Sunday 26 January 2014

Wigton, Cumbria

There were only two reasons why we visited Wigton: it wasn't far from Carlisle; and it had charity shops.  Otherwise we hadn't a clue what to expect from this place other than Melvyn Bragg and Anna Ford come from here..

We parked up behind the Original Factory Shop as it had free parking and most of the street parking was disc permit only for residents.

Wigton is quite an unassuming market town with lots of buildings dating back at least a couple of centuries.  The streets were quite narrow too and this made it a little dicey to negotiate in the car.  At the town centre they had a rather bling looking monument with a gold cross at the top and a well tended flower bed.  Clearly the locals take pride in their town.

We had a quick trot around the charity shops.  One shop had already closed for the day, so we just went in the Oxfam and Cerebral Palsy shop. The lady in the Cerebral Palsy shop was very chatty.  I don't think she had many customers in that day.  Weirdly there was a bloke walking down the other side of the street who randomly popped a balloon outside a shop.  The woman was rather taken aback by his actions.  I thought he was particularly mean spirited soul.  I mean who walks down a street and pops balloons?  A miserable sod in my books.  Anyways that was the most exciting thing that happened in Wigton.

The local Greggs had a little seated section in the shop.  I'd never seen this before, although it was a little sad to see a little lad with his parents, tucking into a sausage roll for his tea.  I always associate Greggs sausage rolls with Wythenshawe as most mornings I would see kids in prams stuffing their faces with them for breakfast.  The locals used to call them 'Wythenshawe Dummies'.  For me it's always said to see kids eating them as whilst they are cheap and filling, they are devoid of real nutritional value.

There isn't much to see in Wigton really.  Essentially it's a nice middle class suburb of Carlisle where you bring up your kids.  As it was half three in the afternoon there was a rush of kids leaving school for the day.  They seemed to be well behaved and they were darting in and out of the shops, no doubt buying sweets with their pocket money.  There was a bit of school-pick-up rush hour too on the roads with parents picking up their kids to take them to their after school activities.  I'd be seriously bored if I were a teenager in this town.  Although I'm sure many escape to university only to come back in their 30s to bring up their own kids here.

Wigton has quite a few independent shops which are nice to see.  There is a regular market day on Tuesday, which we managed to miss by a day.  In future I do need to check out in advance when market day is as I keep missing them.  The local health shop was rather helpful and they did recommend some organic skin cream for my on-going scalp problem. 

It was time to depart from Wigton as it really doesn't take long to explore this little heritage market town.  I felt guilty parking in the Original Factory Shop car park without buying anything, so I picked up some sweets to justify using the car park.  I can't imagine I'll be back here again any time soon, except if we're passing through, then we might stop to check out the charity shops.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Carlisle, Cumbria

On our trip to Cumbria we wanted to explore places outside of the Lake District for a change as it can get really touristy.  One place I’d only ever passed through, but never stopped at, was Carlisle.  Technically a city, it certain felt more like a town, and is the most northerly place we have visited for the blog.

Thankfully to get to Carlisle from Cartmel is easy enough as you pick up the M6 and drive north.  Although Cumbria is a rather big county and it takes about one and a half hours to get from the south to the north.  It’s quite a desolate stretch of motorway and whilst the scenery is lovely when the weather gets bad driving is pretty torturous on this stretch of motorway.
Getting to Carlisle is pretty darn easy as you just veer off at junction 43 and follow the signs into town.  However getting parked is an entirely different matter.  Maybe I was being dim, but the signs for parking around Carlisle send you round in circles and I could not for the life of me find the entrances to these mythical car parks.  In the end we headed to the edge of town and parked in the Asda car park as we needed a drink and a trip to the toilets. 

