Tag Archives: mind

Moreton-in-Marsh

A Thought for Sunday from John Ruskin, by UGArdener, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

A Thought for Sunday from John Ruskin, by UGArdener, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

I’ve been reading about Roman roads recently, for no particular reason other than there’s one marked on the map near home. Apparently there’s about a bazillion, going everywhere – if there’s a long, straight stretch of road near you (and you live south of the Union Canal), chances are it was first put there by the Romans, by dint of mad engineering skills, legions of grunts to do the work, and a sheer bloody-mindedness which led them to insist almost exclusive on straight marching routes, hills be damned. It’s given me some respect for the soldier of the day – to march across the country on a regular basis is no mean feat – and renewed my lack of respect for my own fitness by comparison.

One of the best known of the roads is the Fosse Way, which cuts across country from Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) to Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum). There’s a turn at Ilchester (Lindinis), but between there and Lincoln the road is never more than 6 miles from a perfectly straight line. Considering that it traverses the Mendips and the entire length of the Cotswolds, that’s not bad going. Anyway, Moreton is found on that Fosse Way, in a direct line from Cirencester and Stow on the Wold to Leamington Spa and Leicester, and the long high street reflects that. It’s not a large town, Moreton; it wasn’t really a settlement area (so far as anyone knows) in the Roman times, and was just a stopping point for many years. It grew into a proper town about 800 years ago as a coaching stop, and got a market – it’s now a coach stop tour (£15 for a return to the Tuesday market from Thomas Cook in Stourbridge), its long high street ideal for some pootling, or apparently a cream tea – there are a hundred and one tea shoppes here.

Time was, I’d have been able to get a train here directly. Thanks to *cough* the rationalisation of the last few decades, the journey is far less convenient (and probably less stylish than boarding the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway in my bowler hat and spats); the station remains though, and will take you to Oxford or Worcester on the Cotswold Line. The last time we were here, it was at the tail end of a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days over Spring half-term; we called into Moreton as one of a number of stops on the way home. There was one difference to our previous visit: a pop-up mixed charity shop has now disappeared (it seemed to be sending it’s proceeds towards both Help For Heroes and the Bob Champion Trust), and the permanent charity shops are the only ones that remain.

The remaining shops are pretty good, happily. The largest is undoubtedly Sue Ryder Care, a double shop with a variety of oddments – it’s a particularly esoteric assortment given the somewhat clean-cut and anodyne nature of Sue Ryder shops generally. I tend to prefer a dark hole of a charity shop, a ramshackle, junk-shop feel, to the cleaner, modern, lighter shops; but this is a fine exception. Light and airy, yet full of random nonsense, perfect.

The other charity shops (including MindAgeUK and Break) reflect Moreton’s well-heeled population and bucolic setting – lots of nice things, lots worth a poke at. With just the four charity shops, Moreton is unlikely to detain the CSTourist for too long, unless you happen to get lost in the endless, wonderful maze of the Toy Shop, or stay for a cream tea. But it’s definitely worth a pass through, and there’s so many chocolate-box towns with a few places worth visiting around here, that you can easily make a day trip out of it.

Find: Moreton-in-Marsh @ Google Maps
Get there: there’s a dead convenient railway station at the end of the high street, with signs in Japanese for the benefit of the many visitors. Handy.
Consume with: for the most traditional of cream teas, Tilly’s looks like the place to be.
Visit: you could go and have a nosy at Dorn Roman village nearby (doesn’t look like there’s a lot to see).
Overall rating: three hipflasks

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Filed under 3/5, Gloucestershire

Kidderminster

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Ah, Kiddy. How do I start to describe Kiddy?

