Sunday 29 April 2012

St Annes

We went to St Annes last year for a drive and to be truthful I've been itching to revisit the place. St Annes is a few miles south of Blackpool with its own mini pier and beach.  From Manchester we took the M61, M6, M55, A5230, B5261 and B5233 to St Annes.  It's quite easy to miss the signs and end up in Blackpool like the first time we went.

St Annes is a more upmarket resort than Blackpool, but then again that's not a difficult achievement.  The place is known as a retirement destination and from the number of charity and antique shops you can see why.  On the map you will notice it's called Lytham St Annes, but don't be fooled like me the first time I went - it's two towns close together and I think the map makers were being a bit lazy labelling the map.

Parking in St Annes is generally pay and display, although further out along the Promenade road there is some free parking.  I always forget this and end up parking at pay and display by the mini pier.

The pier is rather dinky unlike the three large piers at Blackpool.  There is an arcade with gaming machines, dodgems for young kids, a fortune teller and a couple of cafes.  Not exactly exciting, but it is nice to have a wander and look out to sea. There are no donkey rides to be had on the beach, as I think Blackpool has that market sown up.

The town centre has plenty of shops and the main street is broad with season themed street-art-cum-seating arrangements running the length of it. Although don't get stuck looking around the main street running through the town, as the side streets have lots to offer too.   There were plenty of people of all ages knocking about St Annes, although it's not as touristy as you would expect.  We did see a bunch of blokes dressed up in flat caps, tweeds and jodhpurs drinking outside a local pub - it was the Grand National that day.

The shops are interesting in this town.  I always like popping into the Sheep Shop to check out its chunky knit wool.  The Book Centre is a very well organised second hand bookshop on one of the side streets.  All the books are categorised and properly shelved so it's a joy to browse around without the fear of books collapsing on top of you.  I also like the automatic doors for the old ladies who frequent this store.  We did notice a terrible pun shop name - St Tanz.  Needless to say it was a tanning salon.

There are plenty of coffee shops in St Annes and you could get really fat on the delicious cakes they serve.  Although before you stuff your face in the cafes, you must try a cake shop called 'For Heaven's Cakes' where you can get fab cupcakes.  I had a coffee mocha which was a spin on the coffee and walnut cake with added choc icing.  Neil had a caramel based cupcake. Both were nice and give a great sugar high.

I mentioned St Annes is known as a retirement town, so there are plenty of valuable dead old ladies' knick-knacks to be found through house clearances.  As a result, there are plenty of antique shops.  I liked the indoor market which had a mad mix of hair extensions, cut priced bankrupt stock and antiques.  The antique section is quite nice to wander around and seems to do reasonably priced collectables and retro items.   The most notable thing I did find was a really startling taxidermy tableaux - I think it was two ferrets killing a rabbit or hare.  Honestly, who would buy that?  Here is the photo to prove it -

Whilst there are plenty of charity shops in St Annes, I think the antique dealer regularly trawl the shops for goodies and so there's nothing exciting to report.  I'm sure if you visited regularly you would pick up some good retro stuff though.

The town has its own department store called JR Taylors, although I did not succumb to the lure of the Clinique bonus this time.

We had fish and chips from the Seafarer which were fine.  The fish was freshly done and the chips I nicked off Neil were fine.  I'm not fussed with chippy chips normally as I prefer fries as they are much crispier.

There were lots of fine poochy dogs being walked in St Annes and I felt a bit naked without one.  I do have a random business idea of renting out dogs by the hour for such purposes.  A doggy dating service I could call 'Pretty Poochy'.  I did notice there was a small van covered in paw prints offering a dog walking service.  Combine the two ideas and you would be onto a winner - double bubble as they might say.

In the end the rain got the better of us and we headed back into the car. We drove down the Promenade to Lytham, making sure we didn't miss the signs like last time.

Thursday 26 April 2012


We've been to Southport lots of times as it's a nice place to go.  Okay you don't go to see the sea as there's a couple of miles worth of beach before you reach the shore, but I like the fact although Southport is a seaside resort it doesn't feel like one.  Of course there is the pier, an arcade, some seaside type shops selling rock, chips and cheap tat, but you can easily miss it as it's confined to one part of town.  The rest of Southport is fairly respectable.  The centre is based around  Lord Street (A565), which is broad and leafy with interesting heritage shop fronts.

