England Destinations National
Ilford Town Centre (Ilford, Essex)
ILFORD TOWN CENTRE I have spent many hours in Ilford's Town Centre over the last couple of decades but when I first went to Ilford it was as a teenager, one Boxing Night. I was living in Hackney at the time and there was a family gathering taking place in my home when the teenagers amongst us (I have many cousins) decided to ... go out to a discotheque/club. The place chosen was 'Room at the Top' in Ilford, Essex. I wouldn't have seen much whilst in the taxi travelling to Ilford as it was evening in late December but, to this Londoner, it felt as if were heading out to the country.
I remember we seemed to be in the lift for ages until reaching the top floor and
arriving at the venue. Strangely enough, I recall the lift ride more than the club itself.
Years later I remembered this visit when I shopped in the department store called Harrison Gibson in Ilford High road and realised that this was the building that had once contained 'Room at the Top' by then it had gone.
By this time I didn't consider Ilford as being rural. Admittedly there are more green
spaces than in the areas of London that I was familiar with but certainly not 'the country.'
One of these green areas is Valentine's Park which is a large area of parkland containing amenities and being close enough to the town centre for workers to enjoy their lunch here, weather permitting. To me when I think of the town centre I it is as an administrative centre with shopping and entertainment facilities.
THE EXCHANGE SHOPPING CENTRE
Before The Exchange, Ilford had a C&A store. When C&A ceased trading in this country the Ilford C&A building became a much needed (to this area) in my opinion, Woolworths superstore and, when Woolies also disappeared from our high streets, it became and still is, a Wilkinson store. The frontage of this store provides a good starting point to The Exchange.
When I first knew Ilford as a shopping centre The Exchange hadn't been built. I can remember how puzzled people were as it seemed a difficult task to construct an indoor shopping centre which would incorporate some existing shops on either side of a hill.
Now the Exchange is a well-established indoor shopping centre, in fact much of it has been recently refurbished.
This shopping mall can be accessed from high street stores such as Wilkinson's and Marks and Spencer. One side of the exchange lies on Cranbrook Road and the other is on the high Street.
I like The Exchange and it certainly has helped to make Ilford a better shopping experience for all ages but, even after many visits I find it a little confusing in the way of entrances and exits as its been built on a hill meaning lots of use of escalators or lifts is needed to get to street levels.
Once Ilford had several thriving department stores and Alders was one of these. The floor space has
now been taken over by Debenhams.
This shopping Centre can now offer many well-known stores and some which are not chains. It has a new Next store, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Rush (hairdressing), Headjogs (hairdressing), Rymans, Wilkinson's , Debenhams, WHSmith (with a Post Office within), Sony Store, New Look, Claire's Accessories, Deichmann Shoes, H. Samuel, Pound type stores and many more.
Also for the hungry shopper there are many places to eat such as Burger King, Costa Coffee, Subway and a food court.
This shopping Mall has 1200 parking spaces on six colour-coded levels included disabled and parent & Baby spaces on levels 1 and 3.
This is a long road going from Barkingside to the town centre. Wilkinson's has a prime position here but there are many smaller and interesting shops along this road, not so much in the way of fashion but furniture and home ware goods, bakers (Greg's), charity shops and so on. The Exchange has an entrance on this road.
I am sure that many of the older community probably still miss the Fairheads store with its large choice of linen wares but the Bodgers' store (Station Road) is still going.
Bodgers has been going for simply ages. I do like a department store but this isn't one of my favourites and it isn't one often visited by me, but it is handy at times if looking for small appliances, kitchen and dining ware, linen as well as furniture.
The High Road must go on for about a mile and I have walked its length although not recently. I like to walk along the part near to The Exchange, especially now that much of it has been pedestrianized.
During the London Olympics a large screen was set up here to show events live, with outside eating areas in place.
Along this road there is an entrance to The Exchange. For high street shopping there are stores such as Barratts, Marks and Spencer, Primark, Miss Selfridge, Mothercare, Waterstones, Phone shops, banks and building societies, Boots the Chemist, Argos, Supedrug, Card Factory as well as some pubs, bars and restaurants.