Kidderminster is a near neighbour to us now, a 20 minute bus ride from the end of the road. To get there from us one travels through the understated loveliness of the South Staffs/North Worcs borders and into the ‘burbs at Broadwaters. From then on, you have to somehow negotiate a large-scale system of one-ways and ring-roads to get into the town centre, and you’re usually best off just heading into the first car park you see: I’ve been there many, many times now and still struggle to orientate myself from one end to the other. If you’re on the bus, you’ll hop off at the bus station, conveniently situated for the new Weavers Wharf development. This is the best of Kiddy, commercially-speaking. Debenhams, for example, is housed in the former Slingfield Mill, its restored chimney towering over the town centre. Nearby, the college is housed in the sympathetically restored Piano Building. You’ll find all the big name shops you could want between here and the Carpet Trades retail park over the road (Kidderminster’s trade of repute is carpets, to this day).

However, Kidderminster is very much a split-personality kind of town. Cross the bridge over the Stour into the town centre itself, and you’re faced with somewhat crumbling 1960s office edifices, an unkempt wind tunnel of a main street with a dirty market, and several Greggs. That kind of town. For all that, I view it very affectionately: just like Waltham Cross was an ugly but fruitful source of bargain shopping, I can’t help but love Kidderminster. It’s a cheap place to live as well: all the fine Victorian villas around the town are much more fiscally accessible than the same would be in, say, Bromsgrove or Stourbridge nearby. The opening of Weaver’s Wharf in 2004 was no doubt intended to spark some gentrification in the prime territory skirting the town centre; but as yet, one road off the ring road will still find you in a street roughly resembling Hamsterdam.

The pros and cons of Kidderminster as a place to live are up for debate. What’s indisputable is that this is a serious charity shop tourism destination. I’ll explain the latter part first, and this might be just me. I am a fan of canals. I’ve yet to build a model set, but it’s certainly a possibility, and Kiddy is a canal town. The Stour flows through the town to the Severn, and alongside it the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal, offering waterborn transport to Stourport and the big river one way, and Kinver, the Birmingham canal network, Wolverhampton, Stafford and onward the other. It’s also a train town: today the Black Country express through Smethwick and Cradley Heath continues on to Kidderminster, Droitwich and Worcester, but you can also change for the Severn Valley Railway through to Bridgnorth. For those slightly in thrall to industrial architecture as I am, there’s plenty to point at in Kiddy – in fact, it could be a real selling point for the town given its distinctive history. That’s my advice to the Kidderminster tourist board, and you’re welcome.

However, for the purposes of this blog (and our repeat visits): we count sixteen charity shops. Sixteen. If this was the Final Score vide-printer, that would say 16 (sixteen)  for clarification. I think it’s a record. For the sake of completeness, they are: Oxfam; British Heart Foundation (and BHF Furniture & Electricals); British Red Cross; Sense; Forces UK (and Forces Furniture & Electricals); Marie Curie; Salvation Army; Cancer Research; Scope; Mind; Happy Staffie Rescue; Forest Dog Rescue; YMCA; and Kemp Hospice. The highlights include Kemp Hospice, at least so I’m told – we often return with considerably more fabric than when we arrived; the large furniture shops are worth a gander as well – we bought our washing machine from BHF, and have espied a great quantity of furniture that we would have purchased, if only we still had the car. We’ve ended up with bits and bobs from most of these shops though.

We have problems with Kidderminster. It’s an easy place to get to on the bus, it’s got all the shops we need etc., but we find it hard to miss out charity shops. You know, just in case. So, it’s always a hike around the SIXTEEN charity shops, and you know what – it’s brilliant. It’s a funny old place, and it could be wonderful with a bit of love. But I like it as it is.

Find: Kidderminster Google Maps
Get there: the 125 bus goes to Stourbridge and Bridgnorth, or there’s regular trains from Birmingham and Worcester.
Consume with: there’s the normal array of chain coffee and a pretty rough-looking ‘spoons, but I’m still intending to visit Ye Olde Seven Stars, a CAMRA recommended pub where guests are encouraged to bring their own lunch.
Visit: whilst not neglecting the legendary WM Safari Park, probably the funnest day out is going to be on the steam train.
Overall rating: five fat quarters (1 1/4 wholes?)

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Filed under 5/5, Worcestershire

Ashbourne

Ashbourne, by John Bennett. Image used under Creative Commons, click image for link.

