Sunday 31 August 2014

Alderley Edge, Cheshire

Whilst Wilmslow can be a bit chav-bling-tastic, Alderley Edge is like its classier cousin. It's the  Posh Spice to Ginger Spice.  Funnily enough Victoria Beckham lived in Alderley Edge back in the day when David played for Manchester United.

Yes - Alderley Edge is very much a part of the 'footballers and new rich' set.  In Cheshire, Alderley Edge is locally known as being a part of the golden triangle, which includes Hale Barnes and Knutsford.  Much of the wealth is concentrated here and it's no wonder it's considered one of the wealthiest areas in the UK.

Getting to Alderley Edge is relatively straightforward if you come from Wilmslow as you just go down the Alderley Road onto the A535 and then on the B5087.  Or if you are coming from Manchester - M60, exit junction 3 onto the A34, then pick up the A535 and B5087.  It's probably quicker using the latter route as you can use the Handforth bypass.
Parking is relatively straightforward as there is a little pay and display car park we tend to use behind the main shops.  However last time we went it did have some terrible pot holes.  Actually you might be better using the car park at the little Waitrose on the main road.  

Our car seemed conspicuously out of place amongst all the flash cars with personalised number plates.  For some people in Alderley, they park where they like and there was one woman who was unconcerned that her 4x4 had received a parking ticket.  It sure would be nice not to worry about such "trivialities".  

If you are stopping at Alderley Edge it does make a good afternoon lunch location as it has loads of bars and restaurants to choose from.  We'd already eaten beforehand, but I quite liked the look of the Botanist.  I couldn't help but notice many places offered your standard pub menu, but with a twist and fancy presentation.  If you have the right connections, you could seriously clean up here if you opened a bar/restaurant.  Instead we went to Costa for a cold drink as it was really hot and sticky that day, so much so I felt like I was having a hot flush.
Costa was fairly busy, caffeinating the neighbourhood.  One lady was nursing her coffee, scrolling through her smart phone, whilst another was on her laptop trying to type through the racket made by the neighbouring large family.  The family looked like visiting walkers having a break.  Just above Alderley is a National Trust site called the Edge.  Essentially it's an escarpment where you can get a great view of the Cheshire Plains and beyond on a good day.  It's also known as a supernatural attraction and there are plenty of legends about the place including the Wizard of the Edge.  It's just off the Macclesfield Road out of the village.  You can either follow the signs or stop where you see loads of cars on the side of the road.  We weren't feeling that adventurous on a hot summer's day, so we stayed in the village.

The village has a long history and goes back to the bronze age.  There are some lovely buildings in the town.  I particularly like the stone built building which houses a branch of Barclays Bank.  Further up is the 19th century tudor style building, which is home to the De Trafford pub, part of the Chef and Brewer chain.  I do keep meaning to try this place out as the Chef and Brewer food is generally pretty good.
Now when it come to charity shops, Alderley Edge is in the premier division.  If you are a size 8 to 10 go to Barnardos and bring your credit card.  Seriously it's the best charity shop for designer women's clothes I've seen.  The shop was naturally packed, but Neil was waiting outside as it doesn't do vinyl records. 

There are a number of charity shops in Alderley Edge, but the newest edition is an Oxfam.  We'd noticed the Oxfam in Wilmslow wasn't as good as it used to be and the book section was no longer as extensive.  It seems with the opening of the branch in Alderley Edge, the book section has transferred to here.  I liked it and so did Neil as he managed to pick up some vinyl records.  I think it was the first time he found anything here as I've always equated posh towns and villages to crap music taste.  Nantwich being an exception, but I do think that was a one-off-someone-died donation.

As you go on the charity shop trail in towns, you  recognise other people on the same trail.  This time it wasn't a person I recognised, but a lovely beagle dog whose owner traipsed from shop to shop hanging outside each shop waiting for his wife who was busily trawling through the shops.

The majority of Alderley shops are independently owned and reflect the demographic of the place.  There was a cheese shop, running shop and a rash of estate agents.  Nothing is just a simple shop - a home wear shop is an interior design shop. A kitchen shop was described as selling "exquisite bespoke kitchens".  Even the local bakery was serving up some lovely looking baked goods I've never seen in a local bakery.  You can't help but admire the spin they do to make things classier than they are.
Alderley Edge is clearly classier than its neighbouring town Wilmslow.  It's more low key, with dashes of designer style.  I couldn't help noticing the locals were promenading down the street in their high class smart casual clothes holding the designer bag of the moment.  I'm sure there's an internal social politics that would be interesting to unpick here, but that's for another time.  I can also imagine Alderley Edge does draw wannabe WAGS who stop over at the Premier Inn in the hope of picking up a Premiership footballer in a local bar.  Not that I would recognise a footballer if I bumped into one.  Seriously football is an overrated sport and has completely jumped the shark in terms of respectability and integrity.  I've been to two football matches in my life, once to Manchester City and the other time to Manchester United.  The only reason was to accompany my brother who had no one else to go with - he was desperate and I considered it a charitable act.

