Tag Archives: sue ryder

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

Leominster

Leominster Old Market Hall, under creative commons by sally-parishmouse. Click pic for link.

Leominster Old Market Hall, under creative commons by sally_parishmouse. Click pic for link.

There’s a segment of the west country that sits across the borders of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, that’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite parts of the country. When I look on the map I come to the conclusion that its borders would be difficult to define: certainly it incorporates the Teme valley through Ludlow and Tenbury, the Clee Hills and down to the Severn below Worcester. It would also stretch north to the Longmynd and Church Stretton, and probably as far up as Shrewsbury. If I go that far I’d have to include Bridgnorth, oh, and Ironbridge, then down the Severn valley through Bewdley with a detour to the Kinver/Clent area, taking in Stourport, then right down to Upton and back west to Great Malvern and Ledbury. The problem is, every time we find a town/hill/river/misc. scenery that fits just outside that area, we’d have to push the envelope until most of those three counties are included.

Leominster does fall squarely in this lovely part of the world, though, on the A44 between Hereford and Ludlow – Welsh mountains to one side, lush Elgar country on the other. Towns around here are pretty well-heeled, with plenty of local produce markets, antiques shops (Leominster is very well-stocked on this front) and the like. There’s an Aldi here, but the Cooperative is bigger. Nevertheless, the usual image of charity shops being the last desperate resort of tatty town centres is far from true here – no less than nine charity shops nestle alongside antiques markets and secondhand shops, making Leominster a bit of a destination for vintage-seekers.

We visited for a second time this past Saturday afternoon, in the pouring rain. St Michael’s Hospice and another unnamed animal shelter shop were as closed as they were last time we visited, but a pile of others were open. The bulk of charity shops cluster around the high street, which splits into two narrow roads. Here you’ll find large Debra and YMCA shops, both of which include some furniture (although not much). There’s also Tenovus and British Red Cross on this stretch, then it’s just a matter of nipping along one of the side streets into Corn Square where you find Oxfam and British Heart Foundation.

Down the hill is Broad Street, which is pretty much that – a wide street with a barometer shop, rows of antiques markets and the ubiquitous shabby chic reclaimed furniture stores, who will quite cheerfully ask £85 for a decoupaged G-plan bedside table that would cost you £5 to reclaim and make for yourself. The antiques centres are pretty good mind – we’ve bought beautiful rugs from here before now, and even in this Age Of Austerity I could have bought a pile of records. As it turned out, I came out with just a Dubliners album – but After The Goldrush was cheaper here, too, than it was in Keswick Oxfam.

Back up and along West Street there’s a fairly nondescript Sue Ryder, and one of the more tempting shops of the town, Utter Clutter (which, if I overheard correctly, is closing soon, so get at those half-price vinyls). I came out of there with more Bruce Springsteen vinyls at reasonable cost.

There aren’t any spectacular charity shops in Leominster, but there’s certainly a decent enough volume. It’s a lovely little town though, in a lovely setting, so I can cheerfully recommend your visit.

Find: Leominster Google Maps
Get there: Leominster station is a little outside the town centre, but not too far.
Consume with: Savery’s is a nice little caff, with some mega cakes.
Visit: Leominster’s in the heart of the Lugg valley – small and very pleasant, and near to much of olde worlde Herefordshire.
Overall rating: four melamine bowls

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Filed under 4/5, Herefordshire

Stow-on-the-Wold

In a small Cotswold town, by hans s. Used under Creative Commons - click pic for link.

In a small Cotswold town, by hans s. Used under Creative Commons – click pic for link.

Typically for an English June weekend, our sojourn in Stow-on-the-Wold was characterised by rain. And then some: as I crawled out of the passenger door of my beleaguered Peugeot onto the market square of this quintessential Cotswolds town, we were met by a diluvian deluge. This forced us into a shambling run to the nearest public loos, only to find out that this well-organised tourist destination (you can tell by the sheer volume of coaches that this is on the Japanese speed-tourism Tour Of Englishness) charges 20p where I’d normally just spend a penny. So: a quick jog to the The Organic Shop to be met by pretty much the nicest man ever who made us a takeaway coffee (with 20ps in the change) from a little cafetiere and let us shelter amidst his cheeses and meats.

The rain didn’t ease so eventually it was hoods up, quick march to Sue Ryder. This is hardly a charity shop as you’d know it: very professional and classy looking, bustling, pleasant and in a windy part of an old marketplace building. A range of seconds quality M&S rugby shirts came in handy for Fathers Day; and I finally relented and bought grumpy Marxist EP Thompson‘s history of the English working classes, something I’ve seen I don’t know how many times but never so cheap.

We were balanced now – press on and explore and get wet? Or back to the car, dry (ish). We asked in the shop and found out another three charity shops, so onwards to the breach it was. Down Digbeth St (very much down – wold is an old English word for hill and at 800m, Stow is very much on the wold) is British Red Cross. A more run of the mill shop this. Back up, past a cook shop (this is very much a cook shop kind of town) selling ceramic goat’s cheese baking dishes and garlic roasters (if you’re the sort of person to buy this kind of thing, you deserve to pay what they were asking) and up towards the church and we have Helen & Douglas House Hospice. These shops are perhaps my favourite charity shops. The stock is always wide-ranging, beautifully presented, the shops are well-fitted and attractive, there’s coffee machines on the go – this one was no exception. We came away with a single sheet, but with cheery service from the assistants. That was repeated at the Blue Cross, nearly next door: here we got a friendly warning of the wet paint as we came through the door, and a long spiel about a dog called Brian that our purchase would help.

I came away with an overwhelming sense of the cheerfulness of the people of Stow. This was only compounded on poking around the flea market, where one vendor was so keen to get home that she kept throwing in free stuff to our purchase of a novely ice-cube tray. But then, when you live in such a pretty area, why wouldn’t you be cheerful? It’s far enough from the big city to avoid the lights and smoke, and the main road has been there for thousands of years. You’re surrounded by scenic limestone hills and chocolate box villages; what’s not to like?

Find: Stow-on-the-Wold @ Google Maps
Get there:
The railway is a luxury you don’t get here – the nearest is Moreton-in-the-Marsh, four miles away. Plenty of coach trips up the Fosse Way though.
Consume with: Stow is very much a Destination for tea shoppe lovers so there’s plenty of choice. I’d recommend The Organic Shop for a takeaway though.
Visit: just drive around the hills all day. There’s plenty of scenic towns and villages nearby – how about Chipping Campden, home of William Morris’ Arts & Crafts movement?
Overall rating: four wee cups of tea.

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire