A week in the heart of rural England……..Part 1

20190320_183454 copy.jpgLooking to the future, we decided to go house hunting in Cheshire. I would like to be within striking distance of Manchester where I come from, with its magnificent facilities, and Cheshire adjoins it and is the epitome of rural England. I have looked at thousands of houses on-line and know we can find one somewhere in Cheshire which will allow us to free up a bit of capital and give us a bit of leeway in our plans (mainly travel and going out – theatres, concerts etc). We weren’t scouting particular houses but looking broadly across the whole county to assess where we would like to live.                                                         I booked a converted barn for a week which looked great in Sawdays which is usually very reliable, and so it proved. We were greeted by Martin, who farms the land, and one of his lovely dogs Beth. Martin was a great host for the whole week and gave us lots of good tips on where to go.20190320_172020 copy.jpgWe settled in very quickly and were soon enjoying the March sunshine….20190320_172207 copy.jpgand on our first evening we drove to the local pub…the Swettenham Arms…just what the doctor ordered – a nice gastropub with good ales.20190320_183816 copy.jpg20190320_184601 copy.jpg20190320_185128 copy.jpgOutside, across the car park, was the church of St Peter’s which is very unusual and interesting with its stone build, but with a brick tower….unfortunately we never got around to visiting it. Another time.20190320_184524 copy.jpgOn our first full day we set out from our cottage in the grounds of Kermincham Hall past the pond and down its long drive which gave us a feeling of grandeur every time we used it, and…..20190321_102820 copy.jpegfirst of all explored Middlewich a historic town with its name suggesting a salt town and being the middle salt town in fact between Northwich and Nantwich. The Romans first mined salt here, and it was mined and processed til fairly recently. In reality the town itself apart from an attractive area by one of the three canals….20190321_110835 copy.jpgand by the green surrounding the church…was a bit of a dump – very poor High Street with downmarket shops and giving a depressing, run down feeling. Reminiscent in fact of many towns today.20190321_111151 copy.jpgOur mood lightened considerably however when we went next  to Sandbach, a peach of a town. The first great thing about it was free parking. To the two of us who have run shops in several places it is a no-brainer. But councils everywhere seek to bleed town centres dry with heavy rates and support for out-of-town developments and the results are as obvious as they were in Middlewich. We hit upon a lovely hotel for lunch – a gastropub and boutique establishment, The Wheatsheaf. We ordered something light and settled down to read our newspaper and do the crossword between us. Forty minutes later, having completed the crossword but without food, I caught the eye of  a member of staff and explained we were waiting. She could not have been more apologetic and efficient. Our open sandwiches and thrice-cooked chips appeared in no time. She explained that our order had been lost in a staff handover. Inexcusable of course, but I was gobsmacked when she again apologised and said we would not have to pay anything. Now that is, in the end, good customer service par excellence769b8318_z copy.jpg20190321_115629 copy.jpg20190321_115638 copy.jpegSatisfied and satiated, we strolled through town and discovered it was market day with lots of good food stalls….but we were more taken with the buildings….. 20190321_122158 copy.jpegmany of which were traditional Cheshire Black and White…20190321_122516 copy.jpegThe church and its grounds were exceptionally lovely…surrounded by Black and White houses on all sides…20190321_122541 copy.jpgand the pub opposite the church Old Hall where we called in for a quick half was amazing, believed to date from 1656 and once the residence of the Lords of the Manor of Sandbach. It is absolutely magnificent.20190321_122636 copy.jpegThe centre of the town is picturesque with its cobbles, more Black and White houses, good pubs on all sides (!)…..20190321_123234 copy.jpg20190321_124515 copy.jpgand a lovely Deli (amongst many other fantastic Independent shops in town)…..20190321_123400 copy.jpegand there were two impressive and massive Saxon stone crosses dominating the square. 20190321_123540 copy.jpeg They are elaborately carved with animals and Biblical scenes including the Nativity of Christ and the Crucifixion, and probably date from the 9th century. They were originally painted as well as carved, and they are among the finest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon high crosses. Later we found several towns and villages that we liked very much, but none of them matched Sandbach, our likely destination?                                         Anyhow, next stop was Nantwich. We had been before to have a chat to the local bookshop owner. It was as pleasant as we remembered. Again a great church and a pretty close surrounding it….20190321_145001 copy.jpg20190321_145115 copy.jpegThe streets were full of atmosphere and with a wonderful range of Independent shops again…and everywhere seemingly unspoilt and well cared for…. 20190321_145137 copy.jpg20190321_145429 copy.jpgEven the multiples were well hidden.20190321_150012 copy.jpg20190321_150219 copy.jpegAnd the range and quality of the buildings and streetscape was exceptional …20190321_145840 copy.jpeg20190321_150123 copy.jpegOne thing that wowed us was this boulder. 20190321_150717 copy.jpegThe inscription reads that it was  found during the building of the by-pass, is 400 million years old, and is probably from of all places Dumfries in Scotland, having been carried here by glacial action. Incredible.                                                                                              Having decided to look at a range of new houses here, we had a delightful walk along the river….20190321_150725 copy.jpg20190321_150944 copy.jpg20190321_151137 copy.jpgIt was a long walk so we were glad of a suitable place of refreshment back in town..A terrific medium-sized town but not quite as lovable as Sandbach was our conclusion.20190321_161238 copy.jpgThat evening we walked to the Swettenham Arms across three fields, by the nascent River Dane, 20190321_175322 copy.jpegsliding across the occasional fence to avoid the mud, 20190321_175332 copy.jpgand getting back just before sunset….20190321_184340 copy.jpg

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