is a pain in the proverbials. The first bit is okay picking up the M60 and then exiting at junction 27.  The pain is the A road part through Stockport– you need to find the A6 which can be tricky and once you’re on there you are basically in normal urban traffic driving at 30mph if you’re lucky and if you're unlucky stopping at every traffic lights. This was so boring!  Eventually, once you pass Hazel Grove, travelling will perk up as you can drive a bit faster and you get to see some of the lovely countryside.  At Whaley Bridge you can go two ways to Buxton – continue on the A6 or pick up the A5004.  There’s a dual carriageway on the A6 bypassing Chapel-on-le-Frith, so we took that route as I needed to get into 5th gear at some point of this journey.  There are lots of quarries in Derbyshire so you need to be aware of heavy goods traffic on some of these roads, but as it was a Sunday this wasn’t an issue for us.

Finally we got to Buxton!!! You can get a direct train from Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton and I have to say if you are only going to Buxton take it.  It does save the pain and time in driving.

We have been to Buxton a number of times over the years and I’m not overwhelmed by the place.  It's very pretty, it’s a prosperous place with lots of lovely houses, it has its own Opera House, Spa and generally rocks a genteel vibe.  That said I think the weather has a lot to do with it.  When we’ve been in the past the weather has been either dull or raining which puts a dampener on things.  This time it was bright sunshine and that made such a nice difference.

We parked near the roundabout under the huge railway bridge that dominates the town.  We found a spot immediately, however one to the parking machines wasn’t working and we lost a couple of pounds to it.  A coach driver saw our struggle and whacked the machine for us.  He helped extract a pound refund for us.  Thankfully there was another machine nearby so we could get our parking ticket.

We honestly weren’t expecting much in terms of shopping as it was a Sunday and it can be hit or miss in towns whether they are open or not.  We were in luck and most of the shops were open.  The shops in Buxton are centred around a sloping pedestrianized street, which by the looks of things had been refurbished in the past few years with lovely paving and street furniture.  As it was a Sunday the town wasn’t mad busy with shoppers but there were plenty of people about. 

The shops were fine – nothing terribly exciting.  The charity shops were fine – nothing exciting again, but items were of  good quality.  If you are a regular in Buxton you will find something interesting.  For Neil though nothing thrilling was found on the record front. 

Architecturally this place has lots of beautiful buildings to see including the Crescent, Buxton Opera House, the Devonshire Dome and the list goes on.  The town has quite a past with being a spa town destination, even the Romans set up shop here.  I noticed the town planners have been really good at not letting modern buildings being built that are out of keeping with the town’s history.  The 70s shopping precinct is well hidden behind the existing shops so it doesn't detract from the aesthetic beauty of this town. Gold star to Derbyshire town planners! 

My favourite place in Buxton is the Cavendish Shopping Centre.  If you are looking for something unusual, craft based or a nice present for someone, this is the place to go in Buxton.  I think it was a Spa in a former life and they have the original Victorian porcelain blue tiling on the walls.  I just think it’s simply lovely.


There were plenty of cafes doing good business with Sunday lunches, coffees and cakes.  We partook in some cake ourselves at Charlottes Chocolates at the Cavendish Shopping Arcade.  I had a chocolate muffin with decaf coffee and Neil had Banoffee pie with some traditional Fentimans botanical drink.  My muffin had extra choc chips that was ace and Neil’s pie was dreamy.

You do find in this place a large population of dog owners.  As befitting a country town there were plenty of sheepdogs looking glossy, intelligent and wondering where all the sheep are kept.  There were plenty of small yappy dogs too, but my heart was lost to the sheepdogs.

There is a precinct tucked away at the back of the main shops on the front.  A Waitrose supermarket could be found there which is an indicator this town has wealth – you will never find a Waitrose in scally place like Wythenshawe or Ordsall.  Anyway this precinct is really taking a hit in terms of high street recession, with probably 50% of the units remaining empty. Whilst there were the odd empty shop units on the main pedestrianized street, the precinct was taking the hit for the Buxton retail team.  Then again the precinct is one of those featureless 70s shopping hells without any natural light, so you can understand why retailers in Buxton would look at the street facing units first.  Personally I’d knock it down and start again.

The one fantastic reason to visit Buxton by car or motorcycle is to head south on the A54 and pick up the A537 to Macclesfield.  The A537 is otherwise known as the ‘Cat and Fiddle’ – one of the most dangerous roads in the UK, but one of the most exhilarating drives too.  I will one day do a separate post about this road.  It’s the type of road that demands a stiff gin and tonic when you have completed it safely.  It’s aces!!!
 
Buxton didn’t quite win me over again, but it's growing on me and definitely the weather made a difference this time.

