Monday 26 May 2014

Monton, Greater Manchester

Salford gets a bad rep from time to time. However there are some nice little neighbourhoods across the borough and Monton is one of those.

Monton is tucked away on the leafy edges of Eccles, next to Ellesmere Park.  Ellesmere Park is a rather desirable area to live in Salford with lots of Victorian villas on sizeable plots of land.  If you were brought up in Salford and came into some money, Ellesmere Park would be one of the places you’d consider moving to.  Although in recent years some of these houses have been demolished and flats built.  As a result of this affluent neighbourhood,  Monton has become an up and coming des res for people who can’t quite afford Ellesmere Park prices, but like the association.  I would liken it to the Didsbury / Chorlton experience, but on a dinkier scale.

Anyway, Monton.  I have come to know Monton reasonably well over the years, partly due to friends living there and partly because Monton has the nearest branch of my bank.

Monton is a place you don’t pass through by random chance as there are no major road routes through this suburban village as it’s wedged between the M602 and the A580 East Lancs.  Either you are going to Monton or taking a back route into Eccles.  So it’s worth having a look on a map beforehand or just use a sat nav.

If you are thinking of parking on a side street, think again.  The Council have made all of the nearby streets permit parking.  There are the odd 1 hour only spots;  however your best bet is the car park behind Monton Road shops.  Don’t risk parking in the permit parking places as the place is regularly patrolled by traffic wardens.
The shops in Monton are located on Monton Road.  Over the years Monton has evolved into an up and coming neighbourhood.  Whilst it still possesses traditional high street shops, little independent shops are infiltrating the main street.  Coffee shops are popping up all over the place and there is one that doubles as a deli.  I need to nip in as they are a stockist of Hawkshead Relish Fruity Brown Sauce – the best brown sauce I have ever had.

If you have a pet, you have a choice of pet shops and grooming salons.  Once I went to Monton and found a new pet shop had opened.  There was a person in a cat outfit trying to drum up trade.  However they ended up being a photo opportunity for all the local kids who were keen to get a photo with the freaky looking cat.
I noticed there were hardly any empty shops on Monton Road.  If they were closed it was because they were being refurbished.  There has been a little bit of an invasion of the Tesco Express kind, however my friend finds it a blessing as she is a busy mum of three and she can pick up stuff between her weekly shops.

There are two charity shops in Monton: Age UK and the Childrens Society.  Over the years we have visited them and have often donated to them.  Although I do feel really guilty as on my last trip I dumped a load of old videos on them.  I hope they managed to shift them.

You can always tell you’re in a well-to-do neighbourhood when there is a designer dress agency.  It must be the place where the ‘ladies that lunch’ from Ellesmere Park and Worsley sell off their cast offs for pin money.

I keep meaning to go out for an evening in Monton.  There are several restaurants to choose from including Indian, Italian and European.  Amongst the traditional pubs, a few little alternative bars have sprung up like the Blind Pig and the Malt Dog.  It’s nice to see a good mix of places in any neighbourhood.
Monton has a good mix of housing, from flats to large detached houses.  Surprisingly the old Monton House Hotel has been demolished to make way for retirement flats, which makes a change from regular flats.  In recent times Monton property prices have become a bit high.  However this can only be expected with a good school like Monton Green Primary School, where places are much sought after by local parents. 

You can’t help notice that there is a community spirit in this village and they have their own village association.  There always seems to be a community event in the planning and people seem to care about the place.  My friend often goes to these events with her kids as they are still young enough to appreciate them.  In a few years’ time only the Trafford Centre will do for the kids, which is only a short bus journey away on the 22 bus.

A thing I love about Monton is how green and leafy it is as you drive in.  A couple of years ago I discovered Monton is on the loopline network which uses former railway lines to provide off road cycle and walking routes across Greater Manchester.  It’s also part of the national cycle network and route 55 runs through Monton.  They are really nice to walk on a sunny day and you get a really hit of nature walking through the tree-lined paths.  My friend mentioned there is also a play area along the loopline too.  Also if you don’t fancy that, the historic Bridgewater Canal runs through Monton and you can walk along the canal banks observing the wildlife and canal boats to Worsley Green, which is another lovely place to visit. 

Monton is a nice family neighbourhood, with lots to offer.   It’s great how you can live a city life, but still have a village experience.  With Media City just a couple of miles away, I can imagine this place will become a property hot spot with the media folk.  Monton is definitely taking notes from Chorlton, but thankfully there are plenty of down-to-earth elements to stop the place getting too trendy for its own good. 

