You really don’t have to travel far from Manchester to find yourself surrounded by rolling hills and lush fields – it’s one of the best things about living here.
So for July’s instalment of our series A Manc’s Guide, we’re heading over to one of the prettiest spots in the north west, and just in time for summer.
Saddleworth is actually made up of several villages, all linked by twisting country lanes.
You’ll find glassy reservoirs, chocolate box villages, canals teeming with life, sweeping landscapes and bags more character here.
From Uppermill with its trendy high street full of bars and restaurants, to Delph nestled right down in the valley, there’s something to catch your eye.
Food and drink
Albion Farm Shop and Cafe – This charming spot is worth the drive over to Saddleworth on its own. Food miles are pretty much wiped off the plate, with almost everything made on site with ingredients from Saddleworth. Expect seriously hearty farmer’s breakfasts, plus sandwiches on freshly baked farmhouse bread, cakes, and pies.
Grandpa Greene’s – Grandpa Greene’s ice cream is so legendary that during lockdown (when people were restricted to takeaways only), the queues forming outside literally stopped traffic. Their luxury ice cream pops up in restaurants all over the north west, but at its picturesque home on the canal you’ll find the full range of flavours, as well as pancakes, afternoon teas, and sandwiches.
The Old Bell Inn – Not only is it home to a record-breaking selection of gin, The Old Bell Inn is also a properly decent country pub. We’re talking top-notch Sunday roasts, pies and puddings, steaks, burgers and hand-cut chunky chips.
Weaver and Wilde – Arguably some of the best coffee in the region is being brewed at Weaver and Wilde – it’s roasted down the road then made with milk a dairy herd grazing on Saddleworth grass. You can grab brunch, lunch and cakes here as well as your caffeine fix. They’ve just branched out with a greengrocers, selling fresh fruit and veg as well as other treats, over in Greenfield too.
Diggle Lock – Diggle Lock is one of the hottest hangouts in the north west, never mind in Saddleworth, turning an old textile mill into a daytime restaurant and pantry store. The team is focused on serving up ‘city centre sophistication’ in the beautiful countryside, with a menu of massive brunches and sandwiches, excellent coffee, and two-for-£12 cocktails. You can even order dog-friendly sides, like peanut butter or black pudding, for your pooch.
The White Hart – For a pint with a view, The White Hart at Lydgate is arguably the best in the UK. This brilliant gastropub has earned plenty of critical acclaim for its food, but it still keeps the cosy community spirit of a village pub (complete with real ales, a roaring fire, and a lengthy wine list).
Health Honey – You might not hear ‘Oldham’ and think of cold pressed juices and acai bowls, but along came Health Honey in the village of Greenfield to change all that. This health-conscious cafe serves a brilliant range of breakfasts, lunches and drinks, including poke and buddha bowls, pancakes, and plant-powered full Englishes.
Donkeystone Brewing Co. – The craze for taprooms, where you can drink practically straight from the source and watch beer being brewed in front of you, has stretched over to Saddleworth. Donkeystone’s taproom serves craft beers in a space draped in fairy lights, and street food on the side.
Uppermill in particular is an absolute hive of independent business, from local produce to clothing to gifts.
There’s Authentic, which describes itself as a treasure trove of artisan products; Puddleducks, which sells beautiful children’s clothing; and ‘slow fashion’ boutique Suki’s Wardrobe.
You can pick up wines and spirits from Saddleworth Wine Vault or browse the mouth-watering deli selection at Oliviccio.
Then there’s the lovely Towpath Book Shop, sandwiched into a tiny building on the high street.
The Reclamation Room is a vibrant creative space for the community, and it’s also home to Style&Salvaged, which sources and sells ethical products.
Over in Delph, we’re very excited to see the doors to The Frostery Living’s homeware store open in the coming weeks.
A relative newcomer in Greenfield is The Old Cobblers, which sells natural wine, craft beer, great coffee and a range of gifts.
Nightlife and hotels
If you’re wanting to go out dancing into the wee small hours, you’ll probably need to head a bit further towards Oldham town centre.
Having said that, the pubs here are usually buzzing into the evening, and Muse in Uppermill is open past midnight (with cocktail deals, DJs to go with your Sunday roast, and some occasional celeb spotting).
On the last Sunday of every month, the Off The Rails Comedy Club pulls up at The Royal George in Greenfield.
When it comes to accommodation, you’re spoilt for choice.
You can stay in several of the aforementioned pubs – like the Old Bell Inn and The White Hart – or rest your head in one of many beautiful cottages around Saddleworth.
This converted barn, complete with huge arched window, wooden beams, and loads of outside space, is pretty special too.
In a corner of Greater Manchester as picturesque as this, the great outdoors really is the best place to spend your spare time.