Along Ilford's High Road can be found the impressive building of the London borough of Redbridge's town hall. This is a grade 2 listed building which was built in Victorian times. I have been in here several times for functions and concerts which my children have taken part in. The main hall is large.
Two of the rooms can be hired and the Lambourne Room is licensed to hold civil partnerships and ceremonies.
The town hall is a place of work with administrative offices within.
A little further along and there are more council administrative offices but located in more modern sites.
The large main post office is now no longer operational as a post office with postal services having been transferred to W.H.Smith in the nearby exchange. I think this is a shame as I enjoyed going into this large post office which sold so much more than envelopes, paper and stamps. Okay, so does W.H.Smith but personally, I prefer the post office in its former home.
The Royal Mail sorting office remains near to the town hall.
A few steps away from the town hall is the Kenneth More theatre. This is a much loved and much used theatre for the local community and a little beyond. It was opened in January 1975. I like this theatre as I think it has a good rake meaning that most, probably all, seats have a good view of the stage.
The Kenneth More shows different genres of theatre and during the Christmas season there is always a pantomime which usually sells out.
Cineworld has facilities which include a bar, food, venue hire, advance screenings, 3D, disabled access and parking.
Clements Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 1BP
0871 200 2000
Bollywood bowling opens every day and is available for parties. Food and drink is available, mostly of the fast food variety.
2-4 Clements Road
Ilford IG1 1BP
020 8553 4130
Hot Shots Bowling is just a little further away from the main shopping areas but still in the town's centre. Here, as well as bowling there is a laser room available. My daughter and my niece and nephew have held parties here. It's a useful venue as the birthday person can choose a bowling party, or a laser party or a mixture of both. Food is also available.
531-535 High Road
Some of the pubs in this area are:
Great Spoon Of Ilford - This is a jdwetherspoon pub offering cheap drinks and food. It is on Cranbrook road.
Jonos Free House is in Cranbrook Road.
Maguires is in Chapel Road.
O'Neil's is in Station Road, very close to the shops.
Frankie & Benny's is close to the cinema as is
The town centre also has the usual shopping centre restaurants and fast food outlets including,
Pizza Hut, If Bar, McDonalds and so on...
I cannot speak for every facility and shop but would say that generally the town centre is good for disabled access.
There are disabled spaces in car parks in the centre, including the indoor mall.
As some of the shopping area is pedestrianized, this makes wheelchair access easier and safer.
Within The Exchange there are lifts and disabled toilets. Most stores which are over more than one level have lifts as well as escalators.
On the ground level of The Exchange car park can be found a Motability facility offering hire of wheelchairs, scooters etc. for disabled shoppers.
Ilford town centre lies within the London borough of Redbridge although its postal address is Essex. Residents of the area speak about not being sure whether to call themselves Londoner's or belonging to the county of Essex. But Ilford lies within greater London and is north-east of London. It's close to areas of east London such as Stratford, Leyton, Leytonstone, and also not far from Essex having good access to Romford, Brentwood, Chingford and Hornchurch.
There isn't an underground station in the town centre although several are fairly close such as Gants Hill and Newbury Park, both on the central line.
Ilford does have an over ground station which is located on Station Road near to The Exchange shopping Centre.
It also has many bus routes stopping by the town centre making it an accessible place for many.
There is also a taxi rank by Cranbrook Road which is very close to the rail station and shops.
Parking is available in several car parks. The Exchange has its own multi-level car park and there are more public car parks close to the shops and amenities as well as areas equipped with parking meters.
There's so much here to mention but I hope I have given you an insight into what's offered in the town centre.
I think The Exchange party rejuvenated the area but feel perhaps it has reduced trade along the High Street.
It's also worth mentioning that this area is multi-cultural and although the town centre can have its problems in relation to crime, I feel that culturally it blends quite well.
