Sunday 26 April 2015

Stoke-on-Trent (Hanley), Staffordshire

The drive from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Stoke-on-Trent was meant to be 11 minutes (3 miles), but it was more like 30 minutes.  What was really confusing driving to Stoke-on-Trent were the signs for the civic centre and the city centre.  Were we on the right road?  After several detours we found ourselves parking up under Go Outdoors after making a failed attempt at parking in another carpark.  There was a strange smell in the carpark and if we had stayed there much longer I’m sure we would have got high.

We were hungry and had a quick wander to see what food options were on offer.  In the end we went to Nom Restaurant, which was surprisingly busy for a wet Wednesday afternoon.  I had a burger which was lovely and Neil had a Pulled Pork Dog.  The food was nice and we shared a dessert.  Thankfully our waiter wasn’t as over eager as the person who seated us – what’s with this over-friendly American style service?  I’m just happy with polite service.
It was at the restaurant, Neil jokingly said to me that after the journey we’d had, we might be in the wrong place.  I had to admit to him his joke may in fact be the truth.  After all the driving round I still had no idea whereabouts we were in Stoke.  It was only after the trip, and I looked it up on Wikipedia, that I found out we in fact were in the right place after all. Apparently Hanley is considered the main shopping area for Stoke.

The weather had turned a bit drizzly when we left the restaurant and we went in search of charity shops.  There are quite a few in the Hanley part of Stoke.  Sadly Neil didn’t find anything, but I’m still kicking myself for not picking up a Silver Reed typewriter in a travel box for £5.  Damn! 
The main shopping area in Hanley is pedestrianised which is handy, although it’s worth checking out the side streets around the main shopping centre as you will find the more interesting shops.  I have to confess we didn’t actually go into the main indoor shopping centre – as soon as I saw it was one of those INTU run places, my brain checked out.  Living in Manchester and having the Trafford Centre nearby, which is also run by INTU, I get very bored with traipsing around mainstream high street chains.  So any chance I have to avoid them, I take it.  In this case it paid off. 

First of all, Webberley’s bookshop – it is fabulous.  Not only is it an independent book shop, but one wing of the shop is bizarrely dedicated to jigsaws and another has a big art supplies section.  I just love shops like this which cover several bases for no real apparent reason.  I could have spent ages in there.
I was a very happy bunny to find there was a branch of Abakhan in Hanley.  For the uninitiated it’s a fabric shop where you can pick up cheap materials for creative projects.  There are branches in the North West and weirdly Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.  I picked up a piece of ‘yellow cats and bow ties’ fabric that I had seen previously in John Lewis for more than double the price I paid for it in here.  Result!

Another place I have to mention is the Tontines Building – it’s a beautiful classic style Victorian building which used to be a meat market.  Now it is home to two rather disparate businesses – Waterstones on one side and Wetherspoon’s Reginald Mitchell Pub on the other.  Sadly it was the Wetherspoon’s side that was doing the brisker trade.  I do wonder if they ever get any crossover business?
I did notice in Hanley there were plenty of pubs and they were doing a fine job of occupying the local nutters who seemed to frequent them during the day time.  I’m sure you could have an interesting pub crawl in this town – definitely one for the brave.

Hanley is a bit of hodgepodge of buildings and architectural styles, from the lovely Edwardian former post office to nondescript 60s office blocks.  Not the prettiest place to go really and definitely not your standard day out material.  However it functions well as a town centre to serve the needs of the local community.  Although technically it’s a city centre, to me it doesn’t have that city centre wow factor.  Maybe it’s due to the fact Stoke-on-Trent is made up of six towns and received city status less than 100 years ago.  If it had been one town from the beginning it would have developed into a very different city.

Stoke-on-Trent, whilst it was very confusing getting there, was OK in the end.  I’m so glad we didn’t get sucked into the shopping centre, as we could have easily missed Webberley’s and Abakhan.  Part of me is still tempted to revisit just to see if that typewriter is there – maybe next time when I’m passing through. 

Sunday 12 April 2015

Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire

For the next couple of posts, I’ve resurrected Life in Midlands Towns. As we’ve visited so many northern towns, we are now struggling to find places to go so we’ve had to branch out.

Recently I’ve been travelling to work and have been passing through Staffordshire quite a bit.  About an hour’s drive from Manchester, I thought it would be good to check out a couple of towns there on a day off.

The first on the list was Newcastle-Under-Lyme which is just a few miles from Stoke-on-Trent.  The journey from Manchester to Newcastle-under-Lyme in fairly straightforward – M60, M62, M6, exit Junction 16, A500 and A34.  It is well sign-posted and they are fond of the roundabout on the A34.  We had a good run on the M6, but for sanity purposes it’s always good to travel along here outside of rush hour, otherwise you will get stuck in traffic.
It was a bit confusing trying to find parking in Newcastle, and after a spin around the town centre we got parked up in the Midway multi-storey car park behind the Roebuck Shopping Centre.  It was £2.10 for 2 hours, although I think you can find free on-street parking.

For a change we visited on a Wednesday afternoon, but unfortunately the weather was rainy.  Our first call of duty was to find a public toilet and the signs for tourists were sending us in the wrong direction.  When we did find the toilet, they had been moved to the side of Wilkos, just opposite the bus station.  On the upside it was free.
The good thing about Newcastle is that the main shopping area is pedestrianised, which makes shopping somewhat safer without the risk of being run over.  Whilst Newcastle has your usual high street shops, there are also a number of interesting independent shops and bars.  The RAWRJuice and Superfood Bar was doing brisk trade on a wet Wednesday afternoon.

The open air market in the main square near the Guildhall was very quiet.  The weather was affecting trade and the pet stall holder was sat on his stall, bedding down for a slow day on the market.
There are some lovely buildings in Newcastle, many of the shops date back to the Victorian period. There were a few cosy looking traditional pubs which looked interesting.  In the centre of town the Guildhall building stands proud over the market square with its clock tower and lovely arched windows.  It dates back to the 18th century and nowadays it’s used by the local Council and Police as a customer enquiries centre. 

Obviously we came to visit the charity shops and there are plenty to choose from.  Neil didn’t have much luck with records and I didn’t find much.  Although, as Newcastle is located in the Potteries region, there was plenty of pottery to find.  I was tempted by a white Wedgewood two-handled tea set for £4, but sadly I don’t have anywhere to put it.  Near St Giles Church there seemed to be a pet shop, though in actual fact it was a charity shop.  It was very busy with browsers and people dropping off donations.  It seemed a popular meeting place for pet lovers.
The weather was getting to us and we needed to get some food, so we decided to venture to nearby Stoke-on-Trent instead.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is a nice little town to visit and have a wander round.  Unfortunately the weather was poor and it was too cold to be wandering around the shops for any length of time.  Whilst it didn’t have the wow factor, it was one of those towns which is developing a good network of independent shops and definitely worth a repeat visit on a good day.