Tuesday 27 March 2012


Oh Altrincham! You do disappoint me so. I've been going to this place for years and it should be better than  it is.

Recently there has been lots of regeneration work done to the main pedestrianised shopping area. It has been a slow transformation, but they have done a good job. Before the work was done it was an uninspiring 60s built shopping centre, now it's a steel, glass and paved shopping confection. So technically it should be a more aesthetically pleasing shopping experience.  The trouble is the rest of the town has fallen into decline.  Stamford New Road (A538), next to the train/bus station, looks quite desolate these days with lots of empty shop fronts and even some of the charity shops have closed down.  The recession has really hit this town hard.  It's not just me saying it either, there have been reports in the media that a third of the shops remain empty and it's one of the highest rates in the country.  There used to be so many shops here and some quite posh.  I used to love popping into the sewing shop, but that has gone too.  Apparently the Council have applied for Altrincham to be one of the pilot projects for the Mary Portas Pilots to regenerate the local high street.  I hope they get it as Altrincham needs it.  It's so surprising for a town surrounded by such affluence to be in such a state.  Hale, only a ten minute walk away, is glorious in comparison.

There are a few coffee shops in the town - The Rhode Island Coffee shop, two Costas opposite each other which is slightly mad, there is a Starbucks in the local Sainsburys and a few locally run ones. We went into the Costa in Waterstones for cake and coffee.  I felt sorry for the lone author doing a book signing that day in Waterstones.  Her table was devoid of customers, so she busied herself by making the table looking presentable.  I hope she managed to sell some of her books.

I guess out of town shopping at the Trafford Centre and John Lewis at Cheadle hasn't helped at all.  There is a massive Tescos too just behind the station, along with a large Sainsburys.  It's so hard for local shops to compete with these shopping mammoths.  Parking isn't brilliant either as the car parks in the town are very busy.  You are forced to park in the supermarket car parks on the edge of the town and they are pay and displays too.

Altrincham is really quite hard reach in terms of motorway access - it's miles away from the M60 and you have to navigate a long stretch of boring road from Sale to get to it.  The M56 I guess is the closest, but it still a quite a drive.  Once you get to Altrincham it's so easy to miss the town centre as the Dunham Road (A56) bypasses the centre.  It's by far easier and quicker to get to Altrincham by tram.  Although it puzzles me why Bury, at the other end of the tram line, appears more prosperous than Altrincham.  Bury is a working class mill town and does not have the same economic prosperity as Altrincham residents.  However it has a buzz about it compared to Altrincham.  I guess it helps having Bury Market, which is a draw to the town.  I'm still traumatised by markets, no reflection on the Bury Market,  just me and one of my many foibles.  Altrincham has its own small market, but it isn't that exciting and I usually try to avoid it.  There are plenty of charity shops and sometimes you can find some nice things too.  Neil finds the Oxfam books overpriced for records, but I can always find an interesting book or two in there.

I love popping into the second hand book shop called Abacus Books on Regent Road.  The woman in the shop is always welcoming and the place is jam packed full of books.  I do worry it doesn't get enough people through the doors though, as I do have a soft spot for second hand book shops.  There is another book shop by the market that does new books, but I didn't get chance to go there this time.  Hopefully it is still open.  Waterstones is now in the main precinct and I do worry that independent book shops will suffer with this type of competition.

I believe Altrincham can get a bit lively at night and there seem to be a number of bars, pubs and takeaways catering for this market.  I find the sign above the 'Starving Man' a bit disturbing though.
My friend recommends the eateries at Goose Green, a little square off Stamford New Road.  It's quite a pretty spot and an oasis of calm from the rest of the town.

It frustrates me to see a place that has so much potential not reaching it.  I've often pondered this and I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the design of Altrincham.  Stamford New Road looks so unloved, but I'm hoping the scaffolding I saw on the road was the sign of some regeneration work about to happen.  They need to do a nice heritage shop frontage scheme along here.  If they could demolish the horrible shop fronts just before Lloyd Street, on the left hand side, would be an improvement.  I think if they could open it up as a public space would be nice to link in with some of the developments on Lloyd Street.   I think opening up the shopping precinct to Stamford New Road would be good too. I seem to be keen on demolition and that maybe due to the fact, apart from the pedestrianised shopping centre, it feels so cramp and dark.  There are some lovely buildings in Altrincham, but they do not have the space to breathe as they are so close to one another.  Recently I revisited Liverpool and the amount of open space they have created at Liverpool One links wonderfully to the waterfront and the old Town.  Maybe I should have become a town planner, but Altrincham needs some space, light and also a big make over on the bus station would not go amiss.

Oh dear Alty... fingers crossed you'll get better soon with some TLC and a shed load of regeneration money!

Sunday 18 March 2012


So from Hale we headed over to the village of Lymm.  I'd never been to Lymm before although I have occasionally passed through the outskirts, but never made it to the village centre.  It's quite easy to miss as the roads tend to bypass the centre and you have to be quick to pick up the signs.

Parking is a bit of a nightmare in this village as the car park isn't that big.  We had to park round the back in a nice little housing estate, which is a stone's throw from the centre.

I really didn't know what to expect from Lymm apart from a couple of charity shops, but I really liked what I saw.

Lymm town centre is built on a hill, with a lovely weir at the bottom with gallons of water crashing down from Lymm dam.  Oddly at the top of the hill is the Bridgewater Canal with lots of ducks and barges passing by. Lymm must be a popular destination for canal dwellers and tourists as not only it's very pretty, but also full of cafes, restaurants and pubs.

