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.