Tag Archives: Oxfam bookshop

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

Leave a comment

Filed under 4/5, Cheshire

Marlborough

Old Appleby's Yard in Marlborough, Wiltshire, by Anguskirk. Photo used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Old Appleby’s Yard in Marlborough, Wiltshire, by Anguskirk. Photo used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

On these, shores, the word Marlborough is redolent with history. John Churchill, created first duke of Marlborough after a diplomatic switch of allegiance to William of Orange, was one of the foremost, and the most successful, of military commanders at the time of the Restoration/Glorious Revolution (for more info, see Neal Stephenson’s sprawling Baroque Cycle, in which Churchill features regularly). Visiting the town today, you’ll find an attractive medium-sized country town, with an apparently famously wide high street – nice, but not the sort of grand gesture you’d expect for such a hero. Never mind though – Churchill had to console himself with Blenheim Palace, which might have helped. Actually, Marlborough’s refined bustle harks back to a lengthy history – the town’s name allegedly comes from Merlin’s Barrow, the bearded wizard reputedly being buried in the grounds of the College. Certainly there are archaeological remains from older than 2000BC, progressing through iron age buckets and Roman coins (at Cunetio, two miles east) and a Norman castle and mint, and notables such as William the Conqueror (hunted here), King John (married here), King Henry III (held parliament here), Thomas Wolsey (ordained here) and William Golding (raised here), all passed through.

There’s a nice, quick run-through of a lot of things you forgot from school there. No doubt they would disapprove at the town’s big educational establishment, Marlborough College, site of the aforementioned Barrow. Marlborough today is actually a rather pleasant town, with plenty of quaint olde worlde buildings – you wouldn’t, perhaps, get a sense of the overbearing weight of history compared to some other towns who ham it up more; Marlborough is a bit too select to flaunt itself in such ways. You’ll notice that from the shops in the wide high street (after you’ve spent the most stressful half-hour of your life trying to park): plenty of these are just that cut above the normal high street fare (Phase 8, Joules, White Stuff, that sort of thing).

That bodes well for the charity shops though, of which there are several. It’s tricky to pick the best here, there are several contenders, all based around the high street. The sort-of exception is the always excellent Helen & Douglas House Hospice, which is slightly up the hill on Kingsbury Street, opposite the artfully tatty Cat’s Whiskers. It yielded two t-shirts for me, and cheerfully so: it turns out that I’m a size smaller than I used to be. Must be all that car-less commuting, I heartily recommend it.

A new discovery on me that morning, the Prospect House Hospice in Marlborough turns out to much less odd-smelling, and a little cheaper than its Hungerford counterpart (although not that much cheaper). It’s a big old shop, with a large upstairs full of interesting bread bins and vast racks of antique books. On the same stretch is a smaller, more typical Blue Cross shop – the wife got a mustard handbag here, as mustard is absolutely in, in this household. On the opposite side of the high street is a well-stocked Oxfam Bookshop (with two (two!) boxes of maps) and a charming RSPCA shop which winds all the way back into the building, into snugs and down steps. There’s huge displays of trinketry, and I even picked up a DVD of Blood Simple, which I’ve had an eye peeled for for ages.

If we had a longer day, Marlborough would make a great stop for some proper exploration. There’s all sorts of hills and side-alleys leading off the main street, and the river Kennet which flows through is quite charming. The sheer volume of history makes it worth a trip if you’re into that sort of thing – interesting for me, as I tend to write off Wiltshire as being bucolic to the point of empty. Marlborough was certainly worth a stop though, and might find itself a convenient break point now my family members have moved. No doubt we’ll be back, if only for a pub lunch (of which many options).

Find: Marlborough @ Google Maps
Get there: you’ll have to get there from Pewsey or Swindon if you’re coming by train, but there’s plenty of buses no doubt.
Consume with: there were many, many options for a pub lunch along the high street. We plumped for the Royal Oak, a Greene King pub, but there’s also the Castle & Ball, the Green Dragon and the Bear. If you’re after something a bit littler, how about the Mustard Seed bookshop and cafe sat right over the river.
Visit: Jazz festival, food festival, but my pick would be the intriguing Big & Little Mop Fair. No idea.
Overall rating: three bags in mustard

Leave a comment

Filed under 3/5, Wiltshire

Cirencester

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

If there’s two things that have stuck in your mind from learning the Romans at primary school, I’ll bet it’s that all their roads were straight; and that if a town ends in “chester” or “cester”, then it was Roman. Good old Romans, making things nice and logical for us. Cirencester nicely fulfils the latter, its name a descendent of the Latin Corinium Dobunnorum. The town that’s now Cirencester was established as a fort in the earliest part of the Roman occupation of Britannia, and when the frontier with those crazy Celts moved towards Wales and the fort abandoned by soldiers, the local Dobunni tribe moved in, hence the name – it grew into the second largest city of the province. Approaching Cirencester, you’ll also not fail to see evidence of the roads as well: this was a major junction on the Fosse Way between Exeter and Lincoln, the long, strangely direct road through the Cotswolds (further evidence at Stow, Moreton-in-Marsh and Northleach); at Cirencester it met Akeman Street (between St Albans and Gloucester), and Ermin Street (between Gloucester and Silchester).

