Carolyn Yates continues to scope out the best things to do, eat and see in the urban environs of the city
Altrincham may be in Manchester but feels like it could be in Cheshire, which was actually once the case. It arguably rivals Wilmslow with its appealing town centre, well-appointed homes – especially in the Bowden and Hale areas, which inflate Altrincham’s average house prices to double the Greater Manchester figure – and convenient transport routes into Manchester, but it wasn’t always such a desirable ‘stockbroker belt’.
Established as a market town in 1290 by royal charter, Altrincham flourished during the 19th century with the arrival of the railway and enjoyed an economic boom after surviving the Second World War. However, less than a century later, Altrincham suffered a period of decline which left parts of it resembling a ghost town.
Before you leave, check out the Wall of Shame where poor reviews are framed for your enjoyment...
In 2010, following the financial crisis of the late noughties, one in three of Altrincham’s shops were empty (the highest vacancy rate in the UK at the time) as people flocked to the nearby Trafford Centre instead of shopping locally.
Thanks to a multi-million pound regeneration scheme and rallying cries from passionate local businesses, Altrincham has since largely restored its retail district and breathed new life into its historic market, encouraging new restaurants and shops to open around it – but there’s much more to Altrincham than just its marketplace.
FRIDAY NIGHT: Theatre, drinks and live music around Goose Green
Celebrate the start of the weekend with an evening at the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse, which stages popular productions (Willy Russell’s Stags and Hens and Priscilla Queen of the Desert are on this May) and hosts visiting acts including musical tributes, bands and dance troupes.
Alternatively, see what’s on at Altrincham Little Theatre, which typically favours the work of notable playwrights such as Noel Coward, Neil Simon and Frank McGuinness.
Afterwards, if the weather’s obliging, enjoy drinks al fresco at Goose Green; Costello's and Tavern on the Green are popular choices, and The Green Room offers live music on Friday nights.
SATURDAY: Shopping, gallery-hopping and a night out in the centre
Given Altrincham’s retail heritage, it’s only fitting to spend Saturday hitting the shops. But first, breakfast: the eggs benedict at The Oxford Road Café is hard to beat or for novelty’s sake, try Toast – whose menu is comprised wholly of tasty toppings on your choice of bread (or crumpets).
Sip an elaborate beverage from Two Brothers ‘coffee engineers’ as you browse the independent shops and art galleries on Railway Street and Stamford New Road. There’s The Old Post Rooms (a starting ground for up-and-coming boutiques), County Galleries (artwork and framing services), Laundry B (catwalk-inspired fashion from around the world), The Contemporary (modern art in a warehouse-like space), Vintage Angel Design (pretty home and occasion-wares), Hidden Altrincham Festival CIO (a charity art studio and creative hub) and Homebird (whose ‘apartment’ display of cosy home furnishings puts IKEA’s room staging to shame).
Cross the road by the Altrincham Totem (a steel welcome sign engraved with ‘Altrincham market town 1290’) and head to George Street, where you’ll pass a decent selection of high street shops on your way to Altrincham Market. Enjoy ‘market tapas’ by sharing a dish from each trader with companions or new friends at the communal dining tables; choose from bread boards, soup and salads (La Cucina), wood-fired pizza (Honest Crust), pie and mash (Great North Pie Co), rare-breed beef burgers and sandwiches (Tender Cow) and a selection of cakes and pastries (Sam Joseph and Wolfhouse Bakery), all washed down with a latte (Market House Coffee), beer (Jack in the Box) or glass of wine (Reserve).
Before you leave, check out the Wall of Shame (where poor reviews are framed for your enjoyment) and the 19th century covered market next door, where you can find local produce, gifts and artwork from some of the North West's best traders.
Continue your shopping trail at Idaho (gifts and stationery), Edit & Oak (tastefully curated homewares and accessories), Tasty Records (vinyl) and Abacus Books (secondhand and collectable books).
Refuel with a coffee from Common Ground (and maybe meet one of the Olympic athletes who own it – swimmer Fran Halsall, BMX rider Liam Phillips and track cyclist Jess Varnish) then see if there’s an open studio event at Local Creation, as there often is on Saturday afternoons.
If you’ve any room left after your market visit, head to Greenwood Street for a light dinner of tapas at Porta or seafood from the raw bar at The Con Club. Follow with drinks at Mort Subite, which (as the beer paraphernalia on the walls suggests) specialises in North European beer; indecisive drinkers can ask for a ‘Selection de Mort’ and sample three thirds from numerous options. Upstairs at Riddles, enjoy a vintage cocktail or order ‘off menu’ and the bartenders will create a drink that’s tailored to your taste.
SUNDAY: Historic sights and countryside walks at Dunham Massey
Take a short drive to Dunham Massey, an 18th century, Grade I-listed stately home formerly occupied by the Earls of Stamford and now owned by the National Trust. It’s surrounded by 300 acres of parkland where you can walk among ancient trees, spot fallow deer (an often-photographed sight) and visit the stables and carriage house, formal gardens, orangery, pump house and working sawmill.
If you’re interested in historical artefacts, you can see paintings, furniture, silverware and costume from more than 300 years of collecting in the house itself – but if you’re more interested in beer, take a leisurely walk through the fields to the Dunham Massey Brewing Company. Although the multi-award winning microbrewery doesn’t currently offer tours, you can buy its traditional North Western real ale from the brewery shop – or order one with lunch at the Swan With Two Nicks pub, on the south-west corner of the Dunham Massey estate.
After lunch, head to Planet Ice for an afternoon of ice skating. Altrincham is one of only a few towns in the North West to have an ice rink, which is open to the public on days when it’s not being used by the resident Manchester Storm and Altrincham Aces ice hockey teams. The rink may close mid-afternoon if there’s a game on, but you could always get tickets to stay and watch – it’s a fast, often brutal, sport which makes for great entertainment.
Round off the weekend with dinner at Tre Ciccio for an Italian-inspired Sunday roast; there are four types of pollo arrosto e patate (roasted chicken and potatoes) to choose from. For a casual post-dinner drink, head to nearby Rustic for a craft beer, cocktail or glass of wine.