Sunday, 1 June 2014

Rawtenstall, Lancashire

We’d just visited Ramsbottom and had an hour or so to kill, so we decided to pop 4 miles down the road to Rawtenstall.

I am reasonably familiar with Rawtenstall.  When I was a teenager my Dad used to bring me and my brother up to the dry ski slope just outside here.  Like with most sports I have tried, I was completely rubbish at it.  On my first trip, I ended up getting a black eye as I went face first into the wooden barrier on the nursery slope.  Last time I skied (this time in Sheffield) I ended up in casualty with concussion and a suspected broken thumb.  Ski Rossendale is still going after all these years as a social enterprise, which is a good thing for the local community.  Although with my dodgy foot and ankle, I think it’s wise I don’t go anywhere near those slopes as I’ve had more than enough trips to casualty in my lifetime.

The last time we went to Rawtenstall town centre was several years ago and I have to admit I wasn’t very excited about the whole experience.  It was dull, there were hardly any people about and the shops were not very exciting.  In many respects I’d been putting off a return trip here for the blog for quite a long time. 
Getting to Rawtenstall from Manchester is easy – M60, M66, A56 and A682.  Parking is simple too and we found a space in the James Street car park, which is free for 3 hours –“result” as they say. 

As we walked into the town centre we spotted some bored teenagers skateboarding in the town square.  It seemed such an odd space, like there was something missing.  It was only when I was doing a bit of research for this blog post that I found out the town square used to be a boarded up shopping centre.  The Council decided to demolish it in 2011 and turn it into a town square.  Actually I’d rather that than see a derelict shopping centre, although I can’t help think some additional work is needed to make it feel more a part of the town. 

We walked along Bank Street where most of the shops appear to be located.  The majority of the shops appear to be independent, although there is a large ASDA on Saint Mary’s Way just across the road from Bank Street. 

Most of the shops we found along Bank Street are traditionally built from rough-hewn, sandy coloured stone, which gives the place character.  Added to this was the fact the road was cobbled – quite a northern touch.  Maybe a nightmare to drive down, but very pretty to see. 

We obviously checked out the charity shops and I’m sure more have sprung up since we last visited as we found six of them.  They appeared very popular with the locals as they were packed with people.  I can quite understand why some shops were advertising for stock.  Neil didn’t find any vinyl records to buy and I didn’t find any books.  However it was good to see they were busy and providing a community service.

What caught my eye was the amount of independent gift shops that had sprung up.  It was nice to have a potter through them, looking at the nice, sparkly stuff.  In one shop I spent more time than I meant to as I ended up eavesdropping on a conversation the staff were having with a young lady.  She was telling them about how she split up with her long term boyfriend two weeks before her final law exams.  Obviously she was hacked off about this and how he acted like a complete tosser by taking most of their joint belongings.  However most importantly she passed her exams, she’s over him and now in a happy place.  As they say in certain urban neighbourhoods – “Go girl!”  I’m sure she’ll have a great life with that kind of attitude. 
Something about the names of some of the shops we passed had that direct northern charm – Tufties the hairdressers, Do Dah’s cafĂ© wine bar, Sunday Best clothes shop and Luvinit gift shop.  Actually Sunday Best had won a Daily Telegraph award in 2011 for best independent retailer for women’s fashion in Britain, which is pretty darn amazing if you ask me.

We found Rawtenstall still had a permanent market on Newchurch Road.  This gave me flashbacks to some of the markets I used to visit in the 1970s as the open air market had traditional, purpose built, wooden market stalls which were painted green.  At the back of the open air market is an indoor market and it’s quite small compared to other northern indoor markets we have been to.  It was a bit of a squeeze to negotiate the stalls.  Both markets are a mix of the traditional and the modern.  This was perfectly encapsulated with the broken biscuit stall, as one man told his wife that the stall sold gluten free broken biscuits – how brill is that?  Also how often do you find a Thai Street Food stall in a northern market?  Interestingly there is a stall that sold reasonably priced reclaimed and updated furniture in modern neutral colours.  What impressed me most were the people.  There was a nice buzz about this market with the friendly banter between the locals and stallholders.  Clearly the stallholders make the effort to bring in the local shoppers.
There is something happening in the foothills of the Pennines and it’s good.  I’d put off revisiting Rawtenstall for several years and I was genuinely surprised to see the changes.  I know visiting on a sunny day always helps, but there has been a real change going on here.  Some real thought and imagination has gone on here to craft a town that is nice to visit and live in.  I’m sure the teenagers will still hanker after the bright lights of Manchester.  However once the novelty has worn off there is nothing better than living in a nice place, surrounded by lovely countryside and having all the modern conveniences of 21th century life.  Rawtenstall is definitely trying to carve itself out as an up-and-coming commuter town at the end of the M66 with affordable house prices.  I’d be really interested to see how this place develops in years to come as there is still more to do, but so far it’s looking pretty darn good.