Ashbourne, by John Bennett. Image used under Creative Commons, click image for link.

If I ever found myself in my own, personalised Hell, it would probably be something like the Edinburgh Festival. Large crowds of non-purposefully-walking visitors, lots of people handing me leaflets and (ugh) street performers everywhere, trying to talk to me and trick me into having fun using theatrical whispers and exaggerated movements. Possibly pink tutus and a boombox. I recognise my own misanthropy, but I don’t feel the need to apologise for it: that would be hellish.

Regrettably, we turned up in this Derbyshire Dales town on the second day of the annual Ashbourne Festival, a miniature version of this sort of street art event. And yes, ugh, I didn’t like it. Being on the return leg of a journey to Manchester to see The Boss (I had to get that in), I feel like I know a thing or two about talented performers. Nevertheless, I am strong-willed enough to try and put my prejudices aside and see the town for what it is, and thankfully, what it is is very nice. Reading the Wikipedia article for the town is like reading a 9 year old’s school project; in reality, the town is a cute market town like many others, the central shopping area surrounding a triangular market square. There are many quaint cafes and delis, a market (although this isn’t really worth writing home about) and, of course, plenteous charity shops.

You know you’re in for a competitive afternoon when there are sandwich boards around town pointing you to Mind as the town’s best charity shop. It’s not all that, although not a bad place to start. It competes on St John Street with British Heart Foundation (who need to sack their interior designers stat), and on Buxton Road with Salvation Army and Cancer Research, both of which earn their keep on the main drag. Following the pedestrianised market area around brings you to a large Lighthouse Hospice shop (this time around a welcome relief from some prancing numpties just outside) as well as a monster bakers shop. Yum.

Turn down Dig Street (steering around the be-tutu’d man and the wardens) for a very reasonable selection in Oxfam Books & Music, then towards the new-looking Waitrose where you’ll find Treetops Hospice and AgeUK.

We didn’t make any purchases (excepting a bunch of bananas from Derek’s fruit and veg to get change for the car park) (and a coffee) (and cake) on this visit to Ashbourne, but would certainly return. The frugality is more enforced than by choice, but come with a ready wallet and you’ll certainly find something worth stopping for in this little town. If nothing else, you’re at the edge of Dovedale and the Peaks, with some of the country’s finest scenery on your doorstep. Go look.

Find: Ashbourne Google Maps
Get there: Another one with no station, but plenty of car parking by the looks of things. Alternatively, trek here via the Tissington Trail or the Limestone Way.
Consume with: There are many cafes and coffee shops – we chose Costa (because it was closest).
Visit: no doubt there’s plenty in town, but I’d recommend striking out – you’re soon in Dovedale and the southern edge of the Peak District – there’s Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton and other towns close by, and more than sufficient viewpoints. You could also pick your moment and arrive for the annual Shrovetide football, a melée more than a match.
Overall rating: four Steig Larssons.

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Filed under 4/5, Derbyshire

Matlock

Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, under creative commons by Duncan Harris. Click pic for link.

Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, under creative commons by Duncan Harris. Click pic for link.

Although just outside the bounds of the Peak District national park, you won’t run short of scenery in and around Matlock. The River Derwent, which winds down from the middle of the park, through Bakewell, Matlock, Belper and Derby before meeting the Trent, has carved out an impressive path through the Derbyshire Dales, and the Matlock area is where you find some of the most dramatic parts. Maybe the best way to approach the town centre is from the South, from Belper direction – you’ll follow the Cromford Canal and the Derwent through a UNESCO World Heritage Site of mills and industrial history (I’m pretty much in love with all that at the moment, you’ll have to forgive me) and then pass into the really dramatic gorge around Matlock Bath – stop here for the Heights of Abraham with its cable car – and into Matlock town centre. If you fancy, you can walk all the way, or you can come from the opposite direction on the Peak Rail.

