Writing about something you care about is rarely easy. You sit about, wondering where to begin, what language to choose, all the while searching for ‘urgent’ tasks to keep you busy. The dishwasher needs unloading, better do that first. It’s time for the cat’s senility tablet. Check. Those garden slugs really require rounding up. Done. And, before you know it, weeks have passed and you’re no closer to writing a damn thing.
That changes today. I have no more excuses. The slug slaughter is complete. The cat is, er, vaguely less doddery. The dishwasher is empty. And so, deep breath, this is my love letter to Ramsbottom.
Depending on where you’re from, Ramsbottom is either a charming market town chock-full of amazing independent shops, pubs and eateries or a place to ridicule for its quaint Northern name. Yes, it is sometimes referred to rather disparagingly as ‘Tup’s Arse’ and, yes, there are plentiful amounts of actual rams’ and sheeps’ bottoms to be seen on the surrounding fields and hills. But it is so much more than a supposedly silly moniker.
Consider this. In a part of the world where towns that once thrived are shadows of their former selves, Ramsbottom is flourishing. There are many possible reasons for this. For instance, the steam railway, run largely by volunteers, brings shedloads of tourists to the town. Ramsbottom (or Rammie/Rammy as it is known fondly by locals) is beautifully situated – it nestles in the foothills of the West Pennines, semi-rural yet just 10 minutes by car to Bury or a half hour into Manchester. And then there’s the Ramsbottom Business Group.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many local businesses who are capable of joining together and promoting a town like these guys. Let’s take a moment to see some of what they do: a monthly Farmers’ Market; an annual Chocolate Festival; regular wine tastings and gourmet evenings; a beer festival courtesy of Irwell Works, Rammie’s micro-brewery; a Whit War Weekend; an American Wild West extravaganza; the Black Pudding Throwing World Championships (yes, you read that right); the Ramsbottom Music Festival (this year’s headline act is Sinead O’Connor). And I recently discovered that 2013 is the inaugural Ramsbottom Pie Fest. Sweet Mary Mother of Joseph, what will they think of next?
I bought a house in Rammie some three years back. I was born in Bury and grew up in Whitefield but, after 14 years in London, I was ready for a quieter pace of life, a house with an upstairs and a room with a view. Rammie offered all of that. Little did I know I was moving to “posh North” and a town that counts the Corrie killer among its number. It wasn’t long before I was tripping up to The Shoulder of Mutton for a half, down to The Railway for a pint and along to The Eagle & Child for a nightcap. Nor was I prepared for the plethora of places to eat. Whether I’m lounging in The Lounge, sipping coffee in The Cultured Bean or scoffing burgers in the First Chop, I’m never short of somewhere to sate my appetite.
Moving here has changed me in other, more fundamental ways. In London, if a stranger chatted to you or made eye contact, you ran for the hills. Well, you would have scuttled towards them there hills if there’d been any. In Ramsbottom, where there are plenty of peaks to head for, it’s never an issue. People talk to each other, it’s the Northern way. They don’t want to maim you, they don’t want to rob you. They are just being friendly. That took some adjusting to. The first time I ventured into my local Morrisons in London, a man was being frogmarched out by police. In Ramsbottom, the supermarket sales assistant glanced at my basket and quizzed me on what goes well with gnocchi.
But maybe the key to Ramsbottom’s appeal and endurance is simple: people like it here. It may sound cliched, but residents really do have a deep and abiding sense of civic pride. In London, it wasn’t unusual to come home and find a man pissing against my front door. In Rammie, I left my ancient Ford Fiesta unlocked for a month and no bugger stole it.
That was another mind-altering and unexpected consequence of moving here: the almost non-existent crime rate. I know I keep making comparisons, but when I moved into my East London flat, a man was locked into the freezer of the Pizza Hut opposite and the shop was set on fire. Last month, the most worrying thing that happened in Rammie was the theft of embroidery kits from the craft centre.
And then there’s the community spirit. In common with a number of other Northern towns, Incredible Edible has burgeoned here, a group of like-minded local individuals who come together to garden, improve green spaces and offer healthy food straight from the earth to your plate. There’s an all-you-can-eat orchard for Christ’s sake, not to mention a Ramsons’ Day where residents can learn all about the wild garlic that gave the town its name.
So, I’ve probably gone on long enough about my back yard. But there’s one very important thing I’ve yet to mention: the humour. After spending so long down Sarf, I’d forgotten about the rich vernacular north of the Watford Gap. And, just as Ramsbottom has Ramsons in abundance, so it has its way with words. And what better way to illustrate this than with a recent piece of advice from Incredible Edible about visiting the group’s honey bee hive. I laughed myself silly when I read this:
“If a bee flies near to you, just walk calmly away. Don’t flail your arms around like a Catherine Wheel screaming ‘it’s a beeeeee, it’s a bee’.”
Article by Helen Nugent
** Also, you can buy Courting Cake from the corner shop in Stubbins, half a mile away. Smashing.
More info: http://visitramsbottom.org/;