Alderley Edge is a lovely part of the world, far enough from the hustle and bustle of Manchester, but handily on a quick rail route to the city.  You can quite easily see why it has become the desirable neighbourhood of choice for the wealthy.  However I'm in no doubt there is a local snobbery and obsession with conspicuous consumption, which taints this lovely place.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester

We’d been to Stalybridge and were retracing our steps back to the M60, and we were passing through Ashton-Under-Lyne so decided to stop.  However, first thing to note is that Ashton-Under-Lyne is the Sunday name for the town which is more commonly known as Ashton.

I’d been to Ashton twice, first time to Tameside FM (community radio station) and the second time to IKEA (missed junction 23 on the M60, so had to take the next junction and spin around).  A quick note about IKEA, it can be a nuisance to get to as you have to pass through the town to get to it.  My only advice is to look for the big blue building and travel in that direction.  Fingers crossed you will get there, but this is a rare circumstance where I’d advise a SAT NAV would be useful.

We parked in the Henrietta Street car park on the edge of Ashton town centre.  It’s was cheap enough, although I hate having to type in my registration number into ticket machines which have non-qwerty keyboards. 
Ashton is a very down to earth place and is resolutely working class.  A bit rough around the edges, it’s an old mill town with many of the buildings from its Victorian heyday.  However in the centre of the town there are two more modern shopping precincts that house most of the high street shops – Ladysmith and the Arcade.  The real draw to Ashton is the huge market located in the town square outside of the Town Hall.  It kind of reminded me of those large squares you find in European cities as it was flanked by the Town Hall and Victorian Indoor Market Hall.  It’s a huge space and I was surprised to find out this is one of the largest in the UK.  When we walked around it, it was the end of the day and shutting up shop, but clearly you will find all forms of life here.  The indoor market was pretty smart too, as in recent times it’s had a makeover after a fire.  I remember Neil’s auntie saying she used to go to Ashton market with Morrissey, when he was just Steven, to find 60s girl group records.  Yes - I do mean Morrissey of The Smiths fame.  How cool is Neil’s auntie? Wow, that’s as cool as aunties get in my world.  It was over 30 years ago when that happened, yet the market remains.  I hate to admit this but I always thought Bury was the biggest draw when it came to markets in Greater Manchester, but Ashton’s market probably is a close second. 
For us the most interesting part of Ashton wasn’t the town centre, but the charity shops on the edge of the town.  Stamford Street is the main street to check out for charity shops, although there are others dotted around the side streets of Ashton. 

Stamford Street is quite interesting as it’s a mix of cheap shops and interesting independent shops that don’t fit into the town centre.  Some were surprisingly classy, many were not.  However in my world it’s always good to have a diverse range of shops.
The best charity shop we found was the Wooden Canal Boat Society shop.  It is a large charity shop, which had the added benefit of being both organised and reasonably priced with reasonable stock.  It also sold some canal boat paraphernalia too, if you’re into that sort of thing.  Once in a blue moon Neil stumbles upon a small clutch of interesting records and this place was the annual blue moon moment.  It’s exciting when this happens, as after several years of doing this I know it’s the exception and not the rule.  In many respects it was appropriate a couple of the records Neil found were by Morrissey.  I think Neil will be asking to come back here again.

Further down the road there were three branches of “Amazing Charity Shop”.  They were of the ‘mad old lady, crammed to the rafters’ kind of charity shop where you could half empty the shop and it still would still look overcrowded.  I can’t say we found much, but it was more for the fact we were overwhelmed by stock.  Some parts of the shop were completely inaccessible due to the stock mountain.  It’s a shame as there was probably stuff in there worth getting.

As ever, we found as we went from charity shop to charity shop we were bumping into the same people.  It was summer holiday time and I spotted a young kid with her dad doing the rounds. I hope her dad treated her to a toy to take home.
I didn’t expect Ashton to be as big as it is and we were quite overwhelmed by the area it covers.  To be honest I don’t think we explored over half of it in the time we had.  There are so many little side streets to explore and unless you have a good sense of direction you could easily get lost here.