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Hill Top Farm (Cumbria, England)
Hill Top Beatrix Potter's Home Nr Sawley LA22 0LF Last time we came up to this part of the world it was in early December and all the National Trust properties were closed so we decided then and there that we would come up before they all shut down for winter. I wanted to see some of the places connected to ... Beatrix Potter. I have loved her books since I was a child and still have my childhood copies. I also wanted to see places connected to Wordsworth and so this was our itinerary basis for this visit.
The former farm house was bought by Beatrix Potter as an adult and thus is where she created most if her beautifully illustrated books. When visiting this property you need to park in the clearly signed car park which is free but fairly small so I would imagine a visit in the summer would be a real challenge. It was empty when we arrived and packed by the time we left and that was in October so out of season and out of school holiday times.
Once you park you need to go to the ticket office to buy your ticket even if you are a National trust member you still need to get a ticket as entry is in timed blocks so that tiny house is never too crowded to allow visitors to move around and see what is there.
PRICES AND OPENING TIMES
This property is closed from the end of October through to early March and it is not open on Fridays. On the day it is open you can visit from 10 am or 10.30 through to 5pm or 4.30 so it would be advisable to check if you are planning a visit . The website always has the opening times for each week updated.
Adults are £8, children £4 and a family ticket costs £20 and you get a discount when visiting the Beatrix Potter gallery in Hawkshead Village.
If you are a National trust member then entry to both places is free.
IN THE VILLAGE
As you walk up from the car park up to Hilltop you pass several sights which starred in some of Potter's books. The map that you are given with your ticket shows these clearly so have a look as you make your way up to the house or if you are close to your entry time check them out as you walk back.
I will point them out going from the car park up to the house. The first of these sights is 'Anvil Cottage which is used by Potter in the 'Tale of Samuel Whiskas' and opposite this cottage is another white cottage which is the inspiration for 'Ginger and Pickles Shop' in 'Ginger and Pickles. Between these two cottages on the opposite side if the road is the local post box which Potter incorporated into 'Peter rabbit's Almanac'. The pub known as the 'Tower Bank Arms featured in 'The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck' while 'The Old Post Office ' was seen illustrated in 'The Tale of the Pie and the Patty -Pan'. Lastly a little gate just near the entry to the Hilltop house was in 'The Tale of Tom kitten.'
This is the first place you come to as you enter the Hilltop property and you can either ignore it or visit it before you go into the house or on your way out again. We actually went in after the house vsit but as it is first I will comment on the shop first. This is pretty tiny but does have a huge range of Beatrix Potter books, collectibles and even has the tiny figurines about a cm high which I was very taken with until I saw they cost about £80 each. There were toys and postcard, ice cream and dvds and books as well as guide books and more. While we were there 'Miss Potter' was showing on the TV screen in the shop. I still haven't seen that so I must get hold of a copy somewhere cheaper than in this shop.
This reminded me of Mr McGregor's garden in 'Peter Rabbit' with large flag stone pathway leading up to Hilltop House. There are all the traditional English border and perennials as well as vegetables and herbs in different parts of the garden. As you are walking back down from the house down the path furthest from the road on the right hand side are fields. In the fields we spotted lots of wild rabbits relaxing and looking perfectly at ease with no fear of being disturbed. I did wonder how much of the NT garden they helped themselves to once the visitors had left.
You are greeted at the door and the guide tells you that the house is self guided and you are free to walk around throughout the house. You are asked not to wear high heels that might damage the floors or touch any of the artefacts as they are all authentic Beatrix Potter owned furniture and possessions.
The room you come into is a front parlour with a dresser, a fire place and a central table. On the window shelf is a basket with some of her books open on specific pages showing scenes in the books painted in the room. This was the same in all the rooms each had books open on specific pages showing scenes set in that specific room.
The tiny kitchen was pretty hard to see in as it was roped off and you could only poke your head around but it looked pretty old fashioned and not a kitchen I would want to cook in.
Making your way upstairs you become very aware of how wealthy Beatrix Potter's family had been as her father was a close friend of Millais the painter and there was one of his paintings signed on the wall. Around the walls on the landing were several other paintings some by Beatrix Potter and others by other artists known to the family.
