Despite the miserable weather we ploughed on, over the county border from Derbyshire to Staffordshire. Uttoxeter is 14 miles from Ashbourne and it takes about 25 minutes, driving via the A515, A50 and A518.
Before this visit I had very little knowledge of Uttoxeter apart from the many signs I’ve passed over the year on the A50, the film director Shane Meadows is from here and the Starbucks drive through at the Uttoxeter service station.
We parked up behind the little precinct and wondered why there was a queue at the ticket machine. Apparently people were waiting until 3pm to get a free ticket for parking, which is always good to know as these things aren’t always widely signposted.
As we walked through the little precinct, the song “Ghost Town” by The Specials went through my head. It was a rather bleak concrete place from the 60s with lots of empty units. There was a handful of shops still open but mainly charity shops.
When we made it out onto the main shopping street, things improved. Firstly the street is pedestrianised which always helps. Also the architecture is definitely market town, with many buildings dating back at least a couple of centuries. The butcher’s shop on Market Street had a little brown plaque stating it was from Elizabethan times – you could tell with its Tudor wooden beamed structure. At least the town planners have kept the newer developments behind the main shopping streets to retain the character of the place.
Luckily for us, there were a quite a few charity shops to explore in Uttoxeter. I’m always a fan of good second hand charity book shops and the Katherine House Hospice had a particularly good one – plenty of books, well organised and reasonably priced. I bought Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” here, which is a gripping read by the way. In the other charity shops, Neil was also having some luck with vinyl records and CDs and picked up some stuff – even some sheet music which happened to be in good condition.
On the mobile phone front, Neil was getting tetchy as the signal for O2 was pretty patchy, whilst on Vodafone there was a better reception. Thank goodness for tethering is all I can say.
There were a few independent shops in the town too, but it must have been a slow day for them as the place was virtually empty as the wet weather kept most people indoors. The only place which was experiencing shopping action that day was the local ASDA.
The main thing I really took from this place was the Staffordshire version of the Midlands accent. It’s not as strong as you’d find in Birmingham or Wolverhampton, but it still has that burr which is captured beautifully by Shane Meadows in his films and TV programmes. It’s fascinating how accents change with geography and the first time I’d spotted this accent was on a previous trip to Leek about 20 miles north west. I do think it’s one of the most interesting things about the UK how accents can be so radically different over relatively short distances, for example there are only 30 miles between Liverpool and Manchester but the accents are poles apart.
I’m sure Uttoxeter on a race day feels like a different place, but on the day we went we found it to be a dull but functional place. I’m sure it’s a nice place to live – the countryside on the door step, but within easy reach of Stoke, Derby and Stafford. I wouldn’t be that excited to visit here again, but as ever with certain places the weather can really temper your experience of a place.