The name ends in “wich” so you know that it’s one of the Cheshire salt mine towns.
Famous – or notorious – for having just about the highest concentration of “Listed Buildings” in England, or thereabouts. Every third building is either Roman or Tudor or Georgian. Sadly, the other two are either dodgy, struggling take-aways with frontages in need of a lick of satin-finish bulldozer, or some nineteen-seventies architect’s notion of a prissy-looking new-build that “will blend seamlessly with the Roman, Tudor and Georgian buildings either side now give me my money”.
The canal runs right past the beast. It is a very handy town indeed.
It’s also what I term a “fur coat and no knickers” town. There are shops – holding “Sale Now On” events – selling £80 shirts (yeah, jog on, Moshe), and shops selling all manner of arty things to fill up the corners of your “footballer’s mansion”, but the two busiest shops are the bargain warehouses, selling domestic essentials without the 1,000% mark-up. Maseratis and new-model Porsches cruise through, their V8/Flat-6 engines rattling the shop windows, but most folk look hard-pressed to come up with the price of a Maserati or a Porsche by Corgi or Dinky. I am guessing that Nantwich almost died from a lack of co-ordinated planning consent at some stage (I cite in evidence, m’lud, “take-away row”, for example) but that now they are trying very, very hard indeed – and doing a brilliant job too.
Is there enough money in the town to keep it alive? Is there enough money in any English town to keep the lights burning? It’s on a knife-edge. You can’t raise business rates on empty properties and High Street properties don’t stay stuffed with businesses when everyone’s buying on-line from companies (Amazonian, eBore et al) that pay no taxes at all, virtually.
I was in Calveley, roughly some 5.6098 miles away from Nantwich as the narrowboat flies, when I suddenly had need of – it later transpired – an “Argos” (another bricks-and-mortar shop chain that is dead on its feet and hanging on by its corporate toenails). There is one, tucked into the corner of a building shared with Sainsbury’s supermarket on the far side of Nantwich away from the canal. I had forgotten this of course, hence my staggering around the centre of town in a vain search. I like Argos. You can check their stock on-line, and you can reserve things for later collection. The prices are on the eek side of ouch and good gosh, really? but then, they are just about clinging on (scrape ’em off, Jim).
The Cardinal and I hoofed it down there and moored up – ugh – slap bang in the middle of town (almost) by what is known as the “aqueduct”. The whole stretch of canal is on an embankment about twenty foot high, possibly thirty on a winter’s day, and here it crosses over the road between some fancy railings.
Being a country-mouse by choice I am not overly-familiar with the in-step and trouser-gusset of Nantwich, and I trawled the town for an “outdoors” type shop. None to be found. The very friendly and helpful inmates of a hardware shop (while not actually stocking what I needed) mentioned Argos-in-Sainsbury’s. Is it within walking distance I asked? Oh god no – much too far to walk, they said. Not humanly possible. Can’t be done from here, you’d have to get a taxi…
Transpires tis but ¾ of a mile from the hardware shop, mayhap 1½ miles from my moorings! The English – the town English – do not walk anymore.
I walked. Next morning, after reserving my goods on-line.
Another problem – opportunity – presented itself as I walked through town – THERE ARE NO STREET NAMES MARKED. The whole town is a mystery unless you’re in a car with a satellite navigation unit barking orders at you. Well, there are one or two signs, but in general the whole place is thoroughly anonymous. Part-way I called into a bustling corner-shop/newsagents – is this Felching Way? I asked, looking at the route I’d written out for myself on an old scrap of Magna Carta parchment.
I got a shrug of the shoulders. They didn’t know what street they were doing business on.
I asked someone outside on the pavement, obviously a local since they had a very Roman schnoz and were crusted with salt. ‘Ugh? Aaargh? Dunno’ came the reply.
I followed my own nose, and got there by old-fashioned dead-reckoning.
English townies, my research so far:
- Are scared of a good walk
- Have no idea upon which street they are doing business
- Don’t know where they are at any given moment
- Don’t care about items 1, 2 or 3.
On a much more agreeable note, the road from the canal into town, at that sparrow-fart hour of the day, was largely deserted. As I walked, joyfully swinging my thirty-year-old canvas “bag for life” from Tesco (Chorley) around my head and contemplating the meaning of forty-two, a gentleman approached. He was dressed entirely in the style of the First English Civil War (which was roughly two-thirty until four in the afternoon, 1644). Full period outfit.
I touched the brim of my tweed flat cap and said ‘How do?’
He doffed his baggy felt cap and replied ‘Morning.’
We both walked on. Good manners satisfied, nothing else needed.
Only in England, I thought, only in England.
Turns out that the town is having a re-enactment of The Battle of Nantwich (25th of January 1644) and the gentleman was probably corporeal after all.
You can tell the early hour from the fact that there’s only two cars on the road, and one of those is a Police car, taking the Police dogs out of town before the trouble kicks off. You haven’t seen fun until you’ve seen a Police Alsatian running through a crowded town with a 30′ pikestaff carried horizontally in its mouth.
I’VE GOT A BIG STICK AND IT’S ALL MINE! WOOF!
Anyway, business duly transacted – and with both “bargain shops” ransacked and every charity shop in town raided for books and DVDs – and with all goods carried back to the boat, I did what I do best.
I scarpered before the fight broke out.
I didn’t get where I am today by not scarpering at the earliest opportunity, Reggie.
Unlike my fellow townies, most of whom probably had no idea that what was going on around them was a re-enectment, or what of, or why or even that it was too late for them to scarper.
We’re back in the countryside now, and not before time. Today has dawned dull, grey, wet and somewhat breezy. Not cruising weather at all.
Today I shall be doing mostly nothing, and doing it very well indeed.
I wonder who won the English Civil wars?
Silly me – the usual robber barons, of course.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme stuff the peasant.