So Buxton done we headed back on the A6 to Bakewell – our main destination for our short break – home of the Bakewell tart and pudding.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Castleford

So heading north on the A639 for three miles we got to Castleford.  The sign said it was a 'historic roman settlement' - that sounded good.

Apparently the place is known for having an indoor ski slope.  Not that we stopped as Neil is not known for his sporting inclination.  The last time I went skiing I ended up in casualty with a suspected broken finger and concussion.

It wasn't looking great on the run into Castleford.  I was thinking I should write a letter of complaint to the Yorkshire Tourist Board at this point.  We parked up in a local pay and display car park.  It still wasn't looking any better.

We headed into the town centre and all I could hear were the strains of a trumpeter playing the most mournful version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' I'd heard.  Given what I'd seen of the town so far, three click of my heels and I would happily be back in Manchester.  It's a tired town full of cheap shops that had seen better days.  Honestly Castleford is somewhere Shane Meadows could set one of his gritty dramas or a grim location for David Peace to set one of his Red Riding novels.

So the potted highlights were:
  • The local amusement arcade doubled as the local tanning salon.
  • The trumpeter looking like one of the members of Black Lace.
  • More Shetland ponies pimping themselves for charity.


The indoor market wasn't very exciting, but if I recollect correctly the cafes in there were immaculate and busy with people having tea.  

The charity shops were well used by the locals.  One lady was complaining about the Job Centre making her look for work whilst she's suffering from cancer - truly a sad state of affairs if you ask me.

The buildings indicated a prosperous years gone by with the mining, however the cheap shop fronts brings the tone down.  The Bondi Beach Bar is housed in what appeared to be an old cinema.  This town has seen better days and I'd be on the first bus out of town if I lived here.  I understand the Ski Centre is part of a bigger retail complex and no doubt this has sucked some of the energy out of the town centre.  This town centre is crying out for some investment.

The only sign of hope was the Twisted Vintage shop on the edge of town. It looked pretty from the outside, however the inside of my soul was dying and we didn't stop to explore its delights as home was calling me.

Almost suicidal we left Castleford and headed back to Manchester and I got more cramp on the roadworks.





Sunday, 13 May 2012

Pontefract

In my defence I did check on the Yorkshire tourist board website and it did say Pontefract was a place to visit, as it was a historic market town.  After the drive here I'm not too sure myself.

We took the M60 and the M62 and exited at Junction 32 to Pontefract.  At the moment (April 2012) there are evil roadworks on the M62 which go on for an eternity.  They have that awful average 50 mph speed limit with those yellow speed yellow cameras dotted along the motorway every couple of miles.  You risk getting cramp in your right leg trying to keep a constant speed.  The joy is immense when the roadworks end and you can hit the accelerator.

Before you get to Pontefract, the Ferrybridge Power Station looms large on the landscape as you drive along the M62.  Its eight cooling towers are an epic industrial sight.  As much as these things are not aesthetically pleasing, I'm always amazed at the scale and engineering of these structures.

We exited the motorway at junction 32 and we took the A639 to Pontefract.  On the right hand side of the A639 you see the immaculate Pontefract race course.  Apparently they are hosting a music festival in May with Razorlight headlining.  I think I will pass on that.

As we drove in to Pontefract the place didn't look exciting except for the black background and silver street signs, which I guess were to give the place a heritage feel despite the buildings indicating otherwise.  There were also signs saying Pontefract was a 'historic market town' and that it was the home of Haribo (Yay!).

We parked in a pay and display car park by Tesco's opposite the Haribo factory.  Through some alleyways filled with skater kids hanging out and practicing tricks we got into the town centre.  Honestly the shops were not exciting and quite a few were closed.  Although we did find a cake shop called 'Icing on the Cake'.  There was both an indoor and outdoor market, however neither of them were interesting.  They are just filled with your normal tat and cheap stuff.

We checked out the charity shops as usual, however there was nothing of interest to be purchased. The charity shops reflected the place really - uninspiring, cheap and functional.

The one thing about Pontefract that was at odds with the day-to-day experience of the place were the buildings.  There were some really interesting architecture and if you look above the shop frontages you discover the history of the town.  There was a black and white tudor style building that was under restoration.  One of the pubs had some lovely tile work outside.  Some work had been done to restore the square near the KFC.  The place did have a museum too, however I'd lost the will to live to bother looking round.  It's such a shame as this place does possess the potential to be a lovely place.

We did stop to have a bite to eat at the KFC and I overheard a woman talking to her friend complaining about being short changed in a bar the night before.  I had a inkling this town a had a very lively night life as we'd seen some scary looking bars and nightclubs:  Big Fellas and Kikos Night Clubs sprung out for us.  There was also a pub called the 'Malt Shovel' that reminded me of a pub name from Emmerdale, but the clientèle smoking outside the pub looked hard.   I told my Dad about visiting Pontefract and he had heard from his work mates this place was place had a scary nightlife and even the Wikipedia entry diplomatically says it has a 'down-to-earth' nightlife.  For me this is one place I'd be scared to go out at night as I reckon it could be too full on for a twee, indie kid like myself.

