Sunday 23 February 2014

Workington, Cumbria

After our visit to Cockermouth we headed west on the A66 to Workington.  More often than not I like going to places I know nothing about and the only thing I check is whether it has charity shops.  So after a quick Google I knew Workington was good to go on the charity shop front.

Workington is an industrial, working class town perched on the Cumbrian coast.  It’s quite an isolated part of the world and is at least one hour away from either the nearest city or the M6.
On driving into Workington the place appeared to be a little on the grim side with lots of industrial developments and some unloved buildings.  We parked up in the local pay and display car park near to the local shopping centre.
The shopping centre was basically pedestrianised streets, served by regular high street chains.  Clearly regeneration money had been spent in recent years to make the shopping centre inviting with random street art and in Washington Square there appeared to be a multimedia installation.  I expect this is where they hold local events like the annual Christmas lights and stuff. However there were still a few empty shops including a branch of HMV, which is always sad to see.
What I really noticed walking around the shopping centre were the people.  It was like walking onto a set of a soap opera where everyone knows each other.  Gangs of kids congregated outside shops having a gossip, a punk mother dragging her teenage goth kid shopping and hard faced young girls were pushing prams.  I reckon Sport Direct must do great business considering half the population appear to wear sports gear.
There were plenty of charity shops in Workington and we popped along to most of them.  We didn’t find much to buy but I did notice most of them were very clean and tidy.  Whilst some charity shops I’ve visited over the years can resemble an episode of Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder, I really do appreciate a well ordered charity shop and gold stars should go to the ladies of Workington who run these shops.
Apart from the shopping precinct the architecture of the town was typical of an English port town with old buildings covered in render with small windows and Victorian red brick terraces.  Surprisingly the bus station is housed in a 1920s Art Deco building, which apparently was the first purpose built bus station in Britain.  Workington Library appears to have had a makeover in recent years and it’s great to see it houses a community run café.  There are a few independent shops on the edge of the town and Rosie’s Corner gift shop caught my eye with its colourful retro shop front.
We were intending to walk towards the port area, but the weather was a bit wet and the town hadn’t filled me with much joy to explore it any further.  In the end we headed back to the car and decided to make a trip to nearby Maryport instead.
I can’t say I was that impressed with Workington, then again it doesn’t pop up as a tourist destination for Cumbria.  It’s an industrial town that’s off the beaten track and with that you do get deprivation.  Clearly regeneration money has been spent on the town to create a half decent shopping area, which is needed as the nearest city is over an hour away by car.  However, personally I can’t really find a reason to go back there in a hurry.


Sunday 9 February 2014

Cockermouth - Second time around

The one place I wanted to revisit from our last trip to Cumbria was Cockermouth.  Just outside the Lake District, Cockermouth is a rather classy town.  On our holiday we made two abortive attempts to get to Cockermouth, however we spent too much time in other towns to get there before the shops closed.  The third time we made it our first visit of the day to make sure we actually got there.

Although getting to Cockermouth from Cartmel is a bit of a chore and with Neil’s travel sickness we had to take the longer, but slightly quicker route – M6 and A66.  Admittedly at this point in the holiday I was getting pretty bored of the M6, but it’s the best way to get from the southerly tip of Cumbria to the northerly parts.
This time I remembered that Cockermouth did the whole parking permit thing for its residents and you have to drive through Cockermouth to find the little car park behind the shops.  It was only 11am and the car park was packed and we just managed to find the only space in the place. We made sure this time to get parking for more than one hour as there is plenty to see in Cockermouth – that’s if you like antiques and charity shops.
One thing you notice about Cockermouth is that it’s really well maintained.  Lots of pretty street furniture, the rendered walls of the buildings always seems freshly painted and there is simply no litter here.  Parts of Cockermouth reminds me of the residential areas of Luxembourg and Paris.  I think it’s the colours of the rendered buildings and general neatness of the place.  That said there are plenty of buildings that remind you that you are in an English town – stone built buildings and the pubs.
 If you like antiques and a touch of vintage, Cockermouth is the place for you.  There are lots of antiques shops to explore.  Some are little more than vintage shops run by hipster types selling overpriced old stuff and much to Neil’s annoyance, trying to sell vinyl records at silly prices.  I daren’t think how many times did I hear the refrain from Neil ‘In Kingbee that would be in the 50p box’ at something that was priced £10.  I could literally spend a day and a fortune in Cockermouth Antique and Craft Market, Cockermouth Antiques and Collector’s Corner Antiques as they are so jammed full of stuff.  There’s so much to see antiques wise you really need to spend a whole day or two.  There is also an antiques auction room called Mitchell’s Antiques.  I’m really wanted to see an auction in full swing, however the day we went it sadly wasn’t on.  Apparently there is a household auction held every Thursday and the nearby café cashes in on this by offering auction day specials.
The other good thing about Cockermouth are the charity shops.  Neil managed to find a Stevie Nicks and Michael Jackson album for 50p each in a tiny back street charity shop.  In the Oxfam I bought a Tracey Emin memoir called ‘Strangeland’.  The slightly odd shop assistant tried to engage me in conversation about Tracey Emin, but what more can I say than I find her interesting and that’s why I’m buying the book.  By the way the book was a disturbing read unsurprisingly.  Seriously social workers really needed to be called in when she was a teenager.  For me it really explained why she does her work, but how she didn’t become a teenage single mum with a horde of kids living in a council estate is a miracle and a testament to her strength of character.
We decided to grab a bite to eat at The Castle Bar, which is nice old pub that does gastro pub food. We ate in the restaurant upstairs and the staff were nice. Neil had the tempura chicken and I had the southern style chicken.  Both were good, although the chips weren’t the best.  Despite the simplicity of the chip (potato & hot oil) I do think, more often than not, most places don’t get them right.  However I really enjoyed their salad, as on holidays I tend to eat unhealthy food and by day four I’m desperate for a good salad.

