Sunday 29 January 2012


Our final stop on our road trip was Northwich.  We have been to Northwich a few times now as it does have quite a few charity shops and can be quite good for shopping. 

Parking in Northwich is relatively straightforward as there is a large car park behind the local Magistrates Court – free too which is a bonus.  On this visit we parked in the Cooperative Supermarket car park near the centre with 3 hours free parking.  I decided to park there for a change as we always get stuck in the traffic on the A559 turning towards Manchester.

Northwich town centre doesn’t look good when passing through in a car, as the shopping centre is one of those damned featureless, concrete confections from the 70s.  Town planners from the 60s and 70s have a lot to answer for, including the pedestrian subway that tunnels underneath the centre of Northwich.  I have never liked pedestrian subways in general as they smell like toilets and are the home to muggers, skateboarding kids and graffiti artists.  I much prefer dodging the traffic than using these subterranean hell holes – I live near one myself and often cross four lanes of traffic than risk the nastiness of the subway.

You can’t escape the fact the shopping centre blights Northwich and on this visit I noticed even more of the shops had closed down in the centre.  One of these shops had been taken over by a charity shop as it is very unusual to have automatic doors on charity shops.  I have to say the doors did seem to have a mind of their own as they either didn’t open or only open enough to let a small child through.  The shop had plenty of space to display its wares too, as often charity shops are cramped and packed to the rafters like a hoarder’s paradise. 

Next to the shopping centre is a covered market.  If you have read the blog before I am not entirely impressed with markets, as I spent practically every Saturday as a child being dragged through one market or another.  However despite this being a rather traditional market I did quite like it – maybe it was because they had a book stall, a record stall (you can spend hours going through the stuff) and a handicraft stall, so it takes the chav factor down several notches.  

Once you have escaped the depressiveness of the shopping centre, there is a nice winding pedestrianised street in the heart of Northwich.  You wouldn’t guess it was there unless you either knew about it or chanced your arm going to Northwich.  The street is peppered with the odd scary looking pub, a department store, plenty of charity shops, regular high street stores and banks you would find on any British high street.  There were a few independent shops too like ‘Antz In Yer Pantz’ children’s shop, old style sweet shop and a knitting shop, which is great to see. 

The street is quite a bizarre selection of building from the modern to black and white Tudor style.  Whilst in other wealthier towns there would have been campaigns about the encroachment of these modern buildings, in Northwich it has a down-to-earth attitude towards development which I simply quite like.

The charity shops weren’t that exciting though.  Although I do quite like the St Luke's Hospice at the top end of the street with its two floors of stock as it has a nice vintage feel to the place.  Neil didn’t find anything, but I found a cheap book I was looking for.  We have found some records on previous visits though and I have a theory that more working class towns have more diverse music tastes than posh towns.  Northwich does have a musical heritage as it was once the home of Tim Burgess from The Charlatans and Steve Hewitt the drummer from Placebo, which is quite a good pedigree really.

What I did notice on this trip was the number of puppies being walked in the town - it was like a puppy school convention.  Clearly this must have been their first trip into Northwich after Christmas – they were going wild for the new found smells and the sight of other dogs.  There were lots of spaniels too, whilst they are lovely dogs they’re a fruit-the-loop breed with their inherent dottiness. It took a lot of willpower from me to not steal one of these fluffy balls of loveliness as they were so cute.

Northwich is a nice down-to-earth town with a life and diversity that is sorely lacking in Winsford.  No doubt we will end up in Northwich again, but I really hope something is done about the shopping centre as it’s the one thing letting the town down.

Sunday 22 January 2012


Where do I start with Winsford? First of all I'd never heard anything of interest about Winsford before this trip, except I'd seen it on the map years ago when I had to come up with a town name for a school essay. Secondly the Wikipedia entry did not really prepare me for the 'delights' of this place. Now having been to the place I can read between the lines of the Wikipedia entry: "local Salt Mines" means it's a working class area; "New Town" means it has appalling, concrete-based architecture from the 60s and 70s; and "population migration from Manchester and Liverpool" means there is a Chav element to the population. I am from Manchester and I have worked in overspill council estates like this place so I can legitimately point this out.

However I digress slightly - after negotiating the numerous roundabouts to Winsford we ended up in the town centre, which consisted of a 70s style shopping centre with a multi-storey car park to accommodate ASDA's clientele. We did try to park in the car park, but as it was very busy and I'm nervous parking in packed car parks (long story), we ended up parking on a side street outside the local Bingo Hall.

I have to say from the outside the shopping centre looked very bleak - 70s architecture really has not stood the test of time. Inside the shopping centre mirrored the outside in its depressiveness. There was a lack of natural light and the drab decor which didn't help matters. The shops in the centre were cheap, but not necessarily cheerful.

There were quite a few charity shops in the shopping centre and they were packed with customers. One strange thing I noticed was that one of the charity shops was actually giving videos away free . Surely charity shops are there to make money from their donations, even if they ended up selling stuff at 20p? There were also quite a few empty shops too, which was quite sad really but I guess that reflects the times we live in. Then again most small shops would struggle there as it is hard to compete against ASDA.

After losing the will to live we went outside and we actually did find a little ray of hope in the shape of the Winsford Lifestyle Centre. It looked bright, lovely and modern from the outside. Apparently it has a swimming pool, fitness facilities and a theatre. I really hope this place is well used by the locals as it is a beacon of hope in an essentially depressing place.

We did see a rather bizarre sight by the local pond - a one legged bird with a red bill, black body and white tail feathers hopping about. However that sight didn't excite us enough to stay in Winsford longer than was necessary. So we returned to the car and drove off on our next leg of our Cheshire road trip to Northwich.

