Sunday 21 June 2015

Middleton, Greater Manchester

Now, I did know I had been to Middleton before, in the 1970s.  I believe a Lena Zavaroni album may have been purchased there, along with some dodgy country and western records for my dad.  Nearly 40 years later I’m back and the shopping precinct, where those records were bought, is still there.

Getting to Middleton is easy – turn off at junction 19 from the M60 and take the A576 to the town centre.  We parked up near the Middleton Arena by the roundabout – parking is free on a Saturday which is good to know.

At first we headed towards Middleton Arena as it looked like a shopping centre, until we got there and I spotted the swimming goggles being sold at reception.  I then realised it was a sports and arts centre.  It’s a nice, modern building which looks completely out of place in Middleton, although that’s not a bad thing considering it provides a public service and brightens up the place.  Middleton is a predominantly Victorian redbrick sort of town, with some ill-judged rebuilding in the 20th century.
We then headed across to the shops on the other side of the roundabout.  The 1970s shopping precinct really dominates this small town, although there are some shops surrounding it and an outdoor market.  There weren’t that many people about, but then again I think the large Tesco nearby draws away most of the people from the other shops.  The outdoor market wasn’t that exciting – the usual cheap stuff.  There appeared to be a table top sale going on for the locals, but sadly there was nothing for us.  The main thing that struck me was the piece of random street art in the centre, which looked like a giant had balanced his gardening equipment into a tent-like structure.
Obviously we did the charity shops, but there wasn’t too much to be found.  We did spot a load of dodgy albums from the 70s which reminded me of my first trip to Middleton – no doubt these records originated from the precinct.  Sadly, Oxfam had closed for the day at 1.45pm precisely, but there were two RSPCA shops doing good business.  In a hospice charity shop, an old man was donating a big bag of plastic bags.  He’d been in earlier and they were running short of plastic bags so he thought he’d help them out.  He also donated £20 too, which was utterly sweet, thoughtful and unexpected in a poor working class town like Middleton.

Finally we made it into the precinct and, to be truthful, it wasn’t the most inspiring place in the world with its dated d├ęcor and cheap shops.  Finding the toilets in this place is a complete mystery tour and it took about 10 minutes to find them.  I noticed on one of the walls they had built a Bayeux tapestry-like depiction of the history of Middleton out of brick.  Only in the 1970s would this have been thought a good idea. 

We did get a nice ice cream from the coffee stall which was served by a lady who looked just like Cilla from Coronation Street.  She seemed to know most of the people in the place.
A friend of mine used to do temp work on a stall for a no-win-no-fee solicitors in the precinct and got to know all the local nutters.  I can appreciate how he found working here was soul destroying.  Having worked in deprived areas myself, you are faced on a daily basis with people who have lived hard lives and it takes its toll on people, both physically and mentally.  It’s so hard to see people ground down by life and it is no different here.  It is a surprise to learn that Steve Coogan is from here, along with band members who have been in Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, InspiralCarpets, The Chameleons, Mock Turtles and most recently The Courteeners. There must be something musical in the water here.
If you are looking for a great photo opportunity, just out of town on Long Street is an amazing looking black and white 17th century pub called The Olde Boar’s Head Inn. It looks so wobbly that it might fall into the street.  I really wish I’d stopped to take some photos and go in to see what it’s like inside.  I’m sure the psychic who had posters plastered across Middleton would be able to commune with the ghosts in this place.

Middleton isn’t that exciting to be honest with you and there wasn’t much to keep us hanging round any longer.  I can’t say I’ll be back in a hurry, but it’s interesting to revisit old haunts to see how they have changed.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Heywood, Greater Manchester

I thought I must have been to Heywood at least once in my life as I knew it had a market, but in all honesty I couldn’t remember when – so it must have been in the 1970s.

Anyway back to the present day – it was one of those days when I didn’t want to travel too far and since Heywood is nearby I thought I’d give it ago.  Getting to Heywood is pretty easy - just get on the M60, exit at junction 19 and follow the A6046 into Heywood.  You can also get there via the M66, exit at junction 2 and take a right onto the A58.  I think the latter route is better as you avoid some of the blasted road works on the M60 at the moment.

We parked up in a nearby car park by a roundabout in the centre of town.  It was free, which was great, and there is also plenty of parking available in the nearby Morrisons car park.
I really didn’t know what to expect of Heywood.  For a split second I thought it had seen better days, but I reckon this place has been resolutely working class from time immemorial.  That said, it wasn’t a disappointment, it just isn’t day-out material.

The architecture is predominantly Victorian red brick terraced shops, although there are some interesting buildings if you look up.  The old reform club has an impressive looking balcony, though unfortunately it’s in need of much TLC.  St Luke’s Church dominates the skyline, but we didn’t go in and we missed out on the beautiful carvings in the southern wing.  You really don’t expect that sort of thing in a local church. My favourite building though was the library.  It’s an Edwardian stone building with pillars and a carved archway entrance.  I love libraries and it’s a shame that they’ve been hit by the cutbacks in recent years.
Nearby was the local war memorial gardens.  Often in towns, war memorials are consigned to dark and dusty corners, but in Heywood it’s an immaculate and well-tended place.  It’s really nice to see a town take pride in these gardens.

We visited the charity shops in the town, but unfortunately we didn’t find much.  There are a few house clearance and second hand shops in Heywood too.  If you are looking to upcycle some old furniture, it’s definitely worth taking a trip here as you will find something.  There is a little vintage furniture shop here, and they had a dressing table in the window which had been painted white and fitted with some new funky handles – it looked great.

Amazingly we found a second hand record shop here and Neil had a rummage.  He actually knew the guy who runs the shop, but had forgotten that it was based here.  It’s packed to the rafters and you really need to bring a packed lunch with you as it will take hours to go through all the stock.  Neil sadly didn’t have much time to go through stuff, but he did say it was a reasonably priced shop.  I never expected to find a shop like this here, but it definitely makes a trip to Heywood worthwhile to pick up vinyl records.

We did have a bite to eat at the Heywood Fish Bar next to the indoor market.  We both had fish and chips and they were the best we’d had for some time.  The fish was freshly done and whilst I’m not a big fan of chippy chips, these were darn good.
The indoor market wasn’t very busy as it was a bright sunny day outside.  However what I did notice was the friendly banter between the stallholders and the customers.  There is a good community vibe happening here, which you don’t often see.  It was a pleasant antidote to the blokes on the street who were shouting random things– no wonder Heywood is locally known as Monkey Town when there are idiots like that here.

There weren’t many people on the streets in Heywood, but I’ve never seen so much traffic pass through one small town.  You do take your life in your hands when crossing the roads here and there must have been lots of traffic accidents over the years.  There is a one way system that cuts through the place to make it easier for traffic, but pedestrians can spend half their time trying to cross the roads.  I think the small retail park must do good business with Morrisons and Dunnes Stores, although I think the majority of the traffic is due to the fact that it’s the main road between Bury and Rochdale.

In all honestly Heywood is not that exciting – it’s just a working class northern town and not a day- trip sort of place.  That said, I found the place alright – great chippy, good second hand record shop and a nice community vibe going on.  No doubt we’ll be back at some point and next time I’ll make sure we see the inside of the church.