Friday, 28 February 2014

Biddy visits Inch's Yard

Having previously extolled the virtues of Bartholomew Street, I slipped round the corner into Inch’s Yard to explore even more delights.

For those not familiar with Inch’s Yard, if you are heading along Bartholomew Street past the Kennet Centre multi-storey car park and turn the corner into Market Street, Inch’s Yard is the small but beautifully formed collection of shops and offices on your right.

There is an eclectic mix here: Jones Robinson Estate Agents has a fine position on the corner and much to view in the window, though the husband and I are well settled so no thoughts of moving for us. Most noticeable in Inch’s Yard is the petite and unusually shaped building that is home to Coffee +. They have a small number of tables inside and out if you want to take a break (and as you know, I’m always ready for a coffee), but their takeaway service is clearly immensely popular and offers all things good for lunch or a filling snack – such as salad boxes, baguettes and jacket potatoes.

Tucked behind here is the lovely Rainbows craft and gift shop, a treasure trove of goodies – including buttons, embroidery threads, fabric remnants and much, much more – for everyone who enjoys crafting. If you’re looking for a small gift for someone they are certainly worth a look, too – I have my eye on some very pretty earrings.

One of their neighbours is Ryan’s Newbury Antiques and Collectables.  If like me you enjoy some of the antique programmes on TV (don’t you just love ‘Antiques Road Trip’?) you will thoroughly enjoy visiting this shop for its well-presented, clearly displayed array of fascinating artefacts from a small handful of dealers. I love the fact that you can browse here at leisure, with no pressure to buy. But there is so much here to catch the eye – pictures, furniture, ceramics, stamps, jewellery, records, books, glass, silver, militaria and curios – it would be pretty hard to resist, and the items are not over-priced.  Nostalgia definitely rules here and I would defy anyone of a certain age to visit and not say, ‘I remember my granny/parents/great uncle Ernest having one of those!’

Then there is Studio Thai restaurant and bar, whose name speaks for itself. They have an extensive menu, and a tempting range of cocktails ... so tempting that I shall be dropping heavy hints to the husband about a visit very soon.

Family-run Fires N’Grates truly are ‘the fireplace people’ (wish I’d known about them when I was hunting for a new fireplace a couple of years ago). They have a great (or should that be grate?) selection of fires (gas, electric and solid fuel), fire surrounds and fireplace accessories. Definitely worth a visit when you are next updating this focal point of your home for their expert advice on choosing the right piece for you.

If you are thinking about taking the plunge and trying a new hairstyle, independent Julian’s Hair Salon, for men and women, is well worth considering.  Their fresh, bright, modern premises are in an imposing position in Inch’s Yard and both new and existing customers are offered a free 15-minute consultation (even for bird’s nests like mine) when they are thinking of updating their look.  Julian’s has been established for nearly 30 years and is much involved with the local community, with fund raising activities taking place throughout the year – and it sounds as if there is much fun to be had in the process.

Gosh – Inch’s Yard may be small but they certainly pack a punch with all they have to offer! Do pop along and see them soon – and tell them Biddy sent you!

Biddy x 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Biddy visits Bartholomew Street

When it comes to shopping and eating out, Newbury is a much larger town than many visitors might appreciate at first glance. There is a whole world that is absolutely worth walking a few paces beyond Northbrook Street to savour. Hopping over the bridge in the centre of town into Bartholomew Street leads you to all sorts of delights: Cara of London for ladies’ shoes, boots and clothes; Badgers menswear; Taking Shape ladieswear; Kitchen Monger cookshop, Brebis French restaurant ...

As you continue beyond the Kennet Centre car park four things about this part of Bartholomew Street strike me immediately:
  1. How friendly it is. On my recent excursion I was greeted with ‘good morning’ from more than one local, a really pleasant surprise in a town the size of Newbury.
  2. That you would be hard pushed to go hungry here – there is a huge choice of cafés, pubs, restaurants and takeaways to suit every tastebud and every pocket.
  3. If you want your hair or nails done, there are salons aplenty.
  4. The eclectic mix of shops – from Artifax picture framing/artisan art gallery to Hair of the Dog grooming parlour, from Willow & Blooms florist shop to Octopus classic vintage furniture, from Cloth & Scissors alterations/repairs/laundry service to Nudge Nudge Ink Ink tattoo shop, from Hethertons Bakery to Invicta second-hand books ... and many, many more.
This host of independent shops form a tight-knit community, and from talking to the shop owners they are truly supportive of each other. Jean Ince, who along with her husband John is joint owner of Artifax The Picture Framers (and who have termed their end of town ‘the Independent Quarter’), explained how, for example, she always goes over the road to Pull Yourself Together when she wants new curtains; for DIY or hardware items, Barry Forkin/Toomers a few doors down is always her first port of call; Newbury Electrical Supplies, tucked away behind the old Phoenix brewery, has a fantastic range of all things electrical. And did I know one of the shops opposite, AJA Foods, is about to start selling halal meats? Artifax’s neighbour, Willow & Blooms, is the most charming florist shop – and delighted to be voted overall winner of the Christmas 2013 best dressed window competition. And let’s not forget the marvellous Hogan Music shop that has been supplying the needs of every musical genre locally for around 30 years, and, opposite, Banjo Cycles – a proper bike shop in the premises once occupied by Hogan Music.