Normally we park by the Marine Parade near the Promenade.  It's pay and display parking pretty much everywhere in Southport and the only freebie parking is on the edge of town.  There's a retail park on Marine Parade with lots of chain eateries like Nandos, Chiquitos and McDonalds. You can walk the pier from the Marine Parade toward the town which is nice.  I quite like the fact they have a skate park for the teenagers along side the pier.  It's always packed with kids doing their tricks.  This time we parked on a side street in a pay and display bay, as it was late in the day and knew we wouldn't be there more than two hours.

Whilst the main shops are along Lord Street and the pedestrianised shopping area of Chapel Street, I tend to get bored around Chapel Street as it's your usual high street chain shops.  Lord Street is definitely more interesting on the shopping front.  However it's worth going off the main roads and down the side streets as they are full of interesting little shops.  One of my favourites is Wesley Street, off Eastbank Street.  Whilst Eastbank Street is fairly down-at-heel compared to the rest of Southport with scary looking people smoking and drinking outside the local pubs.  Wesley Street is ace with all sorts of shops including a busy cafe, a wool shop, gift shops, an antique jewellers, bric-a-brac places, designer kids stuff and one of my favourite charity bookshops - Freshfields Animal Rescue.  I really like how well organised the shop is.  It's essentially a second hand bookshop, which happens to be a charity.  I always seem to leave the shop a few pounds lighter with a book or two in my bag.

If you like your charity shops then Southport is the place for you.  There are simply loads of them and we're talking double figures here.  You could easily spend a whole day exploring them.  As Southport is a relatively affluent area, charity shops are okay - although not to Alderley Edge/Wilmslow standard.  I would recommend you print out the list of shops, get a map and plan your charity shop trek.  We have seen lots of people over the years doing the charity shop trail around Southport, so don't be surprised when you start to get de ja vu when you start spotting familiar faces on your journey.  I just love listening to the random snippets of conversation you overhear in the shops.

My favourite shop in Southport is not a charity shop, but a rambling antique shop on Lord Street inside the Royal Arcade.  If you don't know Southport it can be hard to find as it is set back from the main road.  It isn't a wildly expensive antique shop, more your affordable collectables and house clearance retro stuff.  The place expands over several floors, with countless rooms, nooks and crannies.  I just love pottering through the shop as you never know what you will find.  They have now opened a coffee shop in one of the rooms, but they were just closing as we got there.  For the vinyl fans there are plenty of records to flick through and according to Neil not too overpriced either.  There is no way I can visit Southport without visiting this shop.
Southport is part of Merseyside and you certainly get to hear the Liverpudlian accent drifting through this town. You can really tell when it's coming up to the Grand National in Southport as the boutiques are jammed to the rafters with maxi dresses, hats and stripper heels for the occasion.  They really like to do dressing up Liverpool and it's just the same in Southport - maybe a touch classier though.

We have been here many times over the years and whilst it's always busy with people shopping we found the recession was biting with some empty shop fronts.  Although miraculously the Edinburgh Woollen Mill seems to keep going despite my thought of 'who shops in a place like this?'  We always say if there is an Edinburgh Woollen Mill it must be a touristy town - it's our barometer of affluence.  Apparently there are plenty of events in Southport throughout the year, like the Flower Show and the Air Show which helps keep the tourist pounds rolling in.

I love the expansive nature of Southport and it has many faces from the traditional seaside resort, the heritage of the Wayfarers Arcade and Lord Street and the quirkiness of the side street shops.  The good thing about Southport is when the weather is bad the town offers plenty to do and when the weather is good you have the seaside, the park and rides at the New Pleasureland.  It's well worth spending a day here.

Sunday 15 April 2012


After a short break from writing my blog I'm back.  Yay!  Thankfully I'm free from course commitments for a few weeks so I'm back on the road.