We did have a bit of local interaction when a strange bloke asked me for directions to Molly’s.  I had to ask him to repeat what he said, probably more for the fact I am slightly deaf than he was a bit worse for wear.  I had no idea what Molly’s was, let alone where it was.  Neil pointed out to me it was a pub we had passed with the misspelt signage.

We only had a couple or so hours to explore the place but it’s definitely a place to come back to again.  Yes, it’s a bit rough around the edges and needs a lot of TLC, but some efforts had been made with the random street art of bronze characters looking around corners or in the middle of the streets.  It may not have all the high street names, but it’s the independents and charity shops on the side streets that are the draw for us.  If you like markets then this is definitely the place for you.  Okay, Ashton isn’t the most glamorous place in the world, it’s not beautiful, it’s not cool nor trendy, however it’s different and speaks of a different age which reminds us of how our forefathers lived.  Above all Ashton has character and that is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in this day and age.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Stalybridge, Greater Manchester

I'd been meaning to go to Stalybridge for quite some time.  My Dad had told me tales about Stalybridge having a very lively night life and that it was nicknamed Stalyvegas.  Not that we were going in the evening, but I thought it would be interesting to see the place anyway.

Getting to Stalybridge means taking the M60 and getting off at junction 23 at Ashton-Under-Lyne and then following the A635 until you hit the town.  We stupidly ended up in a pay and display car park next to the Amber Lounge.  We should have travelled further up the road and parked outside Tesco for free.

It was a Tuesday so we did expect the town to be quiet and to be honest it was.  
The weather was a bit touch and go too with drizzle as we wandered through the town. 

Stalybridge architecturally is firmly in the 19th century with plenty of nice Victorian red brick buildings. At its height, Stalybridge’s money came through cotton mills.  The cotton mills are long gone now and many of the large civic buildings have been turned into flats or otherwise remain empty.  As for the feel of Stalybridge, it remains somewhere in the 20th century, maybe the 60s or 70s.  I would quite understand if this place was used in period TV dramas as it’s fairly untouched by modern architecture.  However there has been some regeneration going on.  Stalybridge train station looks as if it has had a makeover with a modern entrance.  The bus station seemed rather new too.  The Huddersfield Canal which runs through Stalybridge has also had a makeover, which is nice to see when many canals across the north need a little TLC.

In the distance I spotted a rather swish looking apartment block that would not look out of place in some of the trendier parts of central Manchester.  They looked like they were designed by Urban Splash and sure enough when I checked they were.  Urban Splash had also converted a mill into loft style apartments.  They were selling it on the basis you're only a 12 minute train ride from Manchester - I'm not entirely convinced myself.  Maybe it's the attraction of city style living on the edge of the Pennines - I'm still not sure.

Obviously the main reason we came here were the charity shops.  According to Yell there were four, but we could only find three.  Anyway that was enough to keep us occupied.  The charity shops were quite busy and there was quite a bit of banter in the shops between staff and regulars. Sadly we didn't find anything to buy.  We did spot a house clearance shop and they did do a good line in old electronics and stereo equipment.
The rest of Stalybridge is an interesting mix of cheap shops, pubs and independent shops.  There is a small precinct in the centre of the town dating back to the 60s.  There was one shop called Findlay's, which was rocking old school 70s signage.  We thought it had closed down until we spotted people coming out of the shop.

We were surprised to find a few shops that sold art in the town.  I guess this is part of the town's regeneration, although the town retains a civic art gallery, which is part of the town's library.  Sadly we didn’t have chance to see it as I stupidly parked in a pay and display car park and we needed to get back to the car. 

There are plenty of independent shops in Stalybridge.  There is one little cafĂ© that caught our eye as its name was a pun on serendipity – Sara Dip and Tea.  I also found a sewing shop called "All Fabrics" that sold nice fabrics and did sewing workshops.  I adore seeing places like this in towns like these as I do think it’s a shame we are fast losing these skills.  When I was a teenager my school used to have needlework classes.  It turned out I was really quite good at needlework, although the teacher eventually retired and wasn’t replaced.  So I lost one of the few things I liked at school and given that I hated school it was a big loss.

