Sunday 27 January 2013


A while ago I’d been asked by a Clitheroe resident to do a review of the town, so here we go.

We had been to Clitheroe a few years back and at the time I thought it was still somewhere in the 20th century – mid 80s to early 90s to be more accurate.  However it’s amazing how just a few years can make a real difference to a place and drag it towards the 21st century.
In order to get to Clitheroe from the west side of Manchester you best take the M61, then the M65, turn off at junction 7, then the A6185, the A59 and finally the A671.  The last bit can be a bit problematic, but have faith and keep your eyes peeled for the signs or just use your sat nav. 
Parking on a busy Saturday can be a pain in Clitheroe.  The car park by the Council buildings was packed and we managed to get 1 hour free parking space near the market.  Although we later realised there is a car park at the Market and wish we’d parked there instead.
Clitheroe has a rustic, mill town feel with houses built from rough-hewn stone.  It has a mix of architecture that reflects the age of the town.  Looming large above the town is Clitheroe Castle.  Its dour feel wasn’t helped by the fact it was an overcast day and had the type of constant drizzle that gets into your bones.
So what can you do in an hour in Clitheroe?  We decided to concentrate on the charity shops.  There are plenty in Clitheroe including two Age UK’s.  One was really overpriced with a Barry Manilow album for £2.50 and the other one was much more reasonable.  There was a fab one on Moor Street called the East Lancashire Hospice.  It’s well worth a visit as it’s well organised and has a decent wedding section.  It’s more like a dress agency rather than a charity shop.  If you know your stuff, I’m sure you will find some collectables in these shops.
There’s a mad mix of shops in Clitheroe which reflects the fact that there are plenty of independent shops mixed in with the usual high street chains.  I did notice some of the shops multi-tasked too: Clitheroe Books had a crystal section; and Woolcraft had a Christian Book section at the back of the shop.  Amazingly you can get customised hoodies from a shop called ‘Hoody Marvelous’.  It’s the type of shop you’d find in Affleck’s Palace in Manchester, rather than a semi-rural back water like Clitheroe.  I always like the look of Banana News with its bright yellow and black striped frontage.  They too were multi-tasking selling Christmas trees on the pavement.  Clitheroe also works its witches connection as there is one shop called ‘Pendle Stitches’ – I guess it had to be done.

You can easily spend an afternoon browsing the shops and you can easily find a cafĂ© to put your feet up and have a coffee and a cake.  Neil was a bit peckish and had a cake from Sayers.  The lady in the shop took a shine to Neil and gave him the largest slice.  The chippy on Moor Lane does haggis and chips as well as black pudding and chips, although I dare not think what John Bull Balls consist of.

The outdoor market was quite a revelation.  It was a good mix of cheap tat, local produce and artisan food.  I bought a nice rocky road from the deli.  If we’d been here early I think we would have grabbed a bite to eat here at the Indigo Thai food stall.  Although I did find it highly amusing that a barbers was operating out of a mini bus at the market.  I have never seen such a thing.  I reckon it must double as a taxi in the evening.

I did over hear a couple of conversations in the market.  I noticed a dog had a shaved rear end and the market stall holder explained to his customer ‘The dog has had an operation on its bum’.  There was a lady passing by who said to her companion ‘I could eat a scabby horse.’  Although we both got freaked out when the teddy bear a woman was holding started moving.  It turned out to be a baby in a bear outfit.
There were plenty of pubs in Clitheroe and I reckon it could be a lively night out here with people coming in from the nearby villages and farms.  Part of me is quite curious to see what it’s like; then again part of me was scared too.

Our brief trip came to an end and we had to head off.  In the space of a few years Clitheroe has definitely headed towards the 21st century, whilst still keeping hold of its heritage, which isn’t a bad thing.  Clitheroe has a distinct, slightly surreal personality with a happy mix of the ordinary and the bizarre.  In one word I would describe this place as ‘bonkers’, but I mean this in a good way.

Sunday 20 January 2013


Located in outside Stockport, Bramhall is a sleepy yet pleasant suburb.  We’ve been to Bramhall a few times over the years - never as a special visit, more of a stop off on the way to somewhere else.  I can honestly say I don’t know how we get to there,  as often we get there more by accident than design.

