Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sunny Days in Stoke

Head a little further north, and a little further west and you reach the debatable lands of Staffordshire, perhaps England's most enigmatic county. It has pottery and a bull terrier. It has its own local delicacy, the oatcake, a sort of heavy-duty tortilla with the texture of flannel, which exiled 'clayheads' get all tearful about and is actually pretty good with cheese and bacon. Also, in Port Vale FC, it has the only football team in England not named after a place...but a building, Port Vale House, where the inaugural meeting took place.

Heading north at Euston Station
But for all the funny foods and simmering aggression, I'm still not having it that Staffordshire is the north. For one thing, the football teams aren't good enough. Sorry but it's true.
Pies and Prejudice - Stuart Maconie (Ebury Press, 2007)

The above extract from my train-journey-read does little to contradict the common view (thank you for your suggestions!) that Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire are definitely in the Midlands rather than the North. However, what I can say from my little holiday to visit Acton Belle and her Beau is that it has much of the charm of the North (the people are very friendly, things are cheaper and there are lots of green spaces between each town) with only a 90 minute train journey. Ooh - and the oatcakes really are tasty and worth sampling.*

Perhaps calling the few days I spent in Newcastle-under-Lyme with Acton Belle 'sunny' is a little bit of an exaggeration. The weather was generally a bit rubbish: grey, windy and rainy but the time I spent with my dear friend was wonderful. If it had to be described as a weather, I would call it 'totally tropical'.

True to her word, Acton Belle took me on a chauffeured driven tour of some of the locations where Robbie Williams spent his pre-Take That days.

The Red Lion Public House - where Robbie lived from birth to the age of three
We enjoyed lots of tea and cake. The area has lots of many nice places to enjoy a bit of afternoon tea including the Wedgwood Visitor Centre and Trentham Gardens. If you're in the area I really recommend the latter. We had 2 soups, 2 sandwiches, 2 cakes and a 2 hot drinks for £10.95. I know I'm from London and any prices 25 miles outside the M25 seem cheap to me, but this was a very good offer and was super yummy too.

Tea at Trentham Gardens - Not the best picture ever but we were in a hurry to start eating. Acton Belle's spoon is hovering and ready to tuck in!
In addition to our day trips (Emma Bridgewater Factory Tour post coming tomorrow!) Acton Belle just enjoyed the time chilling out and chatting together.

Acton Belle's Amazing Cat Pie! (It's actually Chicken and Leek and comes from this blog)
For two people who have at least an hour long conversation each week, it comes as no surprise that we found it easy to chat into the early hours. You would think that having known each other for 18 years we would have run out of things to talk about by now, but somehow I think that will never happen. It was just lovely to spend lots of time together; reminiscing (that word reminds me of my Grandma talking about her childhood in South Wales during the 1910s!) about school days, sharing our plans for the future, laughing and discussing at length the joys and woes of working in a Primary School.

I'm so pleased that Acton Belle has settled in well to her newish home and town. Be it in the north, south or Midlands, I had a wonderful time and hope to pay another visit soon.

Thanks so much for having me, Acton Belle and Beau! x

*Even if we did eat them for lunch (two days after I returned) with chorizo, tomatoes and cheese. A first for the humble oatcake?!


  1. Sounds like you had a lovely trip.
    It is true that things are cheaper in that part of the world. Moving from the Midlands to Norfolk made everything more expensive!
    And chorizo with oatcakes? That must be a first, but will it be the last. Or have you started a new foodie trend. x

  2. It sounds like you had such a wonderful time! Isn't it lovely the way having an overnight stay with a girlfriend makes you feel 18 again? At least, that is how I feel. :)

  3. Cat pie! Best thing ever! Such a simple idea too!! xx