Sunday 30 March 2014

Rochdale, Greater Manchester

Although I’ve lived in Manchester for over 40 years Rochdale has been a bit of a mystery to me.  The first time I went it was just to Rochdale Infirmary as my Dad needed a spot of day surgery.  Otherwise Rochdale to me was the last town before Yorkshire.

The day we went wasn’t the best.  The weather was your stereotypical Manchester day – wet and grey. 
Getting to Rochdale is straightforward – M60 clockwise, straight onto M62 towards Yorkshire, exit junction 20 and follow the signs for Rochdale town centre.

We ended up parking in a little pay and display car park up a cobbled hill, somewhere behind the Town Hall.  The parking was cheap, but after we paid, a lady pointed out that parking was free.  We had missed the free parking sign completely as it had been obscured by a rubbish bin.
One thing to visit Rochdale for is the Grade 1 listed TownHall, which is a brilliant example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture.  It was designed by the same architect who built Manchester Town hall.  We weren’t too sure whether it was open to the public on a Saturday so we didn’t go in.  Having looked at pictures of the interior I would love to come again and see it in the flesh.  I bet this place is a popular wedding venue and given all the posh cars parked outside it on this Saturday I’m sure it was being used for that purpose that day.  A weird story I found out about the place was that Hitler liked the place so much, he had intended to take the town hall back to Germany brick by brick if Germany won the war.
In the town square there was an event going on with all the local community groups in a large tent promoting their services.  The fire service were there doing their community outreach. There was also a tiny stage too with a band singing about Rochdale in the drizzle.  It's good to see this sort of activity as it shows the community cares.
We wandered into the town centre and found a shopping centre with the Beales department store, a market and a main shopping street.  There were lots of unkempt, old style shops signs dotted across the town, which gave the place a scruffy appearance.  Bizarrely there was a bed shop which had speakers in the first floor window with a DJ in the shop window blasting out Northern Soul songs.  In between the songs there were announcements to buy beds.  As marketing promotions go this is definitely one of the most unusual I’ve seen.

As usual we checked out the charity shops.  Surprisingly there were lots of videos and cassettes being sold in these shops.  Although the shops weren’t overwhelmed with stock, which can only mean two things – they don’t get many donations or that the charity shops are very popular so they run low in stock.  That said the shops were clean and tidy so they were easy to browse.  Neil didn’t find any vinyl to buy though.
Rochdale wasn’t very busy that day, possibly due to the weather.  The majority of people were older people, some of which had hard lived in faces.  I swear some people looked older than they actually were.  We also noticed there was a prominent Asian community in the town.  I knew from my community radio days there was a big community as they have a Muslim radio station called Crescent Radio.
After this first visit I had the opportunity to go back to Rochdale.  This time the weather was much better and Rochdale does seem better with a bit of sunshine.  People in Broadfield Park were chatting and soaking up the sun.  This park overlooks the town centre and has a good view of the surrounding area. 
This time I also got to meet a few locals and I was really impressed by how friendly and proactive they were.  Yes - Rochdale has really struggled since the decline in the local industry and this has had a negative impact on people.  From speaking with people who know Rochdale, the place apparently has gone downhill over the past twenty years.  It’s hard not to notice the deprivation in the town, especially as it was the first time I’ve ever seen a food bank.  I really hope that the new tram line can bring the regeneration to Rochdale it sorely needs.  Regardless of all this the community spirit in Rochdale shines through and the desire to make a positive difference to the place is impressive.  It should be expected as Rochdale does have a tradition of social equality as it was the birth place of the cooperative movement. 
Rochdale does seem out of time from other northern towns I’ve visited and it has had more than its fair share of troubles. However, beauty can be found in this town through its town hall and, most importantly, its people.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Ellesmere Port and Cheshire Oaks

The story of why we ended up in Ellesmere Port was a suggestion from Neil to go to Ed’s Diner at Cheshire Oaks.

