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Charity Shop Tourism is, as is pretty evident, on a short break at the moment. This is mostly due to a house move which will hopefully mean a whole lot more destinations coming soon, as it’s a relocation away from the Big Smoke to the fresher air of the Midlands and a whole plethora of new charity shop destinations. Until then: bear with.


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I hadn’t realised my state of neglect here at CST, but I’ve fallen off diamondgeezer‘s list of blogs that link to him through ‘month-long neglect’. Whoops. Rest assured I’ve got a backlog of posts to compile and put up, but real life has intervened slightly: we might be talking September/October here. Blogging about charity shops is important and everything, but I’ve got houses to move and a Masters dissertation to finish (amongst other things), so I have to keep perspective. See you soon…

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No post this week I’m afraid: essays due soon. More next week maybe.

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1st Blogday: Top Ten Destinations Of The Year

West End Lane, from Matt from Londons flickr photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

West End Lane, from Matt from London's flickr photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

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.

While you’re there: have a fish and chip lunch overlooking the harbour at the Harbour Lights.

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.

West Hampstead
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
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?


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1st Blogday: Top Ten Charity Shops Of The Year

Charity Shop Kitsch Window Display, from World of Oddys photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Charity Shop Kitsch Window Display, from World of Oddy's photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

It’s come to my attention that Charity Shop Tourism was one year old on Tuesday. What about that eh? I’ve enjoyed writing this blog more than any other I’ve attempted, and it provides much less of a whinge factory than most blogs so it’s been good fun compiling it. I’ve explored loads of random places that I’d likely never have been to otherwise; I’ve picked up a ton of bargains; and it’s given me great reasons to get exploring this land that I live in.

So, in that spirit, I’ll be writing a couple of extra posts, today and tomorrow, to celebrate, starting today with the best charity shops I’ve visited in the last year. Tomorrow, I’ll do the best towns I’ve been to in my search – whether for the Charity Shop bit, or the Tourism bit. So, in no particular order, my top ten charity shops 2008-2009.

Sue Ryder Care, Epping (map)
Now that the even larger HEAL store in Epping has closed, Sue Ryder rules the roost in this forest outpost. It’s always a treat to visit, whether to rifle through boxes of random maps, a great selection of books from paperbacks to hardbacks and collectibles, even furniture – The One That Got Away was a leather-topped desk from here, but my office chair was a bargainous tenner from Sue Ryder. Best buy: The History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell (1948): £10.

Oxfam, Pinner (map)
Pinner is the very epitome of suburbia, setting as was for One Foot in the Grave and May To December, and one-time home to Bob Holness, Simon LeBon and Dame Elton John. Nevertheless it’s pretty cute, with some great charity shopping to be had, none more so than in Oxfam. Whereas this daddy of them all is usually overpriced and concerned with it’s fair trade nick nacks more than donated goods, this store is a lovably ramshackle throwback, with books, clothes and assorted tat all jumbled up. Given the area’s literary connections, it’s no surprise to find some really excellent books here, particularly: best buy is probably Disturbing The Peace: Conversations with Vaclav Havel, an unusual and interesting read for £2.

Isabel Hospice, Waltham Cross (map)
Charity shops are about the only thing this desolate little suburban wasteland has going for it, but it scores highly for a couple of excellent hospice shops – the best amongst them is the Isabel Hospice. This is a large shop with staff that will talk your ears off, and it’s one of those lovely places with a basket for everything. Obscure knitting patterns in that basket, buttons in that jar, even a basket of baskets. Best buy from here: beautiful wooden desk, £35.

Oxfam Books & Music, Royal Leamington Spa (map)
This has to be one of the finest charity bookshops around, and it featured in the very first post on Charity Shop Tourism. What grabbed me at the time was a shelf for American authors (I live far away – it’s probably a good thing, otherwise I’d be running low on cash these days), and LPs of Leonard Cohen and UB40.

British Red Cross, Amersham (map)
Home of the permanent half-price sale, this is a tucked-away little store away from either of Amersham’s main drags. For all that, it’s really high quality stuff and sees some really classy donations. The books and records aren’t much to shout about but grab some of the decent looking clothing and look it up afterwards: we’ve bought a £100 wedding hat for £3 and two pairs of Prada mens’ shoes for a fiver each. Best buy has to be those Prada shoes – it’s nice but I don’t have much use personally for a wedding hat.

Garden House Hospice, Hitchin (map)
This vast store, away from the marketplace centre of town, is like a warehouse charity shop – there’s lots of different things here, and lots of each. There’s plenty of furniture available, but it’s best for homeware: cutlery, crockery and the like. Best buy, probably a set of terracotta dishes (excellent for tiny pies), if I recall correctly – 20p each.

Norwood Ravenswood, Golders Green (view)
Golders Green is a hive of excellent charity shops, as long as you don’t roll on Shabbat. Go any other day though and you should definitely check out the Norwood store on the North side of Golders Green Road (there’s another on the opposite side of the road). There’s been many an item that’s tempted me here, from the chelsea boots that I’m still not sure when to wear, to a £45 accordion that nearly tore me up. The boots have to be the best buy, at £9.50.

British Red Cross bookshop, Palmers Green (view)
Palmers Green is an excellent stop for charity shops (if not much else), and the highlight of a visit for me is the Red Cross bookshop at the top of the street. While the ordinary shop next door isn’t all that, the bookshop is really excellent: masses of resources on anything you could want, from childrens books and comics to swathes of Penguin classics and always some beautiful sets of elderly hardbacks – Churchill’s account of WW1, that sort of thing. I’ve bought so many things from here it’s difficult to specify a favourite: perhaps my best buy was Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, but I can’t remember the price.

Relate, Whitstable (map)
I love a properly higgledy-piggledy charity shop, and this large store in the Kent seaside town is just that. Bits of stuff everywhere – Paul Auster books and some odd CDs if you can find them, but piles and heaps of clothing, toys and one giant caterpillar arrangement. Best buy: the Paul Auster was a good deal, books were less than a pound all.

Helen & Douglas House Hospice, Abingdon (map)
It’s difficult to pick a favourite H&DH shop – they’re all plain lovely (I’ve also seen been impressed in Chesham and Beaconsfield). This one was probably the winner, simply by dint of including a customer-usable coffee machine. I like coffee. I also like the lovely, thoughtful presentation of these shops – attractive shelving, conveniently located produce, all the sorts of things normal shops have to do as standard. Best buy from here, stacks of childrens’ clothes for 50-75p each.

That’s the top ten – please do let me know if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I already have a massive list of places to go, and I’m definitely looking to add to it.


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Hiatus the second

Now that my broken hip is healing up nicely, I’m back to the busy period of work. Which, sadly, means no more Charity Shop Tourism for just a little while, until I’m mobile, until I’m less tired out, until I’m less spanked by work. So: see you later, and for now, I leave you with a Dynamic Hip System, which is currently located inside of me.


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Smoking Car on the Side of the Road, under creative commons from foundphotoslj. Click pic for link.

Smoking Car on the Side of the Road, under creative commons from foundphotoslj. Click pic for link.

Due to unforeseen technical issues (i.e. smoke billowing from the engine), there’ll be no Charity Shop Tourism this week, and likely next as well. My apologies. Rest assured that normal service will be resumed at some point in the near future, hopefully with some updates from further afield than ever.


Until then though, please do stop by my regular blog, Come On Up To The House, or if you want a fix of charity shop chatter, try the following…

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