This time we went to Ormskirk in Lancashire.  We've passed through Ormskirk lots of times on our way to Southport, but this is the first time we've stopped. As a kid I had been to Martin Mere Wild Fowl Trust on the edge of town for a school trip to look at all the birds.  They had pink flamingos there as I recollect or was that Chester Zoo?
Ormskirk is fairly straightforward to travel to from Manchester.  We took the M62, M6, M58 and the A570.  Nothing exciting to report on the journey, but word of warning there is an earlier turn off on the M6 to Ormskirk.  Make sure you take junction 26 as you will be on a motorway for longer instead of A roads.

It's a leafy drive into Ormskirk and there seems to be lots of farms surrounding the place.  The landscape is quite flat really and for some odd reason I find flat places quite unnerving.  Maybe I'm just used to living near hills, which helps you to keep your bearings and locates you within the landscape.  

On the way in to the town you go past Edge Hill University campus.  Apparently Ormskirk is packed full of students at term time and deserted in the holidays.  I guess it's like Fallowfield and Withington in the summer where there is practically tumble weed rolling through the deserted streets.

First point to note about Ormskirk is it's a bugger to park.  There is parking in the supermarket, a small retail park, a leisure centre and a designated car park in the centre of town, but the place was brimming with shoppers.  I had to patiently stalk shoppers returning to their cars to take their parking spot.  You have to pay to park here but it was reasonably priced.

Whilst we had been through Ormskirk numerous times, we really didn't know the extent of the shopping area as it's pedestrianised and the roads sweep the edges of the town centre. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the extent of the shopping centre.  It was full of your regular high street shops, but also local shops and boutique type places.  There was quite a youthful and alternative vibe to the place.  I guess that comes with having thousands of students on the door step.  There were plenty of little cafes selling cakes and coffee.  One butcher had sheepskins hanging from the celling which was a slightly disturbing sight.  It is worth checking out all the little side streets and arcades for interesting little shops.  Down one side street we found a shop called the 'The Fairy Wing Repair Shop' which sold fairy ornaments.  
There were lots of charity shops to explore, although we didn't find anything that exciting.  There was a charity shop which had really nice well made shelves and lovely stair case.  They either got someone in to do a fantastic shop fitting job, or they took over a nice boutique.  It really doesn't half make a difference to the stock presenting it in a nicely fitted shelving and rails.  You could easily put an extra pound or two on the stock and people wouldn't notice as it looked nice.  I really hate shops with those awful slated walls to hang stock from metal spikes as it looks cheap and thoughtless.  Okay it's functional, but it doesn't make the stock look attractive to purchase.

On another side street there was a very sad looking indoor market.  The staff were clearly bored and were hunched over the counter doing endless crosswords.  Needless to say we didn't stop long.

The one thing that really annoyed me about Ormskirk, believe me I liked the place too, was the outdoor market.  If you have read my blog, I'm not a fan of markets unless it's a farmers market or an arty one.  This one was a bog standard market with cut priced crap.  My biggest bug bear about the market was the fact that it obscured the surrounding shops as the stalls were placed in front of the shop fronts. This meant you couldn't see the shops and there was little space for you to get into the shops.  If anyone from the council is reading this there is one very simple way of accommodating the market without blocking the shops.  Instead of running the stalls outside the shops, run them down the middle of the pedestrianised street with the stalls back to back, but facing the shops.  It will really open out the shopping and the pedestrians will have more room on the pavements to get into the shops. It's a simple solution to a knotty problem and you will be able to see the architecture too.

Apart from the market, I found Ormskirk a pleasant place to wander round.  So I was shocked to find out that Ormskirk had been entered into the Portas Pilot to get a grant of approximately £100,000 to regenerate the high street.  Honestly given my travels across the north of England I really wouldn't put it in my top five towns in need of regeneration money.  Okay so there are some empty shop fronts, but physically the town looked nice and from walking around there were plenty of shoppers spending money.  Maybe they have problems during the weekdays, but apart from my suggestion of re-orientating the market they don't really money, just some effort from the Council's tourism and economic development teams to support the local businesses.  I'm going to do a separate Portas Pilot blog post soon so you will get my top five nominations for regeneration money - needless to say Ormskirk won't feature in it.

We had a pleasant wander and thought as we were only twenty minutes from Southport, we would head out to sample its delights.