Whenever we are in London we always end up at Ed’s Diner for a burger and a hotdog.  The food from this American styled diner is always good and it was great to find out recently that they are now opening branches across the UK.  Neil was keen to sample the pulled pork hot dog again so we trotted along to Cheshire Oaks via the M60, M62, M6 (damn the road works on the Thelwall Viaduct), M56 and M53. 
Parking in Cheshire Oaks on a Saturday is a nightmare.  I really didn’t know what to expect to see at Cheshire Oaks and there were car parks in front of the shops.  However, ignore this and head for the multi storey car park. It saves a world of pain of cruising around the open air car park looking for a precious space. 

Cheshire Oaks is really a large, nicely built precinct with some top name designer outlet shops.  It attracts a wide range of people from middle class and working class families, all on the same mission - looking out for cut price quality goods.  It was really packed with people and it was driving me nuts.  So we cut to the chase and headed to Ed’s Diner.
We had to queue at Ed’s Diner to get a table.  Unlike the Ed’s Diners we’d been to in London it was full of families who wanted something classier than a McDonalds.  One of the reasons why Neil likes this place is the 50s and 60s music. However the kids were noisy and we could barely hear what was playing.  The food was good (pulled pork burger & pulled pork hotdog).  The staff were efficient and friendly.  The service was quick and the place was clean.  You really can’t fault Ed’s Diner and it is well worth a visit for an American Diner experience.

Cheshire Oaks was simply doing my head in with all the people.  I do think I’m a bit antisocial at times.  The next time we come back here to sample Ed’s Diner we will go during the week when it’s much quieter.
Ten minutes down the road is Ellesmere Port.  I’d only every heard of this place as one of my childhood neighbours had family there. 

Driving into Ellesmere Port there appeared to be lots of council housing and working class terraces.  If it wasn’t for it being a bright day, I think this place would seem quite grim.

We parked in a pay and display car park near the station, where it was 50p for two hours.  Although we later found there was an ASDA up the road, which probably did free parking.
Ellesmere Port has definitely seen better days.  On the main high street many shops had been closed down.  All there seemed to be were takeaways, discount shops, off licences, pawnbrokers and a Polish shop.  However the Fab Lab did seem interesting, selling locally made goods.  It appeared to be some local regeneration project to help people develop skills and gain employment, which is great to see.    
The architecture in Ellesmere Port seemed to be a mix of Victorian red brick and 1950s / 1960s concrete creations.  It’s quite likely this place was bombed during the Blitz in the Second World War and may explain why there are so many post war civic buildings.

Whilst it was a bright day, the wind was making it hard for us to walk down the high street.  We got to the precinct and decided to take shelter there.

The charity shops are situated around the precinct.  We found a Salvation Army, Local Federation for the Blind shop, British Heart Foundation and Claire House Childrens Hospice.  I really can’t say we found much in them.  The books were pretty dull, although I did find the biography section did cover a number of reasonably local celebs including Gary Barlow, Paul O’Grady and Steven Gerrard.  Neil didn’t find any records to buy
The precinct wasn’t that exciting either with the usual high street names, electronic cigarette shop, Costa and the bizarrely named National Milk Bars café.  I popped into The Works and picked up a cheap autobiography by Carrie Fisher (ace writer by the way).

The shoppers seemed down to earth older people, some of which appeared to have had hard lives.  The young and middle aged people clearly head off to nearby Cheshire Oaks or Chester for their shopping experiences.
There was an indoor market and this was definitely where the heart of the community lies.  At the centre of the market was a seating area which was served by three or four food stalls.  If it could be fried, it was served here.  I noticed there were lots of old people having their Saturday afternoon treat. 

Around the eating area were all the stalls.  Some appeared to be bric-a-brac and handicraft stalls, but there were your usual suspects including a mobile phone stalls selling chavy mobile phone covers whilst doing cheap repairs and unlocking.  The two pet shops were doing well.  It was great to find both a haberdashery and wool stall as I’m fond of making stuff.  Oddly there was a stall selling freshly baked scones – it must be a local thing.  You really could do your weekly shop here and from the looks of things the older people do. 
Neil managed to find a record stall in the market and I was prepared to wander around the market on my own whilst he browsed.  However after flicking through one box there was a shake of the head and the word ‘overpriced’ was uttered. 