Parking is easy here as they have a couple of cheap pay and display car parks – one behind the precinct and the other behind the Esso garage.  There is a little 60s concrete precinct in the village centre, however thankfully it doesn’t dominate the place.  There is a real mix of buildings including Victorian red brick style you would expect in a northern suburb, some black and white Tudor terraces and the odd white rendered building.
Bramhall has a great range of shops and if you lived nearby you wouldn’t have to travel far to get what you need.  It is definitely a well-to-do place with the types of shops it has including a Pandora shop and an upscale toy shop.  However the impact of the recession can be seen with some empty shops fronts.

Whilst Bramhall isn’t hip and trendy, the things I like about this place are:
1.       There are quite a few charity shops considering the size of the place, including Oxfam, St Ann’s Hospice, Cancer Research, Age UK and Beechwood Cancer Care.  Whilst their primary function is to raise money, I do think these shops provide a social function for the retired, unemployed and people on low incomes.  I know some towns don’t like charity shops as they are perceived to lower the tone, however these places connect people through volunteering, recycling and provide affordable goods.  Just hearing the chatter of the staff and customers shows that community is still alive in this technological world.

2.       Bramhall has a fantastic little book shop called ‘Simply Books’.  According to their website it is an award winning bookshop.  I can quite believe it as it’s really lovely to browse around especially as they do have a good kids section and it has a cafe.  I do feel guilty if I don’t buy a book when I visit here.

3.       I love Elm Interiors.  I can spend ages just browsing round this shop.  It’s full of home stuff, it’s a great place to get some interior design ideas and pick up something for the house or a gift.

Bramhall has its own Costa, which is on my barometer for middle-class suburbs.  We’ve had a pleasant coffee here and watched the world go by.  There are plenty of places to eat too including Piccolinos, Ego and Romulus.  I can’t help but think if you lived round here you wouldn’t need to travel far for a meal out.
One negative thing I can say is that it can be tough crossing the road in Bramhall.  There are three roads that meet at the roundabout in the centre of the village – so things can be dicey trying to get to the other side of the road.
I wouldn’t necessarily make a special visit to Bramhall, but if you are passing through it’s worth a pit stop for a coffee, browse and a book purchase.

Sunday 13 January 2013


I’d never been to Marple before, although I had passed through on the train enough times.  Getting to Marple is a bit of a ball ache.  Any trip that takes you through Stockport is always a pain as there are some insane junctions to negotiate.  Although once you get through Offerton, it’s a nice tree line drive to Marple. We parked in a pay and display car park on Trinity Street – 30p for 2 hours which was fine and it was close to the shops too.  To summarise the journey - I took the M60, Junction 27 and the A626.

On the face of it Marple is a mix of red brick and stone houses, which reflects the fact it’s on the border of a city and the Derbyshire countryside.
We were surprised to find there was a pedestrianized shopping area which wasn’t a nasty, concrete precinct.  Market Street used to be a road that they paved over and as a result it has a bit of character.
There were some interesting shops in Marple considering it was a suburban town.  It had a mix of bakeries including one called ‘Icing on the Cake’, boutiques, a dress agency, a knitting shop called ‘Sew In’, lots of cafes, a record shop called ‘Double Four Records’, a  dog grooming shop called ‘Snobby Dogs’, book shop and of course four charity shops.  There were some high street chains too such as M&Co and Costa.

Whilst there wasn’t any exciting books and music in the charity shops, they seemed quite popular with the locals.  In Raising Hope charity shop the staff were really nice and trusting to one of the regular customers, as they let her take a dress home to try on first before buying it.  I couldn’t help think that this showed what a close knit community Marple is.
I popped into the post office to find a birthday card for my Dad.  I always to struggle to find a card for my Dad and sadly the shop didn’t come up with the goods.  Although I did notice the Post Office was trying hard to be a gift shop.  It was jammed packed full of stuff and you’d definitely find something for a loved one.  It would have been perfect if they also sold magazines and newspapers.
Neil was desperate to check out some records in a house clearance shop, however there was a man going through each record very slowly and Neil couldn’t get a look in.
Marple was full of old people, young people and dogs – anyone without car I reckon.  With high dog population no wonder the place had a dog grooming shop and pet shop with a rather realistic toy collie dog with ear muffs on.

 There was even a cinema in Marple showing Skyfall.  I have to say it had the most make-do poster on the side of the building advertising it, so much so I had flashbacks to the 1970s to the local cinema I used to go to in Cheetham Hill.
Marple was a pleasant surprise, it has a low key individuality which is nice and not in your face like Chorlton’s studied, hip and cool vibe.  It’s the last outpost of Stockport before you hit Derbyshire and has a real country and suburb atmosphere.  Whilst it isn’t a really pretty place, it’s a nice and relaxed suburb.  I’d definitely come here again, but I’d really hate having to tackle Stockport’s road system.