One thing is for sure, Stalybridge has plenty of pubs, bars and venues.  As we walked through, we noticed many shops had shutters pulled down, although I realised some of these places opened up at night either serving beer or food.  I can quite understand why this place is often referred to as Stalyvegas as there are so many places to drink and have a dance.  However many had closed down too, like many places across the country.  The few pubs that were open during the day all had people sitting outside drinking beer and smoking fags.  Part of me almost wants to experience a Stalyvegas night out as an academic exercise for the blog, but part of me is a little intimidated too at the thought of it. 

Stalybridge has an old school charm and is languishing somewhere in the 20th century, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Many of these outlying towns march to the beat of their own drum.  When you live in the city you often see younger people trying to keep in with the trends and scoff at those people who don’t.  However as you get older you realise it’s healthier and happier to follow your own passions, regardless of how uncool they are.  Stalybridge is rocking that uncool vibe and lots of people appear to love its night life, which is fair enough.  We may not be back in a hurry, but good luck to the place.  We live in tough times, but you do need a place that’s not shy to let its hair down and be itself and Stalybridge is that place.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Hindley, Greater Manchester

What possessed us to go to Hindley after going to Westhoughton?  The lure of charity shops.

Hindley is just a short drive from Westhoughton along the A58.  We managed to find some free parking behind the “Summat to Ate” restaurant and found that Silcock’s fun fair company were storing some of their rides by the car park.  We noticed someone had tried to remove graffiti that stated “xxx is a grass”.  The irony was that even though they removed the paint, you could still make out the name of who was the grass.  I think someone needs to rethink their graffiti removal technique.
It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday and all was very quiet.  There were many shops already with their shutters down, although from the looks of some of the shops the shutters had been down for many years.

The main shops in Hindley are located on the A58 (Market Street / Bridge Street) with an ASDA on Ladies Lane and a Tesco Extra on Cross Street.  Apart from ASDA and Tesco, most of the shops are independently owned.  As with Westhoughton there were a few with odd names: Buttyful (a sandwich shop, unsurprisingly), Bonkers (discount shop) and Cheerful Cantonese Restaurant.  We did pop into the Suga Shack that does a fab range of sweets.  I’m sure this place must be popular with the local kids. 
On our travels I’ve begun to notice shops and market stalls doing frozen foods and in Hindley there is a shop called Frostys.  Unlike the likes of Farmfoods and Iceland, all these shops have are white chest freezers.  There are no promotional signs to brighten up the place, so it looks quite odd from the road.  It’s like you have found an electrical shops that just does chest freezers or there is a random minimalist art exhibition going on.

The architecture in the town is predominantly Victorian red brick, although there are a few stand out places.  The Lloyds Bank appears to be a mini Greek stone temple, completely symmetrical with columns framing the doorway.  Its only adjustment to 21st century life is the insertion of a disabled ramp on the side.  The RBS is housed a in a purpose built Victorian bank and looks fab with ornate stone work.  The Mahabharat Indian Restaurant is housed in a former Baptist chapel.  I have to say the restaurant have done a good job to make the outside of the chapel look well presented.  Part of me wonders if they have managed to keep any of the original features inside the restaurant.
It was sad to see the former library was up for sale.  The grand Victorian red brick and stone building looked so forlorn boarded up with windows broken.  I really hate to see public buildings left to rot like this.  It would be interesting to see what it looks like inside.  I do wonder what this building could be used for in this day and age.  A restaurant? Converted into flats? Or will it be torn down and be replaced by a featureless building?  It probably has too many problems that the Council can ill-afford to resolve.

One thing is for sure in Hindley there are plenty of pubs to choose from and some of which date back to the 18th century.  The pubs appeared to be the most popular places to be in Hindley.  Apparently the Lord Nelson Hotel is a grade II listed building.  
The reasons we came here were for the four charity shops listed online.  Of the four, only one was open – Annies Orphans.  Maybe it was too late in the day to visit the town for charity shops as Hindley was dead.  Although next door to Annies was a house clearance shop which we had a quick wander through. Sadly Neil didn’t find anything in either shop. 

Maybe it was the time of day and the fact that the football was on, but there wasn’t much going on in Hindley.  There are too many shops for what is needed and the supermarkets really draw shoppers away from the centre of the town.  I do think these former mining and mill towns are struggling to find a purpose in the 21st century now that the industries have gone.  In Hindley’s case it appears to be a functional, commuter town with reasonable low cost housing that serves the local community.  Definitely not one for day trippers – just for visiting friends and family.  I don’t think we will be back here in a hurry, except maybe just passing through to Wigan or Bolton.