Sunday 18 May 2014

Urmston, Greater Manchester

It had been quite a few years since we last visited Urmston and as we didn’t want to go far on this Saturday afternoon we thought we should reacquaint ourselves with the place.

Urmston is tucked away in South Manchester near Trafford Park and Stretford.  The easiest way to get to it from North Manchester is to go on the M60 and get off at Junction 10.  However this can be problematic at times as it’s also the junction for the Trafford Centre and traffic can be backed up over Barton Bridge especially on a Saturday.  A quick tip for day trippers to the Trafford Centre: a good time to go is on a sunny Saturday.  If it’s bad weather the place will be rammed and the M60 anti-clockwise south bound will resemble a car park.  Back to Urmston – as it was a sunny day it was a breeze getting off at junction 10 and we headed on the B5214 into the town centre.

Parking was straightforward as we parked up in Sainsbury’s multistory where there is three hours free parking.  You can even get your car cleaned and valeted there. 

Sainsbury’s is attached to a modern shopping centre where all the bigger stores are located.  As Urmston is a suburb the main shops in this centre tend to be cheap stores like Poundland and Quality Save, which seem to be popular with the locals.  Sometimes having lots of these cheap stores can be a little depressing. However as the shopping centre is modern and has a couple of nice cafes the atmosphere is positive.

We walked into the town centre and the shops seemed to radiate off a junction near the train station.  First of all we wandered down Flixton Road and found some interesting shops.  I liked Mrs M Vintage shop, which sold a mix of vintage and vintage style new stuff.  The outside of the shop had a pretty and inviting pavement display, which reminded me of shops from the 1970s.  I love to see an independent bookshop and Urmston does not disappoint with Urmston Bookshop right next door to Mrs M’s.  It has its own café and does quite a few events.  In this day and age with the behemoth of Amazon endangering local bookshops, it’s important for the independents to diversify their activities to survive.

I was quite impressed that Urmston had lots of independent shops on its high streets, although for the life of us we could not find a florist.  You could get flowers in Sainsbury’s or the market, but we simply could not find a florist shop.  Maybe we were looking in the wrong places.  Back to the shops – as a craft fan I loved the fact there was a wool shop, and further out of town on Davyhulme Circle is Bon Fabrics.  Whilst it doesn’t have a huge selection of fabrics, they are great value, good colour choices and the lady who served me was lovely and very helpful. 

If you live in Urmston, you could easily eat out every day of the week.  There are loads of cafes and restaurants to choose from.  You will definitely find somewhere that suits your tastes.  I noticed Darby’s seemed pretty popular with the locals.  Even in the little market the café seemed popular with the older residents.

It’s not often you find a market in suburbs like this, although the good weather had driven people away either to the seaside or their gardens and barbecues.  The market stall holders were chatting and enjoying the rare British sunshine.  It was a mix of traditional cheap clothes, food and craft stalls.  According to their website, throughout the month they have different market themes including vintage & antiques, artisan, craft & homemade and family fun day.

You could easily do a pub crawl around this town. If you visited Urmston by train, you could start your pub crawl on the station platform as there is a pub called The Steamhouse.  There is a Wetherspoons randomly called  The Tim Bobbin.  It appeared to be housed in a former cinema.  Outside one of the pubs I noticed a weather beaten old bloke sat having a pint and a cigarette.  He was randomly chatting to himself.  I had to double take and check if he was using a phone – he wasn’t.  In a weird way it’s nice to see as he added character to the place.

Obviously we did visit all the charity shops.  Whilst Neil didn’t find much in the way of vinyl records, I did pick up a cheap mirror for our bedroom.  The trouble with suburban charity shops is that the good stuff is picked up very quickly by people who sell vintage goods.  Still I did see some good quality clothes on the racks.  Although I do think there would be a market for a good charity secondhand book shop like Oxfam books in Chorlton.  Whilst most of the charity shops are on the main roads, blink and you will miss two charity shops on Gloucester Road, just behind the Italian Job restaurant.

Urmston has managed to retain much of its Victorian character.  Just look up and you will see lots of the original features.  Around the town centre the residential streets are Victorian terraces and I expect parking can be an issue from time to time for residents.  Having seen many Manchester suburbs become overrun with developments for new flats, I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen to Urmston in the next few years.  There are some, but at the moment the balance is okay.

Looking back on our visit I can’t recall seeing that many empty shops, which is a good thing.  There were lots of families out and about doing their weekly shop.  Maybe it was the weather, but Urmston had a nice relaxed vibe going on.  It reminded me of how Chorlton was before it was overrun by trendy bars and tossers.  There is a bit of gentrification going on in Urmston, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as it goes overboard.

