People sometimes misunderstand what I’m aiming for with this blog. Certainly it’s about charity shops, but I’m no thrifter or financial manager – I really don’t have the organisational skills to be truly skinflint. I’m not making any bold claims to tell you how to do charity shopping well, or where to go to get the best bargains, I don’t sell my cunning purchases on eBay – the things I buy are things I like. It’s no sort of life improvement site; as much as anything, charity shops are an excuse to go poking around towns and places, interspersing the curiosities found in the charity shops with coffee and cake and the occasional wander into interesting parks and buildings. Really, that’s all it is. With that in mind, and having covered the Charity Shops part of the title yesterday, here’s my top ten favourite places that I’ve visited in the last year, for Tourism purposes – in no particular order.
My holiday in Cornwall was a fruitful one, with some excellent discoveries in Truro, St Austell and Looe. But the pick of the bunch was definitely Falmouth – not only an excellent charity shopping destination, but a really lovely, interesting town in itself. The long, winding, pedestrianised main drag leading from the new harbour developments to the old high street offers a succession of lovely shops, cafes and sights. Highly recommended is sitting for a coffee in Costa, set in ancient-feeling fortifications overlooking the warships of the Carrick Roads.
This North Hertfordshire town just about sits within London’s commuter belt, yet it could be any market town in the country. It’s got everything you’d hope for in a rural hub – large market including meat van; small clocktower; cobbled square; olde church; charity shops. It’s warranted a number of revisits for me, always with the greatest pleasure.
While you’re there: get a hot roast pork sandwich from A Touch Of Garnish.
When Stephen Fry‘s not pootling around the world crying at turtles, he’s at home in the leafy ‘burbs of West Hampstead. And no doubt when he’s there he pootles in the charity shops of West End Lane, wanders the greenery of Hampstead Cemetery, and eats at one of the many local delis and cake shops of the area. A proper little burb, West Hampstead is far more appealing to me than it’s more well known neighbour; even if it’s a nightmare to park.
While you’re there: wander the Cemetery to visit some famous graves.
Another quaint market town in rural home county splendour, Abingdon sits amongst the upper reaches of the Thames. It has its royal charter, county hall on stilts, an array of beautiful rural vernacular architecture and even a set of proper ruins on the river. It’s lovely for a quick wander around and some excellent charity shopping as well – several places doing furniture.
While you’re there: it’s only a few minutes up the main road into the dreaming spires of Oxford itself, and though I seem to be cursed on every attempt to go there, it’s still lovely.
The Garden of England has many rare delights, of which I’ve experienced just a few (next stop: the garden’s back gate) and Whitstable is one of the crown jewels. A proper old fishing town converted into Victorian seaside attraction and into today’s mixture of industry (oysters) and tourists. The charity shops here are numerous and charming, and the town itself with its narrow alleys to the seafront, the beach huts on the groyned shingle, the oyster shacks… Very pleasant.
While you’re there: if you like oysters, then Wheelers is your best bet (I don’t)
Tucked away in the South Devon countryside, Totnes is at first an unassuming little place. But keep digging, as it’s a hive of activity: a market town with a steep Devonshire high street, packed with odds and ends. Plenty of charity shops, but also plenty of cafes, junk treasure troves, and hippy shops, if that’s your bag. If you’re going for the full on tourist experience, take the boat up the Dart from Dartmouth, or get the South Devon Railway steam train from Buckfastleigh.
While you’re there: it’s just a small castle, but it’s a castle nonetheless.
If we have a free Saturday, the first two suggestions to come to mind will always be Epping or Amersham. They’re easily accessible, and both a bit lovely. Amersham is currently tops: the standard of the charity shops is excellent, and it’s really rather a pleasant little town. It’s split into two levels – Amersham-on-the-Hill is where the charity action is, and despite what I said above, this actually is an excellent spot for bargains. But for tourism value, the Old Town at the bottom of the hill is one of those genuinely charming spots that few towns manage. It’s very Georgian, all coaching inns and bulging cottages along a wide high street – it’s very English, very beautiful, and well worth a drive through, at the least.
While you’re there: nourish yourself with a pub lunch from any of the excellent inns in the Old Town.
Golders Green is hardly going to make regular appearances in guidebooks soon – really, it’s just a fairly standard North London suburb. But you know what? It’s nice. That’s the word. Golders Green features some excellent charity shopping, but plenty more besides, for a little place – kosher eateries, old school grand cafes, suit shops galore. And that’s before you discover the proximity of the wonderful Golders Hill Park with its little zoo, cafe, and the wondrous Hill Garden on this side of Hampstead Heath.
While you’re there: go out of your way to get to the pergola and hill garden – it’s truly beautiful.
Royal Leamington Spa
Although I failed to make the most of it when I was there, nevertheless the spa town’s Georgian good lucks and elegant layout struck a chord. This is a prosperous, attractive town with good looks on its side, and it knows it. Nevertheless for all the fancy boutiques and high-end kitchenware, there’s much to admire here, whether it’s the grandiose victoriana of the Pump Rooms or the Bath-style crescents.
While you’re there: the Pump Rooms are the place to be, apparently. I think there’s a tea shop.
Centre of the pagan world it may well be, but Glasto is a dead cute little town with bags of character – that intangible quality that estate agents chase after is so thick here you can almost smell it. At least, I think it’s character; it may be a heady mix of joss sticks and cider. There’s cheese shops, crystal shops and inns a-plenty, a generally it’s just a sweet, nice little town.
While you’re there: wander up to the tor - close by to the town, but no less dramatic for it.
That’s my top ten for 2008-2009. Any suggestions for the coming year?