Matlock and its environs were a collection of unimportant villages until the discovery of thermal springs there at the close of the 17th century. With the industrial revolution just a few years after, and Victorian hydro-tourism, Matlock became the bustling county town of Derbyshire, and remains a busy rural town today. What that essentially means for our intentions is that there’s a pile of charity shops, plenty to look at, and something to eat.

If you arrive in Matlock from Cromford direction, you’ll find an Oxfam Books shop as your first charity shop on Dale Road. You’d be well advised to embrace the non-charity sector as well – although there’s one or two smartly priced antiques shops, we’ve found some excellent bargains in Second Time Around, just over the road from Oxfam, including books, blankets, maps and all sorts. Cross over the river and stop to admire the view towards Riber Castle along the Derwent and once again thank your lucky stars that you can come to such a beautiful part of the world. Chuck a penny in the oddly-coloured water of the wishing well, if you’re very grateful.

At the Crown Square roundabout you’re faced with three variably fruitful options. Turn left for the road to Bakewell, Youlgreave and into the Peaks. Along here you’ll find a handily located Wetherspoon’s for breakfast, the Railway Inn for other liquid refreshment (sadly, they seem not to do the breakfasts any more that we enjoyed on our first visit, watching England embarrass themselves in the Rugby World Cup over a plate of sausage and egg), and the slightly odd, crammed-full Lighthouse charity shop. There’s plenty of bargains in here including small electricals, if you can negotiate the over-stuffed room and inconveniently-placed staff.

Go straight up the hill from the bridge, on Bank Road, and you’ll find the majority of Matlock’s civic or historic buildings; importantly, you’ll also find Save The Children, British Red Cross and AgeUK, although you may not find much in them. Alternatively, right onto Causeway Lane will take you along the parks by the river and just round the corner to Firs Parade, home to Mind, Sue Ryder and British Heart Foundation. So that’s a fair haul of eight charity shops in a little town which happens to be one of the prettiest I know. As you can see, I’m in a generous mood, but I’ve no doubt we’ll be returning to Matlock any and every time we’re in the area.

Find: Matlock Google Maps
Get there: you’ve many options – walk the Derwent Valley Heritage Trail, catch the Peak Rail steam train, or get the normal train from Derby.
Consume with: I would have said breakfast at the Railway, but there’s plenty of other options, including the ‘spoons.
Visit: plenty round here! Masson MillsHeights of Abraham, Riber Castle
Overall rating: five china face dolls

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Filed under 5/5, Derbyshire

Bakewell

Bakewell Street, by Dave Pearson, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Bakewell Street, by Dave Pearson, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

One of the glories of moving away from the all-consuming monetary monster of the South East is that other places are so much closer. There’s a reason it’s called the Midlands – it’s in the middle, making so many places so much more accessible. I never really noticed at first: it’s easy to get caught up in a London bubble, but try and get out and it’s hard work. Negotiate the clogged arterial roads and you meet the more-clogged M25. Find your way out of that and you’ll likely be on a roadwork-heavy M1 or a thronging M4. Travel for half an hour in London and you’ll be half a mile from your starting place. Travel for half an hour in the Midlands, even at rush hour, and you’re halfway to your weekend holiday destination.

Hence a pleasant weekend away in the Peak District, just over an hour away. Typically for an October weekend, this was not the best time for sightseeing – the fog rolled in on Friday night and little could be seen. We pressed on boldly though: while the Peaks are undoubtedly prime hiking territory (on clearer days), we weren’t sure where to begin, so this little time away afforded an opportunity to scope out the area and make some plans for next time. Staying (on a Travelodge cheapie deal) at Alfreton, Bakewell was on our journey into the peaks, and was a worthy stop.

There’s a general rule of thumb when you’re visiting a town: if it’s a bit scenic; if it’s set in beautiful countryside, ripe for walking; if it’s raining: try somewhere else. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bakewell, but on a foggy, damp early October weekend, it was heaving. Nestled into the White Peaks, Bakewell is very much the quaint English country town. Now replete with Edinburgh Woolen Mill and copious walking shops, it caters to the sensible trouser-clad hiker and the epicurious as well – it’s not every town that can lay claim to its own pudding.