We walked into Carlisle along possibly one of the most depressing stretches of roads I had been down in a long time, the A6 – London Road and Botchergate.  This clearly was the rougher end of town with unloved houses and cheap shops.  On the plus side there were lots of charity shops to trawl through and Neil managed to find some cheap vinyl records.
The charity shops along here perform a vital social service to the local community.  One charity shop had a little café selling cheap drinks.  You could see some of the people browsing through the shops had mental health issues and some of the young girls had really hard faces which can only stem from really rough lives.  Despite this the old ladies who ran these shops were really friendly and kept their shops in immaculate condition.
Outside these shops were young teenage lads dressed in tracksuits roaming round like a pack of wolves on bikes.  Years ago they would have been working in factories on apprenticeships, these days they are NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) wandering the streets, trying to score dope and making a general nuisance of themselves. 
Weirdly I noticed lots of people were smoking and I couldn’t spot any electronic cigarette shops.  Maybe that trend hasn’t quite made it to Carlisle just yet.  Certainly a business opportunity if I ever saw one.
I managed to drag Neil into the centre of Carlisle from the piles of vinyl records.  This is where Carlisle gets classier.  At the central roundabout there is the wonderful Citadel, which is comprised of two towers that dominate the entrance to the city.  Apparently they have recently been restored and you can visit them too.
As we were hungry we went to Nando’s and the food was as you expect from a high street chain.  The staff were friendly and surprisingly it wasn’t too busy either.  At the Trafford Centre I’ve never seen the Nando’s without a queue or not busting at the seams.  Although I think Neil would have been happy with just a battered burger or battered black pudding from the nearby takeaway.  To be honest I think he likes any meat product served in batter.
Wandering into Carlisle you find the shopping areas are pedestrianized which is really good.  What I did notice about Carlisle is that the architecture appeared to more Scottish in origin than English.  The buildings look really impressive, solidly built in local stone with a touch of the gothic about them.  The station is definitely a place to visit with its Victorian gothic façade.
As we only had a couple of hours of free parking at ASDA we had to curtail our visit to Carlisle.  We didn’t get to do all the shops in Carlisle, but then again quite a lot of them are high street chains. 
We would definitely come back to Carlisle again so Neil could look through the cheap records in the charity shops and for me to have more time to explore the city centre further.  Carlisle has a lot to offer with its history, the friendly locals and being the only city in Cumbria, however it definitely has its deprivation problems which were sad to witness.  Next time though we will find a car park closer to the town centre.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

Barrow.  What can you say about the place when only two words suffice?

Thankfully the trip to South Lakes Zoo down the road fortified us with enough good vibes to cope with a trip to Barrow.
A short trip down the A590 brought us into the town centre and we parked in the pay and display car park behind the impressive Town Hall.   It has to be said the Town Hall is the most beautiful building in town, although it’s doesn’t have much competition in that respect.

We headed into the shopping precinct and passed the indoor market which was shut for the day.  The precinct was very quiet, although clearly there had been some regeneration work to bring it into the 21st century.  Then again there were still plenty of shops empty and boarded up.  The Specials “Ghost Town” started to play in my head.  If there had been tumbleweed rolling through the town it would have set the scene perfectly.
We pinballed along the precinct, from charity shop to charity shop.  Nothing much could be found in the precinct charity shops.  The precinct was full of the usual high street shops you would find in most UK towns.  Although once you go down the side streets you will find the local independent shops eking out a living.  If you need to go the toilets Debenhams is your best bet. 
We had visited Barrow before and found a charity shop on one of the main roads that had been chock-a-block full of stuff.  However could we find it again?  Sadly not.  Although we did go down a side street and found what appeared to be a small warehouse sized charity shop run by Age UK.  It was great and full of furniture.  The books were cheap and I picked up a Jo Nesbo book and bizarrely for Barrow a David Sedaris memoir “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”  Never did I think I would find a book by a gay, American satirist in the back streets of Barrow.

Barrow is of a different age.  Once you venture out of the main shopping area it is surrounded by rows and rows of terrace houses.  You could easily film any period drama here from the Victorian period to the 1980s and you would only have to worry about covering up the satellite dishes.  You could also see the faded painted signage peeling on the side of a former corner shop.  The town’s fortunes heavily rely on the shipyard which is just on the edge of town.  On our previous visit we drove by and saw a huge ship or submarine (I’m not entirely sure about these things) being built.  The scale was impressive.  Sadly this time there was no ocean going machine to gawp at as we drove by.
We wandered around the street of Barrow for a couple of hours and to be honest it was somewhat depressing.  The pubs looked desperate and scary.  The bouncer from one of Cartmel’s pubs mentioned that Barrow can be a very ‘lively’ night out and I could see what he meant.  Definitely one to avoid for the more genteel amongst us, although if you like a night out tinged with danger I reckon this could be your town.
Barrow is really isolated on the Furness peninsular, far away from the nearest city.  This place really smacks you in the face with its deprivation.  If you were from a poor family here your opportunities would be truly limited and dependent on the shipyard for employment.  Not only directly but indirectly on the businesses that rely on the custom of the workers.  I dread to think how many people are on benefits in this town.
Our time in Barrow was over as the weather was getting somewhat patchy and the good vibes from South Lakes Zoo were at risk of wearing off.  For a quick exit you can always take the A590 out of town, although I do recommend taking the A5087 coast road back to Ulverston as on a good day you get fab views of Morecambe Bay. 
What else can I say?  Barrow was an experience, though one not to be repeated without a trip to South Lake Zoo first.



Sunday 5 January 2014

Dalton-In-Furness - South Lakes Zoo

We’d never been to South Lakes Zoo on our many travels to the Lake District and as we knew we were going to Barrow-In-Furness we needed to do something cheery before heading there.