I was pleased to see there were still plenty of pubs still open in Lymm.  The one which stood out for me was the Spread Eagle as it looked like it was plucked out of  Bavaria and plonked into Lymm.  It really had a European look with a big golden eagle looking down menacingly onto the street.

There are some nice coffee shops to wile away an hour or two.  One of them had a takeaway and deli attached, which was rather busy when we looked in.

There are two charity shops in Lymm - the International Aid Shop, which closes at 1pm on a Saturday  and the St Rocco Charity Shop.  As we had lunch in Hale we missed out on the International Aid Shop, which was a shame.  Thankfully the St Rocco was still open and it was like a community centre for the old ladies chatting on the comfy chairs. I reckon they had a great view of the street as the shop was high up and could have a good gossip about the people passing by.

We found an old style sweet shop where Neil got some fruit polos to break his teeth on and I got Butlers dark choc mint bar.  These type of retro sweet shops are popping up everywhere at the moment, which makes a change from the rash of pound shops that clog up the high streets.  When I see them, I do get flashbacks to the 70s where my the local corner shop in Cheetham Hill used to sell quarters of pear drops from large sweet jars.

According to Wikipedia there is a celebrity contingent resident in Lymm including Ian Brown of the Stone Roses, Tim Booth from James and Matthew Corbett from the Sooty Show.  I can quite understand why people would want to live in this lovely, leafy village and given the opportunity I would too.

Lymm is well worth a visit, as I was pleasantly surprised by this little oasis of loveliness.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Hale and Hale Barns

It has been a while since I've posted as life has a habit of catching up on one.  Anyway essay is done, cold recovered from and it's time to pull one's finger out to write some blog.

So a few weeks ago another Saturday came along and I dusted off the map.  We've done Cheshire quite a bit lately and we'd planned to go Lancashire way. However the weather wasn't promising so we didn't want to go too far a field.

Hale and Hale Barns are always a good bet, especially when you decide to do lunch there.  The one thing I find about going from Hale Barns to Hale is that I always get confused where it is and what side of the road to look for to take the turn to Hale as it is poorly signposted..

Our first stop was Hale Barns as they have a nice little Oxfam there.  The ladies in the shop were training a new volunteer as we had a browse.  We didn't find much, but the stuff there is always quite interesting.  Opposite Oxfam is a 60s style small precinct with a small supermarket and a handful of shops.  It really isn't exciting.  Bev Callard (Liz MacDonald from Corrie) used to own a posh pub here, but apparently it had money troubles.  The pub has now been converted into a solicitors instead.  I noticed the little Natwest has gone from here too .  Despite this, Hale Barns does have really big houses along the main road, some of which are stunning.

I also noticed that Balfour Beatty were constructing a large building on the run out of Hale Barns towards Hale.  I think it's a new school.  It looks really amazing with the slate black bricks bouncing the light so it glitters in the sunlight.

For me Hale Barns is a bit special as it has a Smiths link as Morrissey used to live here.  A long time ago I used to work with a woman who was a friend of Morrissey and was in fact the star of the "Everyday is like a Sunday" video.  She never mentioned it to anyone until a girl who went to school with her started work at the theatre and spilled the beans on her.  She came from Hale Barns and was a neighbour of Morrissey.  I thought that was fab at the time. Now things have moved on - my Dad knows Johnny Marr's dad, which I think is bloody amazing.  I'm nearly 40 and The Smiths are still fantastic after 25 years of adoration from me

We've been to Hale quite a few times as we have eaten there with my best mate.  We've eaten at the Man Zen (posh Chinese - very nice), Dee Thai (Thai - you must order the mixed starter platter - to die for!) and the American Bar and Grill.  You really can't go wrong eating out here.  There are other places to eat here like The Hale Grill, Simon Rimmer's 'Earle', Piccolinos, La Vina, which I believe to be fine places.  For me though, Dee Thai is the best.

It is a real education eating out in out of city places, as you don't get that awful tension of having to be alert in cities.  My brother mentioned that I have a Manchester mode, where I get hyper alert in uncertain situations - I guess when you have been mugged and hustled in the past you can can get quite defensive.  In Hale I never have that problem as there is a nice sleepy-out-of-town-vibe where I really relax.

The American Bar and Grill has lovely food, but on a Saturday afternoon it is like a posh McDonalds as there were packs of kids screaming the place down.  Bless the staff though as they do supply crayons and play sheets to calm the kids down.  I had a Tennessee burger with Cajun fries and Neil had surf n' turf with curly fries.  I really liked mine as it had a Jack Daniels coating which was sticky, sweet and very tasty.  Neil's curly fries were really nice and tasty too.

Apart from its many restaurants Hale has lots of pretty little shops selling kids clothes, posh gifts, retro sweets and an old style post office.  Just off the main road is an immaculate bowling green, which really adds that English village feel to Hale.

There has been an invasion of the mini supermarkets to Hale - Sainburys, Tesco and the Cooperative have small stores in the town centre.  There is also a Costa Coffee along with the other little coffee shops, including the Art Cafe which is always full of families.

The centre of Hale has a station and a level crossing dominating the town which can back the traffic up from time to time.  There are a couple of cheap car parks either side of the station to park in as it can be problematic parking on the streets nearby as it is a residential area.  Next to the level crossing is a lovely pub called the Cheshire Midland which does weirdy-beardy-ales.  They have really nice and comfortable side rooms where you can get lost in conversation for hours with a pint or two of their finest ale.

I like Hale as it's very lovely, clean and relaxed.  Clearly there is civic pride in this village and you can understand why it's very expensive to buy property here as it's so nice.  We'll be back again to work our way through the yummy restaurants!