So, an important town for a long time, and it has retained this status despite being comparatively small compared to neighbours like Swindon or Gloucester. A quick google for “capital of the Cotswolds” places Cirencester firmly as the main town of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and therefore firmly within the aspirational urbanite dream of bucolic isolation. Let’s be clear here: the Cotswolds are not bucolic isolation in the way the highlands of Scotland, or the Welsh desert are; they’re very much on the trainline into Oxford and London, and you’re more likely to find pink corduroy and David Cameron’s children in the pub than pentagrams and scary locals. Nevertheless, in a reserved, chocolate-box, typified English way, this is a thoroughly picturesque part of Southern England and well worth a riverside stroll or a cream tea stop. Cirencester is the biggest town in the area, but still absolutely full of the local stone, as planning regs insist – charming to some, a bit much for me.

The town centre is dominated by this particular stone, and it’s most notable in the cleaned up medieval church of St John the Baptist, in Market Place. Rather than the rain-softened pale yellow generally found in the Cotswolds, the south porch has been polished to a bright magnolia effect, and really looks quite odd. Each to their own I suppose. This is the centre of town, no doubt: Castle Street broadens into a marketplace, and coaching inns and coffee shops line the facades. Here you’ll find Sue Ryder and an Oxfam bookshop, which is really a very pleasant bookshop. It’s the thoroughfares leading away from town that are the most propitious though. Head West on Castle Street (there’s no castle, not since Henry III) towards the vast Bathhurst Estate and you’ll come across Age UK and Cancer Research in close proximity. The opposite direction takes you into a more modern section of the town centre, or perhaps modernist, as the occasional 1960s precinct appears in an otherwise well-turned out country town. Here you’ll find Cotswold Hospice Care, British Heart Foundation, and Salvation Army. These are somewhat unremarkable shops all, but far from poor; in fact, the Sally Army has turned up Le Creuset cookware before now.

Head South off the marketplace (along yet another picturesque limestoned street, Cricklade) and you really hit the jackpot. In quick succession there’s a Barnado’s (just off the road in the understated Bishop’s Walk arcade), Helen & Douglas House (always worth a visit), British Red Cross, Blue Cross and RSPCA. All fairly worthy charity shops. Worth pointing out here is the back entrance to the market hall – besides the market, this is where the public loos are. Not a particularly interesting fact, until you consider the 20p charge to use the ones in the car park that get the letter-to-the-editor-writer in me grumbling. The market hall itself is a cut through to opposite the church, and is home to some boutiquey shops and a rather nice looking coffee bar.

I’ll be honest: I’m not such a fan of Cotswold architecture as much as I admire, say, the slate austerity of the Lakes, or the dusky red-brick of north Worcestershire. But I know it appeals to many and if that’s you, then Cirencester is a feast of quite lovely and interesting buildings. Quite besides this, there’s plenty to look at and in, and of course a sizable haul of charity shops. It’s been an excellent place to stop on the cross-country route between various parts of my family, and being smack in the heart of these famous undulations, it’s a lovely journey both sides. So Cirencester comes pretty highly recommended.

Find: Cirencester @ Google Maps
Get there: if not by Roman road, then it’ll have to be some other sort of road I’m afraid, unless you’re willing to schlep from Kemble station, four miles hence.
Consume with: there’s all the usual, but I’d like to try that coffee shop in the market arcade.
Visit: I’d suggest either the Corinium museum or the Cotswold Water Park
Overall rating: four straggly balls of wool

1 Comment

Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

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.

1 Comment

Filed under 4/5, Derbyshire

Petersfield

Sunrise at Petersfield, under creative commons, by Neil Bonnar. Click pic for link.

Sunrise at Petersfield, under creative commons, by Neil Bonnar. Click pic for link.

Some of our charity shop tourism ends up stirring up a whole glut of memories. This time around it meant visiting a South Downs market town where I spent many happy hours as a child – Petersfield was home to my grandparents as long as I could remember. So, we had a quick tour of what little I could remember and the town has barely changed. Approaching from Winchester along the A272 brings you a very scenic route through Britain’s newest National Park, underneath the A3 and into the town. My preferred route is then to turn off onto Frenchman’s Lane then along The Spain to Dragon Street and approach the town that way – you can then turn off down The Avenue to the Heath and its boating lake – get an ice cream, I should.

For a small town, there’s quite a bustling little town centre, with regular markets in the town square overlooked by the big statue of a man on a horse. This is a proper little southern English community, as befits its location history as a chartered market town: plenty of neat gardens, retired ladies from the church volunteer group staffing cake stalls outside Waitrose, and scattered, homey little restaurants. There’s a physic garden, town museum and a gallery devoted to the local artiste (Flora Twort), like an English version of Nick Cave’s archetypal American town. These days there’s also Costa and a touch of the creeping homogeneity that suggests, but mostly this is a charming, quaint, southern English town.