We could have gone to see if there was a waterfront, but we weren’t inspired to explore any further.  Enough was enough so we decided to home. 
I really can’t say I was impressed with Ellesmere Port and when I spoke to my Dad about the trip he did ask ‘Why?’  He’d worked there years ago and wasn’t that impressed either.  On the other hand Cheshire Oaks is probably a good enough reason to travel up the M53, although after experiencing the intensity of a Saturday afternoon maybe best visit on a weekday. 

Sunday 2 March 2014

Maryport, Cumbria

We hit the road from Workington to Maryport and took the coast road (A596).  It’s a rather bleak industrial route as we passed lots of large factories.  The view of the sea was obscured in part by the railway which hugged the coast side and it was a very grey and drizzly day.

We followed the signs for the car park, which was conveniently behind the main street in Maryport.  It was a pay and display car park but seemed reasonably cheap.  A dog was watching us intently from a nearby car and a local cat managed to evade our clutches as it passed through the car park. 
There was a little alleyway that took us through to the main shopping street.  Our main priority was to look through the charity shops first as it was getting late in the afternoon.  I noticed most charity shops closed at 3.30pm and we literally had 15 minutes to do them all, which we managed by the skin of our teeth as there was nothing much to see. 
After our mad charity shop dash, we explored the other shops.  We found a little bakery and bought ourselves a couple of cakes – a choux bun and a slice of carrot cake.  They filled a gap but weren’t the most exciting cakes we’ve ever had.
We noticed there were lots of ladies standing in the shop doorways watching the world go by, whilst having a cigarette.  Some were chatting with passers-by or with each other.  In my mind this scene seemed to echo another age, where folks were friendlier and the internet was a figment of someone’s imagination.
Maryport architecturally is your typical British seaside place with small, old buildings covered in colourful render to protect them from the elements..  There were lots of pubs and some hotels in the town.  I can imagine spending a cosy evening down the pub having a pint or two here.  I’m sure during the summer they have some tourists, although it’s definitely off the beaten path for Cumbria and about an hour’s drive to the M6. 
We did find the Carlton Market Hall which was a sweet vintage inspired café with arty market stalls.  The guy on the café was enthusiastic and we just had a wander round checking out the local art and gifts.  It was definitely a nice place to rest your weary feet and have a cup of tea.  Although doing a little post-visit research for this entry, I’m not entirely sure it will be open in 2014 as it’s up for sale.

Despite the drizzly weather we wandered down to the marina.  It was deserted.  The tide was out from the marina and the seagulls were on the sand trying to find some food.  It was one of those watercolour days were you could just barely make out the Scottish coast across the Solway Firth.  We noticed as we walked along the promenade there were paving bricks with words carved on.  Clearly the marina had had some form of regeneration in recent years and the Council decided to get the locals involved in a community art project.  The paving bricks had become weathered over the years and moss was collecting in the carved words making some words hard to read, however it somehow added to the charm. 
Across the marina was the Wave Centre, which is a local tourist attraction with a theatre, bistro and climbing facility.  However we didn’t get that far as the poor weather drove us back into the town. 
The shops were already closing up for the day and the kids were making their way back from school.  There wasn’t much else to see in Maryport especially as the weather wasn’t up to much and we had a two hour journey in front of us to get back to Cartmel. 

On the day we went, Maryport was a very sleepy town, although it was much nicer than Workington to visit.  I sincerely hope this place is busier in the summer when the weather is better and there are more tourists about.  However I’ve got a sneaking suspicion this place is struggling to keep afloat as there were plenty of empty shops, which is a worry for the town’s economy.  Maryport is definitely worth a visit especially if you want a place to get away from modern life for a few days and despite the bad weather I also found it was still a good place to take photos.