We could have gone to the birthplace of Wordsworth as his home has been turned into a museum by the National Trust, but as you know dusty old romantic poets don’t float my boat.  So we gave that swerve.  Probably an interesting place though, but just not for me.
I do like Cockermouth a lot.  It’s a nice and peaceful place, just a little off the main tourist route.  The antiques and charity shops aside, there are plenty of independently owned shops in this town which are well worth visiting.  There are even two bookshops, which is a miracle in this day and age for a town of this size.  Definitely a place to stay for a weekend, however the only drawback is the fact it’s already 45 minutes away from the M6.  Then again if you are planning to spend a weekend exploring the north Lakes, Cockermouth provides a good base that isn’t overly touristy.

Sunday 2 February 2014

Penrith, Cumbria

It was the tail end of the afternoon when we got to Penrith and the town was winding down.  Kids were coming home from school making a detour to the sweet shop to stock up on supplies.

Parking in Penrith is a little tricky.  There is some on street parking, however they have a residents only disc system, so we ended up in a tiny pay-and-display car park behind some shops.  Although it’s probably best to park in Sainsbury’s for free as it’s close to the town centre.
At the centre of the town there are some tiny pedestrianised streets around the Angel Lane area.  To be honest I doubt if you could get any cars down these tiny streets.
In the main town square we found J & J Grahams Grocery Store.  It’s a pretty good shop selling all sorts of locally sourced food.  If you like cheese there is plenty to choose from, although Neil who isn’t a cheese fan struggled with the smell of it in here.  This is definitely a place to stock up on supplies if you are staying in Cumbria.  There truly isn’t anything better than freshly baked quality bread and you will definitely find some in this place.
Penrith is quite a Victorian town architecturally especially near the town centre.  The red brick buildings seemed to have a more Scottish element than I had anticipated.  The sturdy red stone gives the place a real character and a sense of place.  The Council have clearly spent quite a lot of money around the town centre making the place look good with new pavements and street furniture.
There were a few charity shops here, although at 4pm we did notice that some had started to close.  This is perfectly understandable as Penrith during the week isn’t that busy.  If you are planning to come during the week it’s best to get here before 2pm.
The majority of shops in the area are independently owned, which is always good to see, however there were some empty shops too.  Off the main street we found Costas Tapas Bar which was colourfully decorated.  It’s always nice to see places make the effort to brighten up the place.   You can find a little shopping centre with high street chains on the edge of town near Sainsbury’s.  However you do need to go to the likes of Carlisle for a fuller shopping experience. 
Under the George Hotel there is the Devonshire Arcade with little shops and a café.  On a previous visit we ate in the café there, but as it was late in the day it had already shut up shop.  It’s a nice place to shelter when the weather is bad.
I can’t say Penrith was very exciting on this visit.  On a previous visit we found a very sociable cat, but this time the cats were shy.  It didn’t help that we visited on a day when the market wasn’t on - market days are Tuesday and Saturday with a farmers market once a month.  My main piece of advice is to visit Penrith earlier on a market day to experience the best of this place.