But back to Artifax themselves, who do a whole lot more than bespoke picture framing: the most beautiful mirrors for a start. Jean will even do home visits to advise customers on picture and mirror choices to suit their lifestyle. And if you want something a little different as a gift, or something special for your own home, there are the most lovely, unusual ideas here – paintings, jewellery, coasters, candles, greetings cards. I encourage you to go and have a look – you will be made very welcome.

There are so many outlets in Bartholomew Street, far too many for me to list by name here. But do pop along there soon and check them out for yourself. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Biddy x 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Three local instructors Zumba up a successful fundraising event for West Berkshire Mencap!

On the 31st January, West Berkshire Mencap had a two hour Zumbathon at Nuffield Health Fitness Wellbeing Centre in Newbury. 

The event was kindly organised by three local Zumba instructors – Chantal Tyas, Neil Daniel and Abby Head, to help raise valuable funds for West Berkshire Mencap who provide high quality services for local people with learning disabilities and their families and carers. 

The Zumbathon had a fantastic turn out with 48 people coming along to take part in the event. The evening was a great success, raising an amazing £501 for West Berkshire Mencap!

Carrie-Anne Ferrie, Fundraising Manager of West Berkshire Mencap said “We are extremely grateful to Nuffield Health for providing the venue and to the three Zumba instructors who gave up their time for free to put on this event for us. Chantal, Neil and Abby worked extremely hard to make this event a success for us and the evening has received really positive feedback from all involved. We are very lucky to have the support of Nuffield Health with our Zumbathons as we couldn’t hold an event like this without such a great venue. We are also grateful to their staff who were so helpful with promoting the event and setting up on the night. We would also like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended and helped raised such a fantastic amount for our services.”

If you would like to attend West Berkshire Mencap’s next Zumbathon please contact
Carrie-Anne Ferrie at West Berkshire Mencap on or 01635 41464.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Biddy in Weavers Walk

How many of us walk along Northbrook Street and spy Weavers Walk? If you spy it, you should try it!
This delightful little walkway (opposite Maplins, Phones 4U, TSB, and next to Toni & Guy and Oxfam) is well worth a visit.

With an entrance on Northbrook Street and Weavers Walk, the Oxfam Shop itself is tardis like – not only does it have clothes, books, ornaments and nick-nacks as one might expect but also an excellent range of greeting cards, Cafédirect products and some really nice toiletries.

Suits Newbury – upstairs in the Old Bakehouse – is an independent formal menswear outlet with all sorts of classic and modern attire for the man in your life, both for sale and for hire. Perfect for that special occasion ... like a wedding, which leads me nicely to their near neighbour, Mrs Jones and her bridal boutique.

Now, any bride-to-be will be in seventh heaven if she pays a visit to Mrs Jones Bridal Boutique. The charming interior of the shop creates a pretty, relaxed atmosphere and you are guaranteed a friendly, personal service. Not only is there the most fabulous selection of wedding dresses from a variety of designers but everything else a bride will need too – shoes (which can be dyed to your colour choice), jewellery, tiaras, feather boas and the all important garter. The message on the wall says: ‘All you need is love.’ And Mrs Jones, of course.

At the head of Weavers Walk is Spanish tapas bar and restaurant El Sabio. Popular with regulars and those who happen across it by chance, they are proud of the fact that they fuse authentic Spanish ingredients with those sourced locally to bring you the best of both worlds. With special deals such as great value lunchtime tapas and the excitement of flamenco nights on the first Thursday of every month, they are definitely worth trying.

Also here are the long-established Reynolds Blinds, offering expert advice on the most fantastic range of window blinds, shutters and awnings – something for every room in the house. Then there’s Swift Cleaners who offer a 2 hour express dry cleaning service for those in a desperate hurry – always good to know about! Next door is the unisex hair salon Jane at Kellehers, who have been in business since 1987. Here too is the Mary Hare Hearing Centre where you can get all sorts of help and advice for hearing difficulties, plus equipment such as special telephones and doorbells.

And have you been to the lovely FiFi and Moose? This designer clothes shop is just the place to go if you like something a little different and rather special. They have the sort of separates that you just know you’re not going to bump into someone else wearing , plus gorgeous evening wear – whether you want something eye-catchingly fancy or simple and elegant. There’s also footwear and costume jewellery to complete the outfit, all in an unhurried and unpressured atmosphere.

Just Add Grapes is paradise for cheese and wine lovers – and did you know they have started a Cheese Club and Quiz Night on the first Friday of the month. Got to give that a go!

With refreshment in mind, last but not least I bring you Weavers Coffee Shop. After my exploration of Weavers Walk it was time to take the weight off my feet and I was welcomed into this truly traditional café which has plenty of seating inside (with more upstairs) and outside, weather permitting. As well as a popular all-day breakfast there are jacket potatoes, sandwiches, baguettes and paninis with a huge list of fillings to choose from. Gluten free options available, too. Oh, and then there’s soup of the day, salad platters, a range of cakes, traybakes and scones. Yum! What is a bonus is the fact that they offer you a choice of four cup sizes for your hot drinks – yes four. I know lots of people who are over-faced by enormous offerings, so this choice is much appreciated. Anyway, excuse me while I sit back and enjoy my coffee ...

Biddy x