The next day I mentioned to my Dad we'd been to Winsford and he asked why on earth did we go there. Apparently over the years he has had to work in Winsford replacing gas mains and he wasn't exactly impressed with the place. To him it wasn't the sort of place you visit and according to his colleagues it was a crime hotspot too. Although on the plus side, he did mention there was a rather good pie shop, which often had huge queues outside at lunch times. He also mentioned that the local high school was a source of drama that would rival Waterloo Road. The teachers would often have to round up kids from the streets at lunch time to get them back in for the afternoon classes. One kid who was late back from lunch told the teacher they had been stuck in the queue at the pie shop. When the kids left school in the afternoon, my Dad noticed that the kids were either snogging each other, crying as they had broken up with someone or were having altercations. I dare not think what the teenage pregnancy rate is here, but I think Jeremy Kyle might get a show or two out of it.

Honestly Winsford is not day trip material and from our trip there are some deprivation issues. It is clear that the Council is trying to address these issues with relocation of the Council and Fire Services to the town centre and the building of the Winsford Lifestyle Centre, but there is still some way to go.

Saturday 14 January 2012


After Holmes Chapel we headed off to Middlewich which is only three or so miles down the A54 on the other side of the M6.

On first impression driving into Middlewich it is not as affluent as Holmes Chapel. Again the Church dominated the centre of the town and it appeared a little bit bigger than Holmes Chapel, but not much. We parked on the main shopping street as it has one hour free parking and given the size of the town I doubted whether we’d be there an hour.

I had done my research and there were three charity shops on this road - Age UK, Cancer Research and St Luke's Hospice. Whilst I didn't find much in the charity shops Neil found a Kylie Greatest Hits album from 1992 - apparently vinyl albums from 1992 are much rarer to find due to the surge of CD sales from that year onwards and therefore more collectable, even Kylie’s ‘Greatest Hits’. He also picked up a Wonder Stuff album and both will be soon found on Vinylnet.

Anyway the street was a mish-mash of shops with a traditional butcher, pub, barbers, cafes, gift shops, opticians and a pet-supplies-shop-cum-wool-shop. Around the corner was a ubiquitous Tesco Express, like an invading Viking sucking the business out of the local shops and dominating the shopping life of this town. I’m not a fan of this type of invasion of the supermarket to the high street as it really rips the heart out of local businesses and can dilute the distinctiveness of a town.

I had to go into the pet-supplies-shop-cum-wool-shop as I'm always after some interesting chunky knit wool. I didn't stop long as it did have the most peculiar smell and Neil fled the shop immediately - it must have been something to do with the smell from the pet supplies side of the shop. Sadly their definition of chunky knit wool is not mine – mine is a minimum of size 10mm needles like Sirdar's Indie and Squiggle.

The buildings in the street were quite interesting and were an architectural history of the evolution of the town. Wheelock Street had a diverse array of buildings of different shapes and sizes – red brick two-up-two down, new build shops and flats to blend into the existing red brick buildings and black and white Tudor style buildings peppered the street. The Alhambra building had quite an interesting frontage like the old style cinemas from the 40s and 50s. I couldn’t work out whether it was just a frontage added to an older building or built from scratch. What was clear was I wouldn’t be seen dead in there as it appeared to be a dodgy bar above what appeared to be a restaurant. A bit of decorative TLC would not go amiss with this building. I did have a quick look on Google Street View and my goodness this building has gone downhill since then.

This street did really need a makeover though as it could be really pretty with a lick of paint and some hanging baskets. I guess the recession has hit most places hard, although you couldn’t really tell in Holmes Chapel, but here you could with some empty shop fronts. There was a derelict building practically falling down with no sign of repairs to be made. That said some shops had made the effort, but this little town has the potential to be really lovely with some care and attention. A festival or two and a town in bloom competition could really boost this place.

So with purchases made, we left on our travels around Cheshire.  We headed west on the A54 and motored our way to Winsford.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Holmes Chapel

Finally - a day where the weather was reasonable and both of us had a day off. Woo! I've been itching for ages to do a proper run out in my car to visit a few northern towns and villages. So I thought Cheshire would be good as it's a straightforward drive and there was no risk of freaky weather.

We've been to Cheshire loads of times but there were still some places we haven't been and Holmes Chapel was one such place. I checked online and it did have a charity shop and it was also close to the other places we were going to visit, so it was the first on the list.

M60, M62, M6, off at junction 18, turn left onto the A54 and we were in Holmes Chapel. It's quite a nice place - leafy, countryside, big houses. It's clearly a commuter belt village for Manchester, Liverpool and Chester. I thought it was going to be quite a small place and whilst the centre is there were plenty of houses and estates surrounding the village.

The village itself is based round a small junction with the Church dominating the centre. We parked in the free car park next to the library and the small shopping precinct. There was a little supermarket, Bargain Booze, a take away Pizza place, London Road Fish Bar, hairdressers, pharmacy and Sue Ryder Charity shop.

The Charity shop itself was bright and well organised, but nothing exciting caught our eyes. We did pop into London Road Fish Bar to grab a bite to eat as it looked nice, clean and full of locals. I had a mini fish (I don't like chippy chips as they are not crispy enough for me) and Neil had a battered sausage. Mine was nice although it did have an odd after taste.

A hop, skip and a jump we were in the centre of Holmes Chapel. There isn't a huge amount to see - a Church, a Bakers, a Cheese Shop, a couple of hairdressers, some banks, pubs, an Indian restaurant called Pink Garlic, a few other shops and at least three estate agents. That's it really - a nice, well-to-do place, but nothing much to do.

It's worth a quick visit to Holmes Chapel to have a nosey as it's a nice place and for stalking purposes if you are a fan of One Direction apparently Harry Styles comes from here too.