The most exciting thing we saw in Pontefract was some shetland ponies being pimped out by charity collectors to the locals for a fondle.  They were very cute, although one of the ponies was getting pissed off with a dog sniffing around.  So they gave a neigh and started scratching the ground with their hoof and the dog scooted off.

To be truthful I was losing the will to live here.  Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was because I'd been driving for over an hour or maybe it was because I was expecting something better than what we found.  Pontefract is a working class town that has seen better days.  If I had been one of those skater kids, we saw in the alleyway, I would have been on the first bus to Leeds that morning.  This is the type of town if you get the chance to go to uni you'd never come back.

Despite my plans to pick up some Haribo sweets, we headed out of  town minus sweets to Castleford - another place recommended by the Yorkshire website.


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Lytham

A few minutes down the road from St Annes is Lytham. As I mentioned previously, I'd always thought Lytham St Annes was one place, but I am sometimes stupid.  Lytham and St Annes are two towns whose boundaries have merged together over the years and the lazy geographers have now lumped the two names together to confuse people like me.

It can be quite easy to miss Lytham whilst driving as I have done that before.  This time I took no chances and even pulled in to check my GPS map on my mobile to make sure I was still heading in the right direction - thankfully I was.

Whilst there is free parking around Lytham, it was a busy day and we struggled to find a parking spot, so I  parked in the pay and display by Lytham train station.  It was £1.40 for two hours and I managed to pick up one of the pine cones littering the car park.  The pine cone is still in my car looking at me saying 'what are you going to do with me?'  I've no idea actually.  It will stay there until I get bored or it disintegrates.

Anyway Lytham was a pleasant surprise.  Whilst it's technically a seaside resort, it doesn't feel like one.  The town is set a little inland from the beach and it's quite an upmarket town.  I should have realised when driving in from St Annes it was going to be quite well-to-do.  There were some amazing seafront homes looking rather swish, well maintained and some of which were rather modern affairs saying 'I'm worth pots of money'.

To me Lytham is Victorian architecturally - by the station there were some large red brick houses looking rather lovely.  Some were private homes and some were converted offices - all had neat gardens with manicured lawns and blooming flowers.  There was a rather fine deli set  in a rather grand Victorian building with a clock tower on top by some tulip filled public garden.  Most of the shops were set along the main road, most seemed well maintained and busy.  There is definitely civic pride happening in this town.
There were plenty of charity shops in Lytham.  Some of the stuff was rather nice too - Cancer Research was a notable shop in that respect.  I bought a book in Barnardos and was impressed with some of the art work they had hanging in the shop.  It you shopped in Lytham regularly you would definitely pick up the odd gem.  I think other people had the same idea too as most of the charity shops were packed full of browsers.

You could really get fat in this town with the amount of coffee shops and restaurants vying for people's attention.  Lytham had a greater choice of eateries than St Annes.  I swear the cafe has taken over from the pub as the main choice of meeting place for people.

As for the shops there were the usual high street names, but I was pleased to see lots of boutiques and interesting shops. There was a little arcade which had a mix of the regular and off beat shops.  For the Top of the Pops fans, there was even an underwear shop was called 'Legs and Co.' There was also Stringers department store which looked far more lush and refined version of JR Taylors in St Annes.
Dogs, dogs, dogs are everywhere!  If I felt naked in St Annes without a dog, in Lytham it appeared we were breaking some kind of bylaw by not having one.  There were all kinds including Corgis, fierce dogs with their unneutred bollocks swaying in the breeze and tiny lapdogs with Paul Weller haircuts.   It was like some dog convention had hit town.  We did spot a small dog that looked like a cross between an Old English Sheep Dog and a Highland Terrier.  I don't know how that could physically happen, but it clearly did.

Neil managed to find the ice cream he was after - cookie flavour Cornetto Enigma.  He is a greedy pig at times - fish and chips, cake and ice cream.  He did admit to me later he has been on a diet plan lately which consisted of him cutting down on cakes.  I hate to say this but it worked - damn him!

Lytham was full of older, well-groomed, perfumed ladies wafting their way through the Saturday crowd of families shopping.  There is no need to bring the likes of Mary Portas into this town - the high street here is doing well thank you very much.  There was the odd empty shop front, but it won't be long before it is filled with another cafe or boutique.

Clearly Lytham is the well-to-do sister of St Annes.  But then again both of them are a cut above their chav relation of Blackpool.  For a split second I did consider we should go to Blackpool, then again why spoil a nice day.