Only a few miles from Ulverston we hopped on the A590 and turned off at Dalton-In-Furness.  We managed to miss the sign to the Zoo, however a U turn later we got there.
Parking at South Lakes Zoo is straightforward as it doesn’t have the acres of parking like Chester Zoo has.  As it was a weekday we parked close to the entrance.  There was a lone attendant manning the box office as it wasn’t busy and the entrance fee was £13.50 per adult.

Walking into the zoo the place seemed really quiet and we wondered whether there would be anyone there.  Thankfully when we got to the main part with the gift shop, toilets and the refreshment area, things were somewhat busier.
We decided to visit the small animals first and we went through double gates and we had the shock of our lives.  South Lakes Zoo is no ordinary zoo.  We’d been to zoos all over the world and never did we find one where the animals roamed with the visitors.  There were at 8 types of lemurs.  The golden brown ones were curled up in balls snuggled next to each other.  The belted ruffled lemurs were trying to find some peace and quiet from the ring-tailed lemurs who ruled the roost here.
The ring-tailed lemurs are just fabulous.  You are not meant to pet them or feed them, but it doesn’t stop them from mugging you for food.  We heard the screams of teenage girls as the lemurs were touching them up.  In the Alpaca section the ring-tailed lemurs were chasing birds out of the pen.  However the alpacas, who are seriously cute, were looking rather stressed and dishevelled from the lemurs’ antics.  I did notice the wallabies were keeping their distance from the lemurs, as without a doubt to the rest of the animal kingdom the ring-tailed lemurs could be irritating, hyperactive, pains in the rear.  Then again to humans they are cheeky, friendly little souls who can melt your heart.

What was lovely about the lemurs was how they interacted with each other.  They are very social animals and I love how they literally piled up on top of each other to sleep.  The young baby lemurs hung onto their mothers back whilst they roamed the area. 
As we left the area and went to the gift shop we saw 3 young ring-tailed lemurs had broken out of the main section and were balanced on the handrail to the shop.  Clearly they were up to some mischief.  Suddenly the ringleader darted into the gift shop and then we heard the shop assistant let out an almighty yell of “OUT!”  She came out of the shop brandishing a pump action water pistol and evicted the ringleader who was trying to break into the store room.  Then she shot at the young lemurs which were stood less than a metre away from where I was standing.  I have to credit the shop assistant for having an outstanding aim as she didn’t hit me once.  I’m sure when she went for the job the job description didn’t include the line “must have an excellent aim with water pistol to scare off shoplifting lemurs”.

I did begin to wonder if the lemurs had broken out of here.  They were agile and frisky little things that could slip out of here without people noticing.  After a quick search on Twitter, sure enough there had been a breakout a few months earlier when a couple of them were spotted on the nearby dual carriageway.  Apparently the zoo had to close to do a head count.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there were families of lemurs roaming wild on the Furness Peninsular or some locals had adopted some stray ones.  Who could say no to a lemur?
Other animals we got up close and personal with were the prairie dogs, which were super cute munching their food.  There was a goat sat on a bench.  I’m not joking – here is the photographic proof.  Although some of the small animals, like the mongooses, who were under lock and key as they would predate some of the other animals.

We popped along to see the giraffes as it was their feeding time.  The zoo had built a large viewing platform into the giraffe pen.  There was a zoo keeper giving a talk whilst feeding the giraffes.  Although I didn’t take in a word of what she was saying as I was staring literally eyeball to eyeball with the giraffes.  IT WAS AMAZING!  They are so beautiful with their long delicate necks and soulful eyes.  I can’t believe how close we got to them.  They were also sharing their pen with the rhinos, but somehow they didn’t have the same magic of the giraffes.

As we walked through the rest of the zoo there were monkeys swinging pole to pole above our heads.  The penguins were swimming in their pool and I believe, like the lemurs, they can get out and intermingle with the visitors.  I did freak out in one shed where there were signs saying there were snakes loose.  I do not do reptiles of any sort especially snakes and made a swift girly exit from the shed.
My biggest reservation about the place was that some animals looked somewhat ill at ease here.  The spectacled bear was looking rather pissed off.   There was a covered bird exhibit, whereas in my world no bird would ever be caged.  That is completely wrong as winged animals should be allowed to fly wherever they want.  The big cats clearly weren’t happy.  There was one big cat in her cage looking mentally ill.  I have massive misgivings about putting big cats in small spaces.  I can completely get why one of them would attack and kill its keeper, which sadly happened here earlier in the year.
Part of me completely loved this madhouse of a zoo.  Seeing the small animals wander and interact was ace.  However there were some animals not cut out for zoo life and however much I love big cats I would rather see them on a safari rather than cooped up in a cage.  This is definitely a unique experience and one to take small children on their first trip to the zoo to see the small animals, especially the lemurs.