All in all, Urmston is a nice suburban town and on the upper working class / lower middle class socio-economic scheme of things.  I’m certain the good weather helped, but this is a nice hidden gem of a place and worth a visit.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Saltaire, West Yorkshire

Just a short drive from Shipley Town Centre is Saltaire.  Technically Saltaire is a part of Shipley, but in reality it seems a world apart economically and socially.
Saltaire is a UNESCO world heritage site, which is a special accolade.  There are only 28 UNESCO world heritage sites in the UK and 981 in the world.  It became a world heritage site because the place was built as a model village for the salt mill workers by Sir Titus Salt and is an example of 19th century paternalism.

Back to our visit - parking in Saltaire is easy as there is a free car park at the Salt Mill.  However you can visit here by train too and the station is on the other side of the salt mill.
I love scale and the Salt Mill is mighty in this regard.  Half of the mill is designated for businesses and the other half is retail space. 
One of the biggest draws to the Salt Mill is the David Hockney permanent exhibition here.  I adore Hockney and he’s my favourite living artist.  His use of colour, shape and line is fabulous and I find his work uplifting.  I really like how they exhibit his work here, not just in a dedicated gallery, but through the retail spaces too.  There is also a gallery space for other works and when we went there was a photographic exhibition of rock legends who visited Yorkshire by the photographer Paul Beriff.  As I write this the exhibition has finished, but it was great to see these pictures.  It reminded me of the recently departed Harry Goodwin, who used to take photos of musicians in the 1960s and 1970s at Top of the Pops and he had an exhibition at the Lowry Theatre last year.  I have a real soft spot for social history photography and it’s great to see them in spaces like these where it’s not a part of dedicated art gallery.  This gives people who do not normally go to art exhibitions a chance to have art experience as part of a shopping visit. 

I’m a big fan of the Salt Mill, not necessarily for the shopping or the eating, but for the scale of the place.  The mill rooms are huge with brill perspectives, which are great for taking photographs and to be honest that’s what I came for.
On the top floor there is a warren of antiques shops/stalls, which are great to rummage through.  I did overhear there had been a burglary where quite a bit of jewellery stock had been taken.  Neil was hyperventilating at the price of the records as they were truly overpriced.  The situation was no better when we went into the vintage shops in Saltaire Village where the vinyl stock was seriously beyond what you would expect to pay in a normal second-hand record shop.  I expect this is the reason why it was impossible to find any decent records in the many Shipley charity shops, as the people who run these vintage shops regularly trawl through them picking up vinyl for a song and reselling them for a small fortune.
I do recommend a visit to the Saltaire United Reform Church opposite the Salt Mill.  It’s a beautiful church with an unusual design.  It’s more like a chapel than a regular church.  I had a great time photographing the place and I can imagine this is a very popular wedding location too.  There were volunteers milling around the church and I saw they were raising money to restore the church.  They even had certificates of giving, which was a nice touch.  Obviously I gave a donation, as I do think these places need support as they are special to the community and add to the heritage of the place.

Saltaire village is beautifully designed.  The Yorkshire stone is a real feature to this place, not only used to build the terraced houses but also used in the mill and civic buildings.  It is evident there was care and attention put into the design of this place and it’s understandable why this has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The detail is fabulous from the stone lions outside Victoria Hall and the College, whilst looking similar all have different expressions, to the tiled detail on the entrances to the shops. 
Lots of vintage shops and boutiques have sprung up around Saltaire.  As much as I enjoy a wander around vintage shops I did find these ones overpriced and impossible to browse around as they were so busy.  I swear the vintage shop is the middle class version of the charity shop.
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating in Saltaire.  In the Salt Mill I spotted two eateries – a large canteen style restaurant which smelt of school dinners to me and the classier tea shop on the top floor.  In Saltaire there were a few places too including ‘Don’t Tell Titus’, which seemed to have a cosmopolitan clientele.  It was good to see the’ Salts Village Bakery’ was still going strong as I remember we had bought some nice stuff the last time we visited.
I can quite understand why this place is considered a desirable place to live in the Bradford area and as a result it attracts a middle class crowd.  Although visiting Shipley first did put Saltaire into perspective with the poverty that sits on its doorstep.  The UNESCO recognition is vitally important to Saltaire and I’m sure if it did not have it there would not have been the same level of investment.

Saltaire is a lovely place to visit for culture, food and retail therapy.  However for me I love the place for its architecture and the aesthetic details it has to offer.  If you are photographer or part of a photography group, this place is a perfect day out for you as there are plenty of photo opportunities and inspiration.