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 client√®le 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.