Cheerfully, there’s a selection of neat and quaint charity shops as well. The biggest one is undoubtedly Sue Ryder, on the corner of the neat and quaint Lavant Street, also home to Age UK and several cookshops – it’s that kind of town. This is a huge, double-fronted cornershop – although with no particular bargains on this visit. If you’re coming by train you’ll do so down Lavant Street then turn into Chapel Street, where you’ll find Scope, then onto Swan Street, which is really the main thoroughfare. Here you’ll locate Oxfam Books and Cancer Research clustered around the Square, with it’s man-on-a-horse cobbles. Along the High Street you’ll also find Rowan’s Hospice with various posh frocks and hats. I have a vague recollection of one on the opposite side as well, selling olde cameras – this may have been a more commercial second-hand store.

It was thoroughly lovely coming back to Petersfield, and although there’s little reason for me to visit regularly, it was a cheerful parade of memories, from the boats on the lake to the cobbles on the square. Armed with a good selection of charity shops, I’d happily commend you if you’re on a visit of the South Downs, now it’s gone National. Isn’t it, though, as granny used to say.

Find: Petersfield Google Maps
Get there: Petersfield station is located at the far end of Lavant Street.
Consume with: I don’t know how feasible this is for any other visitors, but we had excellent brownies from the stand outside Waitrose.
Visit: The South Downs National Park is full of delights – nearby are QE Country Park and Butser Hill, scenes of many a school trip or family picnic.
Overall rating: four posh ‘ats.

Leave a comment

Filed under 4/5, Hampshire

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

2 Comments

Filed under 2/5, Cheshire

Kendal

Branthwaite Brow, Kendal, England by pixelsandpaper, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Branthwaite Brow, Kendal, England by pixelsandpaper, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Despite being the biggest town for some distance, Kendal has never been a county town, or the capital of the Lake District or anything. Rather, it was the centre of one of two baronies which made up the historic county of Westmorland, later subsumed into Cumbria, and today is a minor administrative HQ for the South Lakeland district council. However, it’s always been a hub, a market town drawing trade from across the most dramatic scenery of England, and remains so today – bigger than the nestled quaintness of Keswick, or the tourist-heavy Windermere or Ambleside, Kendal’s become a properly lovely little town, more than just mint cake.

You descend into Kendal via ranks of grey limestone cottages, flanked on every side by, if not formally the Lake District national park, then certainly the foothills of the Cumbrian mountains, the Shap fells, even looking towards Sedbergh and the Yorkshire Dales. It’s easily found from the M6, with snow-capped peaks in the background winking at you. There’s a fairly completed, if scenic, one-way system which (if you’re not careful) will whizz you over the River Kent and out again. We’ve parked in the shopping centre the couple of times we’ve visited. Sometimes it’s best just to find the first big blue P and go there.

Kendal town centre is based around Highgate and the excellently-named Stricklandgate, a hilly, semi-pedestrianised main drag which is complemented by several quaint side streets and a market square (as well as the Westmorland shopping centre). The charity shops cluster around the junction between the two ‘gates: at this point there’s a twin Oxfam (similarly to Glossop) with a good range particularly in the bookshop. This one’s definitely worth a stop for the Lakes guidebook/map hunter, although be warned – Oxfam always knows the value of a book, so don’t be expecting to pick up bargain Wainwright guides.

Almost next door you’ll find Scope, then over the road a Salvation Army and St John Hospice. These latter two are large shops filled with a veritable plethora of stuff; the British Heart Foundation slightly up the hill is less good, and is annoyingly laid-out, as per usual. Off the marketplace there’s a pretty good Barnado’s shop – this one had a pile of vintage fabrics when we were there as well as a fez. It goes without saying that the latter proved more tempting…

Finally, AgeUK is on Finkle Street, a tiddly little lane just off the main shopping route, but which makes a nice loop around – it’s accessible from both ends round the back of the marketplace. This is just an ordinary little shop, but did throw up a pretty decent record player for just £6.50, which is cheerful. We’ve been listening to Peter Gabriel and Dire Straits ever since.

I feel like I should be able to wax more lyrical about Kendal – perhaps Monday morning isn’t the best time of week for composing prose. Don’t let me put you off by the matter-of-fact post – Kendal’s a really lovely little town, definitely worth a visit.

Find: Kendal Google Maps
Get there: Kendal’s on the very scenic rail branch line from Lancaster to Windermere, which looks worth a go.
Consume with: Costa is a safe bet as normal.
Visit: as with so many of our visits recently, get walking. While Kendal itself lies in the Kent valley, you’re not far from anay of the Lake District here – Windermere is 8 miles on, Longsleddale (inspiration for Greendale) is the nearest hillage, and you’re not far from the Howgill Fells either.
Overall rating: four Dire Straits albums

   

3 Comments

Filed under 4/5, Cumbria