Category Archives: Cheshire

Knutsford

Marble Arch, Knutsford, by M Stevens and A Moffat. Pic used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Marble Arch, Knutsford, by M Stevens and A Moffat. Pic used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

I have a problem with my head – it latches on to things, associates it with other things, then, typically, sings it back. Today’s subject is a case in point. As a geographer, My favourite bit of listening to the radio is the traffic reports. I am well aware that that makes me somewhat odd, but that’s that. I harbour ambitions of visiting the places that come up regularly. I’ve bagged the Woodhead and Snake Passes; I’m still holding out for Scotch Corner and Sandbach. Our most recent trip up country (to the Lakes – of which no doubt more to come) gave us a chance for a stop just off the M6 at a place that comes up time and again for Sally Traffic. And here’s where my inner logical clunks take over: I was unbelievably pleased with myself when we passed the Welcome To Knutsford sign. Why? Well, I’d just crossed Knutsford City Limits, like Ike and and Tina before me.

It turns out (rather worryingly) that I’m not the first to make this connection; some chap called Robert Williams got there first. I’ll let him off. I’m not sure of his connection – he’s a Stoke man which is in the next county. Knutsford is very much leather-clad and clutch-bag-toting WAG country: a swathe of footballers find themselves listed under Wikipedia’s notable people entry. The town is very much older than that though – we were following in the footsteps of none other than King Canute (as in Canute’s Ford), and the towns’ most famous resident, Elizabeth Gaskell. Mrs Gaskell’s social commentaries and observations of poverty seem somewhat out of place in today’s Knutsford. Like it’s footballer-friendly near neighbour Alderley Edge, this is very much the upmarket side of Cheshire; there’s a carefully tucked-away Aldi but other than that, if you’re earning below a certain threshold, Knutsford is probably not the place for you.

Even the charity shops are certainly of the upmarket persuasion. Happily there’s several, and it’s a very pleasant spot for a wander around while you visit them. There’s a certain rough-edged architectural feel to the town, with dark red bricks and lived-in looking buildings in the town centre, for all its smartness. I’d hazard a guess at this having been a working town, once upon a while – it doesn’t have the endless miles of terraces that you find in the Lancashire mill towns, but the buildings remind me of canal towns like Stourport and Ellesmere. There’s no canal here, sadly, not even a decent river – what looks like a river valley behind the shops on King Street is in reality The Moor, a small wetland nature reserve. King Street itself is home to several of the town’s charity shops. Sue Ryder, British Red Cross and Cancer Research line up almost three-in-a-row; nothing for this shopper on this visit, but a certain mother in law walked away very heavy with bags. Further up the street is perhaps the pick of the bunch – a mid-sized Age UK shop, but filled with interesting buckets and baskets of stuff. Where the other shops in town trade very heavily on clothes, this one is the bric a brac heaven.

You can squeeze up through a number of alleyways and narrow streets to the parallel Princess Street. These include the recently tarted up Regent Street, full of clean pavements and swanky boutiques. On Princess Street itself is an Oxfam Bookshop, and that will lead you to a sort of open end to the street, Canute Place bordering on Tatton Street. Here you’ll find the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust and Barnardos. There’s a pretty haul of charity shops that will definitely bear repeat visits here, and it’s excellently situated for a coffee stop if you’re heading north. Knutsford is an attractive town with some pretty decent charity shops. I’d say that meets the remit.

Find: Knutsford @ Google Maps
Get there: A very handy rail connection right into town, on the Chester-Northwich-Manchester route.
Consume with: We didn’t really stop long enough to scope this out and would welcome suggestions, both for coffee stops and for lunch. There’s a costa, I know that much.
Visit: For those of a stately home persuasion, you can’t go wrong with the massive Tatton Park estate. Others might be interested in the Gaskell connections with Brook Street Chapel, if Unitarianism is your bag.
Overall rating: four pairs of leather trousers

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Filed under 4/5, Cheshire

Alderley Edge

To The Edge, under creative commons, by kh1234567890. Click pic for link.

To The Edge, under creative commons, by kh1234567890. Click pic for link.

Alderley Edge is, according to Stuart Maconie’s excellent book, a wild, mystical place. A high heathland redolent with pagan rites and mysterious gold stores, numerous Arthurian legends, a rocky escarpment looming over the Cheshire plain. Here, the lonely farmer crosses the dreary moorlands to market only to be led by a bearded man into an underground lair to see the rows of sleeping men that would awake when England was in danger.

These days, you’d be more likely to come across that scenario on Clapham Common than Alderley Edge. The town only really took on its current identity from the 1880’s, when the Manchester & Birmingham Railway renamed the station from Chorley (to avoid confusion with Chorley, Lancs), combining an old name for the locality with The Edge, the aforementioned sandstone escarpment. The name stuck when Sir Humphrey de Trafford, local landowner of wealth and familiar surname, laid out part of his large estate in an extensive street pattern and the village expanded into the small town we have now. This period of expansion means that the town consists of large swathes of spacious Victorian villas on leafy avenues, making this quite the desirable commuter hotspot. That reputation was confirmed following Lord David of Beckham’s decision to settle here in his Man U days, followed by a whole gaggle of Premiership footballers, Coronation Street stars, two-thirds of New Order and the legendary Stuart Hall. Today the high street is a quiet but salubrious thoroughfare, dripping with designer sunglasses shops, expensive delis and coffeeshops.

And boy, have the charity shops fallen for it. Oxfam Books is the odd one out here with a fairly broad selection of coffee-table art books, undergraduate textbooks, and unemployed law students talking loudly about their friends in tax law when they should have been serving customers. The remaining charity shops have gone down the boutique route. Unlike nearby Wilmslow (coming soon), just as wealthy a town, Alderley Edge charity shops have decided that they cna focus on the expensive tat and designer clothes and despite being Cancer Research or  Marie Curie they can quite legitimately charge £25 for a man’s shirt. Now: if you have any sort of savvy at all you won’t have to look beyond a shop sale or factory outlet to find brand new Ben Sherman shirts for £25, so where they get off charging this for something someone has worn around, sweated into, and bashed and scraped, is beyond me. The worst offender is Barnados, who seemed to have gone so completely for the boutique feel that they had even employed a haughty extra shop assistant to stand at the back and judge you when you came in. All these shops had a massively disproportionate selection of women’s clothing, which is perhaps unsurprising, but not fun for a boy.

I suppose, in its way, Alderley Edge is not an unattractive town (although once you’ve seen one Victorian satellite town you’ve pretty much seen them all). There seems little to justify its reputation other than some expensive shops: there’s little history or dramatic scenery, there’s no amazing shopping experience or grand café culture. In short, there’s little to recommend it. By virtue of having four charity shops I’ll lift it off the bottom tier of visits, but if you’re in the area, skirt Alderley Edge and visit Wilmslow or press further afield to Buxton or Glossop – much more beautiful, interesting and worthwhile towns.

Find: Alderley Edge Google Maps
Get there: Alderley Edge station will get you here from Manchester Piccadilly or Crewe.
Consume with: We had Costa – despite a few cafés, most looked pretty uninspiring.
Visit: we didn’t stop otherwise I’d have been tempted to get up to The Edge to look for either goldbars or Iron Gates.
Overall rating: two leather jackets

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Filed under 2/5, Cheshire