Let’s get the pudding out of the way. A Bakewell pudding is not a Bakewell tart. The tart so familiar through Mr Kipling‘s marketing endeavours is a shortcrust pastry filled with jam and a ground almond-based sponge. The pudding, which will take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it, is a hot thing served with custard or cream, a puff pastry base containing  a little jam and a pile of almondy egg custard. The variants are served up by the main competitors in town: the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop and the Bakewell Tart Shop and Coffee House. We ventured into the former and eagerly awaited our hot snack, but confess disappointment – slimy and odd. I’ll be sticking with the wife’s homemade version, which is a pile better. (To be fair to the Pudding Shop, it was a gorgeous building with a lovely deli downstairs which sent us away with a locally-brewed South Pacific Pale Ale.)

If you don’t fancy that strange confection, there’s plenty of tea-room/coffee-house based choice, whether you want modern funky cafe, or Austrian-themed coffee rooms with chaffinches in the rafters. These fit comfortably into the gaps between chunky jumper shops and stout walking shoe shops and, of course, charity shops. The first you’ll see is Mind which featured, if nothing else notable, Rupert Bear Christmas cards. After this, tucked away in the back are an Ashgate Hospice shop, Derbyshire Air Ambulance and AgeUK. These shops were packed out (and poorly laid out…), but still we got a nice velvety jacket (we both, apparently, are suckers for a brown velvety jacket).

Bakewell is pretty lovely really, if you’re not of the violently misanthropic variety: be warned, it’s a tourist town but it’s very pretty, very tasty, and in unbeatably lovely surroundings.

Find: Bakewell Google Maps
Get there: no train link, thanks Dr Beeching – it’ll have to be bus.
Consume with: while the many coffee shops were lovely, I was sorely tempted by the excellently-named Pizzakebabwell.
Visit: You’re right in the heart of the white peak district here, so take your pick. Monsal Dale is a regularly-recommended walk.
Overall rating: three chunky jumpers

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Filed under 3/5, Derbyshire

East Sheen

Untitled, by Edgley Cesar, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Untitled, by Edgley Cesar, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

East Sheen’s a funny kind of place, really, the sort of location you happen across because you happen to be driving along the South Circular, rather than on purpose. It’s something of an infill town, being recognised formerly as some nowhere in the Brixton Hundred of Surrey, then as the eastern part of Sceon/Sheen (now Richmond), or as being an extension of Mortlake – the shops encroach along Sheen Lane to Mortlake Station even now – and later a constituent of the municipal borough of Barnes. Nevertheless, given its nondescript beginnings, there’s plenty to East Sheen, and it’s almost totally concentrated along the A205.

On a long, stretched out main road like an American edge city, the shops in East Sheen radiate out from the central crossroads with Sheen Lane, where you’ll find Waitrose, and the busiest traffic. There’s little to point to East Sheen as anything other than a charity shop or local amenity destination, as with Richmond, Twickenham and Putney within spitting distance, there’s little requirement for boutiques and extensive chain restaurants. There is, however, charity shops, and they perhaps benefit from the proximity of Richmond and its inhabitants: a mixture of vintage, obscure bric-a-brac and a pretty good overall selection.

Octavia, if I recall correctly, is the first one when approaching from the East, a labyrinthine and somewhat vintage-orientated shop with a distinctive aroma. Though there was a few vaguely interesting, but expensive, knick-knacks, this was sadly lacking in general goodness (a pity, as this is a charity I could get behind – it’s a contemporary extension of the fascinating work of Octavia Hill in nineteenth century London). We also have some nice bric-bracery on the crossroads, in Barnardo’s, Fara (two shirts for me), Cancer Research, Mind and the like. Not many stick out, which is strange because overall I’m left with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the place. Perhaps it’s the proximity of Richmond Park (so close, your rotisserie chicken won’t get cold) or the discovery of not only a wicker linen basket, but tapes of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue in Princess Alice Hospice. There was also chunky mirror-based indecision in a shop I can’t find listed, but definitely had something to do with missing people.