Sunday 6 January 2013


I’d been a bit worried about going to Keighley.  The place never seems to end up on any tourist guides and I thought we might have another Leigh on our hands.  However the lure of lots of charity shops was too strong and I was quite curious to see this place.

I’d deliberately gone to Haworth first as I knew we’d have one good Northern Town under our belts that day.  The route from Haworth to Keighley was quite quick as technically Haworth is a suburb of Keighley. 
Once you get into the centre of Keighley it’s a bit down at heel and could do with a little TLC.  We managed to get parked on a side street outside Keighley Playhouse.  I love the fact that in most Yorkshire towns they have their own theatres.

Keighley is a bit schizophrenic architecturally.  On one side you have a hideous 60s Airedale Shopping centre, with faceless retail parks that have sprung up in recent years on the edge of the town with purpose built supermarkets.  There is also a modern steel and concrete bus terminus, which doesn’t instil any inspiration apart from to get out of town.  If this was the only place you visited in Keighley you would have a dim view of the place.
On the flip side, Keighley has some lovely buildings too.  The library was gorgeous as it was built from local Yorkshire stone with beautiful carvings that were highlighted in gold.  When I spotted it I thought it had the look of a Carnegie Library and sure enough, through the marvel of Wikipedia, I found out it was the first Carnegie library in the UK.   
On Cavendish Street it had a lovely Victorian building almost running the length of the street.  There were shop fronts all the way down with an old style wrought iron canopy covering the pavements.  This all looked rather pretty. 
You do have to look up in Keighley to see what heritage the town possesses.  Above a  tacky sign of Scoobys  Bargain Centre you can see the lovely carved frontage with the word ‘Cycling Club’ standing proud on a solid Victorian building.  I just wish the owners of Scoobys would look up and feel embarrassed about the tacky signage they have as it spoils the building they occupy.
There was an indoor market in Keighley so we had to explore it.  Whilst it wasn’t the most inspiring shopping experience I couldn’t help but be impressed with the care and attention its owners take to keep it clean and tidy and thankfully it didn’t smell of fish.  The pensioners were keeping the cafes busy with their Saturday afternoon tea treats.  Even one of the empty stalls was transformed into a Halloween grotto of sorts.  Sometimes you have to concentrate on the details to make things look so effortless and pristine.
Keighley does have a department store called Beales.  It’s a chain of sub-Debenhams type department stores which are aimed at the pensioners of the North of England.  We were walking down the side of Beales and were overwhelmed by the smell of cannabis.  For the life of us we couldn’t work out where it was coming from.  I could only think it was from the pub opposite or someone had a cannabis farm nearby.
There were lots of charity shops in Keighley, but Neil didn’t find anything musical to buy.  I bought two books in Sue Ryder for a pound including the Julie Walters autobiography.  Whilst I was queuing to buy them there was a lady in front buying clothes for her kids.  She bought a toy and several outfits and it all came to £14.  I had forgotten what social services these charities provide to poor mums, especially in hard times like these.  I was genuinely touched to see the shop was keen to keep its costs down to ensure the local kids were clothed.  Clothes as cheap as 50p and nothing more than £2 - sometimes you would be hard pressed to get an outfit for a child for less than £14 in the likes of Next or Debenhams.  God bless charity shops!!!

We popped into Morrisons to pick up stuff I’d forgotten to get for tea.  I have to admit I get very nosy and when I’m queuing I always try to work out what people are like from their shopping basket.  Honestly you can get a good idea of a person from their food choices.  In front of us was an Asian lady with her son.  I’m quite sad to say I think this lady had an eating disorder.  She was very slim and had pronounced features, whilst her son was quite plump, so it wasn’t because they were poor.  She was doing that trick where people with eating disorders wear lots of layers and slightly oversized jackets to disguise the fact they are painfully thin.  I think she was living off cup-a-soups as she was buying boxes of the stuff.  Shopping can be a window on a person’s world and I was quite saddened to see this view.
We did need a little more time to explore Keighley, but time was pressing and we had to travel cross country to pick up the M60 to get home.  I was pleasantly surprised by Keighley, maybe it had helped that I managed my expectations beforehand.  Keighley is definitely the poorer cousin of nearby Halifax, but if you are going to nearby Haworth it’s worth popping to Keighley as long as you skip the Airedale Shopping Centre.