The room on the right as you get to the top of the srairs has a small round table in the middle and huge rather ugly paintings on the wall which were apparently the creation of Beatrix Potter's brother. I have to say they were dark and rather depressing landscapes and not my taste at all.
Beatrix Potter's bedroom had a small farmhouse four poster bed with canopy and handmade patchwork quilt. The bed looked small but we were told it was pretty much the same size as a standard double today. The view from the window looked out over the fields and was a pretty pleasant view.
The other bedroom was set up as another sort of drawing room and had |Beatrix Potter paintings and illustrations which were much more to my taste. All around were little signs with snippets of information about the lady and her work which was interesting to read but so much to take in that I can't remember all of them. Anyway it would spoil your enjoyment if I told you everything in the house.
You were not allowed to take photos inside at all but you could buy postcards showing the inside of a few rooms in the shop.
The house is tiny and so those with disability or mobility issues including children in pushchairs would find considerable difficulty inside the house. Pushchairs are not allowed inside and a wheel chair may get in the downstairs room but upstairs would be out altogether.
There are toilets outside the house but I can't tell you what they were like as I didn't notice them while we were there and we went for a coffee down near the car at Sawley's Cafe park and used those facilities instead.
If you are in anyway interested in Beatrix Potter then you should pay this house a visit. It was lovely to see the books of my childhood open in the rooms where they were created. Her work is such an English institution and so iconic. Apparently Beatrix potter books are used in Japan to teach children English which is why her books and characters are so popular with Japanese people. According to the NT guide 25% of visitors to Beatrix Potter's house and the gallery are Japanese which is a pretty large percentage when you think of how many nations visit our country and of course a lot of Brits visit this area as well.
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Penzance in General
When we decided to spend a few days in Cornwall, we didn't make a conscious decision to stay in Penzance. We wanted a reasonably priced guest house that had parking on site or nearby, and about four months prior to our departure I found four places that fitted the bill. My son's partner picked two of them, one in St Ives and one in ... Penzance, but when I returned to their websites the St Ives guest house no longer had vacancies. I booked the guest house in Penzance, and as it turned out we were very pleased that we stayed there.
Penzance is a town situated on the south coast of Cornwall; it's not as trendy or fashionable as St Ives, retaining something of a traditional air. Whether you travel by road or rail, you are likely to approach it from the east and will catch sight of one of the area's major attractions, St Michael's Mount, just before you reach Penzance. The road passes through the eastern outskirts of the town where, fortunately, the supermarkets and fast food outlets appear to be situated. Our guest house, like many others, was on Alexandra Road, and to get to it we had to pass through the town centre with its imposing domed building that houses Lloyd's bank and its nucleus filled with small shops and eateries.
The proprietress of the Dunedin Guest House where we stayed explained to us on our arrival that we could take a shortcut through Penlee Gardens to get to the town centre; it was only a few minutes' walk and proved to be a very pleasant one. Penlee Gardens has tennis courts, a garden of remembrance and even a small outdoor theatre as well as an expanse of grass with plenty of trees and flowers to admire. We then turned away from the shops and in less than five minutes were on the promenade with its screaming seagulls. To the west we could see the fishing port of Newlyn, and to the east we were able to feast our eyes again on St Michael's Mount. Penzance has an outdoor pool on the beach that seemed to be popular with families, and a notice announced that kayaking was a new attraction there too.
Penzance proved to be an ideal base from which to explore the south-western tip of Cornwall. It is only three miles along the coastal road to Marazion, a small market town from whose beach there is access along a causeway to St Michael's Mount. We drove there late on our first afternoon and found a large car park by the shore. Unfortunately we were just too late to walk out to the Mount, as the tide was just turning and the causeway would soon be submerged. We went to have a bite to eat on the terrace of the Godolphin Arms, from where there is a superb view of the Mount. On our last morning we toyed with the idea of taking the boat trip out to the Mount as the tide was high, but sadly there was a strong wind and no boats were sailing that day. At low tide, however, Marazion beach is an ideal place for children to build sandcastles and have space to run around on the sand.