Sometimes the most fun in researching a location is not the place itself, but the people (of course it is! I’m a human geography student, what do you expect?), particularly those considered ‘notable’ by the hive mind of Wikipedia. Obviously, a pinch of salt is occasionally required (although Jacques Ranciere has a thing or two to say about the overthrow of expertism by collective knowledge), but there’s a full-on slew of names associated with East Sheen, so I leave you with the highlights:

Tim Berners-Lee Marc Bolan The Moody Blues Rudolph Nureyev Omid Djalili Debbie Harry Tim Henman Andrew Marr Davina McCall Trevor McDonald Roy Kinnear Rob Brydon Phillip Glenister Daniel Craig. Nice.

Find: East Sheen @ Google Maps
Consume with: As mentioned, a cooked chicken and fresh bread dinner from Waitrose comes highly recommended. There’s a snack/coffee point at Pembroke Lodge too.
Visit:
Richmond Park, of course.
Overall rating: three audiobooks

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Filed under 3/5, London South

East Dulwich

shop fronts, under creative commons from fear and boozing in a lost vagueness' photostream. Click pic for link.

shop fronts, under creative commons from fear and boozing in a lost vagueness' photostream. Click pic for link.

I’ve done a lot of work on gentrification in the last four months (see? It didn’t stop there). I can summarise Smith’s rent gap theory, or Ley’s humanistic take; I can waffle at length about Barnsbury (as per Jonathan Raban (who I love more than ever)), Brooklyn Heights, Bilbao, and associated subjects such as global cities or neoliberalism; I can cite writers like Zizek or Foucault with nary a bat of the eyelid. But booksmarts pale into insignificance when faced with an irrefutable measure of gentrification provided by the ever-paternalistic Times property section: the chicken shop test. Presumably the majority of Times readers don’t live in an area where chicken shops proliferate (i.e. where impoverished folk live), because I’m happy to confirm that chicken shops actually don’t correlate with ‘edgy’ either academically or in any other way. And because Lordship Lane in East Dulwich featured three (in 2004), that does not make it a bastion of working class solidarity amidst a rising tide of middle-class colonisation and class repression spilling over into the area.

East Dulwich is, in fact, thoroughly gentrified. House prices quadrupled during the 1990s as fixer-uppers moved in, and today Lordship Lane is awash with organic delis, fancy fish-n-chip shops and four-wheel drive monsters. It’s very pleasant for all that, and placed well, just close enough to the altogether more traditionally salubrious Dulwich Village, just far enough from the less classy Peckham Rye. There’s village greens, larger parks, art galleries – everything except a tube station. It’s reminiscent in some ways of a newly-established Muswell Hill, who pride themselves on not having a station. East Dulwich also fits into a West-East heirarchy: where Muswell Hill wants to be Highgate (which itself wants to be Hampstead), but looks down on Crouch End, which in turn looks down on Harringay and Wood Green, East Dulwich would dearly love to be as classy as Dulwich Village, but has to content itself with Nunhead lingering jealously nearby, and Peckham, who nobody loves.

What it doesn’t excel in is charity shops. It’s difficult to give a high rating to such a clearly well-off locale which sports just the two, fairly average emporia. The better is Mind, on the junction by Goose Green, which did well on DVDs and some nice looking cookware and cake tins, which is always nice. The lesser of the two was a slightly eerie St Christropher’s Hospice shop: large enough, but with the atmosphere of a hospital waiting room, and an odour to match. A few board games and tatty clothes weren’t enough to make it visitable, really.

East Dulwich then: thoroughly middle class, thoroughly modern, but lacking in what makes a day out. Probably a very pleasant place to live.

Find: East Dulwich @ Google Maps
Consume with: plenty of cappucinos and things with pastry at various coffee shops, you needn’t go short 
Visit:
Dulwich Picture Gallery is nearby, if art’s your bag, but I’m more tempted by the epic-looking Horniman Museum in nearby Forest Hill.
Overall rating: two little cake tins

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Filed under 2/5, London South