Our second day saw us heading off to Porthcurno Bay and the Minack Theatre, which are only about eight miles from Penzance and well worth a visit. From there we continued to Land's End, and it was only about half an hour's drive back to our guest house. The third day we set off to St Ives which is on the northern coast but again only about half an hour by road. Seeing how difficult it was to drive around the narrow streets of St Ives and find a place to park made us particularly glad that we were staying in Penzance. After visiting Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, I wandered down to the harbour and considered going for a drink in a cafe, but it was so crowded everywhere that I made a beeline back to Penzance. The two major galleries in St Ives left a lasting impression on me, but I also spent a delightful hour one afternoon at the Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance, which had an exhibition of Dame Laura Knight's paintings at the time. After returning home I was disappointed to discover that there is another gallery in Penzance, the Exchange on Princes Street, that I hadn't found during my stay. It exhibits contemporary art and is linked to Newlyn Art Gallery. Entry to the Exchange is free, and it is free to Penlee House on Saturdays.
The proprietress of our guest house recommended two restaurants in Penzance to us, and one of these was the Navy Inn. This is actually a pub that serves food and is just off the promenade on Queen Street. We went there on our last evening in Penzance, and we all agreed that the fish we had was the best we had ever tasted, unsurprisingly perhaps as it was fresh fish from Newlyn. The desserts were wonderful too. The other recommendation was for the Meadery; we thought of going there for lunch on our final day but discovered that the restaurant didn't open until 6pm. We had lunch at the Duke Street Cafe in Newlyn instead and had no regrets about our choice. On our first day we wanted something light for a late lunch and ventured into the tiny deli called The Cornish Hen in the centre of Penzance. I enjoyed my first taste of homity pie there, and their coffee is to be recommended too. Less successful was our visit to the Lavender Delicatessen, where the genuine Cornish pasties left a lot to be desired. On my return from St Ives I came across the Cappuccino Express where I resisted the temptation of a cream tea but had a delectable blueberry muffin with my cappuccino. Their sandwiches were reasonably priced and looked huge. I remembered that the only Penzance eatery mentioned in Harden's Guide was the Honeypot Cafe, but unfortunately I didn't discover its whereabouts until I was heading to catch my train home. It certainly looked to have an interesting menu.
Penzance town centre has an eclectic mix of shops where you can find anything from Tesco Express and the Co-op to pricey art and souvenir shops and tiny antique shops chock full of horse brasses and bric-a-brac. I needed a gift for my brother (as he was looking in on my cat) and found a beautiful ceramic lizard in a shop that sold handmade soap. There is a sizeable post office, at least two photographic shops, several pharmacies and even a cinema for those rainy days. The most unusual sight is the Egyptian House, which to me should have been called the Pharaonic House, with its spectacular facade.
Penzance has a railway station down by the harbour, and there is a car park nearby. Trains run to Plymouth and London Paddington as well as cities further north, and there is a branch line that runs along the picturesque coast to St Ives. The station has a cafe and a shop adjacent to a decent waiting room. The bus station is right beside it, and there are bus services to local towns and villages such as Marazion, Newlyn, Land's End and St Ives. Long-distance bus and coach services run to and from Penzance. Several companies run sightseeing and fishing boat trips from Penzance harbour. For a trip with a difference, you could go by helicopter to the Scilly Isles, and there is also a ferry service to the isles.
I would definitely recommend Penzance as a base to stay in to explore the south-western peninsula of Cornwall. If you are looking for a guest house, the Dunedin is a good choice; if you are on a tight budget, Penzance Backpackers is on the same street. Penzance may seem a little old-fashioned compared to St Ives, but it is also relatively unspoilt, less crowded and easier to drive around. With attractions such as St Michael's Mount, the Minack Theatre and Land's End just a few miles away, its location is ideal. Newlyn is within walking distance and is well worth a visit if you are looking for unspoilt towns and villages. I would happily return to Penzance if I have another opportunity to visit Cornwall.
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