You can take a leisurely stroll or cycle along the many waterways, walk the perimeter of Dovestone Reservoir, or tackle the more challenging beauty spot above it (but be careful on this one, as more than a few walkers have come into trouble on the route).
It’s been cancelled again this year, but the Yanks weekend is usually a staple of Saddleworth’s cultural calendar, transporting the area back to the 1940s complete with entertainment, costume, vehicles and a parade.
You’ll also find a jazz festival, a blues festival, an art week, a traditional Rushcart and loads more things going on throughout the year.
The Weaver’s Factory is a contemporary art gallery that’s well worth a visit, and Uppermill Library is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in the area.
Considering how beautiful and green Saddleworth it, there’s still a lot of relatively affordable property to be found (especially when you compare it to leafy suburbs like Altrincham and Didsbury).
According to the Land Registry, the average property price over the last year was £273,523, with the majority of homes sold being terraced houses.
On the market currently you’ll find something at all ends of the budget spectrum.
Of all the villages in Saddleworth, Greenfield is the one that’s best-served by public transport.
The Transpennine Express train from Manchester to Huddersfield stops off here fairly regularly.
For the rest of Saddleworth, you’ll be reliant on buses to get around, like the 350 bus which helpfully weaves its way through Greenfield, Uppermill and Delph – and even stops right outside the Albion Farm Shop and Cafe.
Featured image: Unsplash
Inside the underground Manchester noodle bar serving Chinatown’s spiciest scrans
Over in Chinatown, there’s a relatively new little noodle bar that’s been making a big, spicy stamp on the city’s dining scene.
Its owner, Wendy Ren, hails from the Chinese province of Sichuan – a region that’s home to giant pandas, traditional Sichuanese opera, and some of the spiciest food going, thanks to its famous Sichuan pepper.
Also known as the Chinese prickly ash, the citrus-like peppercorn leaves a tingly numbness in the mouth and on the lips that you’ll either love or hate.
It’s an acquired taste, by all accounts – but those who love it can’t get enough. In fact, on my visit during a packed-out Wednesday lunch service, Wendy stopped to chat with an Italian family holidaying in Manchester who had been in to eat three days in a row. Now that’s an endorsement if I ever heard one.
She’s opened the restaurant alongside her Cantonese husband, Ken Chen, but the recipes are all hers – and on our visit she laughs with us about how it has taken him some time to get on board with her spicy food, saying: “he found out pretty quickly that he either eats it or he doesn’t eat at all.”
For big fans of spice, this is fast becoming the absolute go-to spot in Chinatown – and for those who aren’t so tough, don’t worry, because Wendy’s put some things on the menu for you too (and possibly, also, for Ken).
Called Noodle Alley, the restaurant is tucked away underground on Faulkner Street and beautifully decked out in red and green with little nods to the famous wide and narrow alleys of Chengdu.
Formerly home to China City, a real old-school Chinatown legacy restaurant, the space has a special place in Wendy’s heart.
She tells me that she and her husband used to come and eat here “all the time” when they first started dating, so the location really means a lot to both of them.
Chinatown restaurants aren’t exactly known for their glamorous interiors, and China City, Wendy jokes, was one such place – with the same old carpet, and the same old tables that had been used for the past twenty years.
Now the space is her own, though, it’s markedly different – lovingly decked out in cheerful colours, with little green windows, hanging lanterns, and bamboo rattan paneling on the walls.
Her story of getting into the restaurant business is something of an unusual one. Prior to opening Noodle Alley, she tells me, she spent nearly two decades working at The Marriott Hotel.
After seventeen years of service and the birth of her second child, she asked to go part-time but her request was refused – so she quit the very next day, and began building her own route to independence.
It was during the Covid lockdown, she says, that she really got into cooking group meals – making meals for her friends and spending hours in the kitchen busying away happily over her stove.
A friend with several restaurants in Chinatown suggested she start her own business, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Dish-wise, her menu spans a mouthwatering selection of dry noodles, soup noodles, street food, and small plates, including the likes of deep-fried wavy potato chips with chilli and Szechuan pepper and steamed beef strips wrapped with chilli paste, numbing Sichuan pepper, and five-spiced rice powder.
Dan Dan noodles, the Sichuan dish we probably all know the best, don’t feature – they’re a bit old news now, apparently, and Wendy has some cooler alternatives for us to try.
One is her Su Jiao Mian, a mixture of minced pork, sesame sauce, and house chilli oil, the other is the Wan Za Mian, a fiery mixture of spices combined with minced pork, soft yellow peas, and more chilli which Wendy says is “one of the most popular noodles in Sichuan.”
Apparently, if you’re eating with the cool kids in Sichuan, you should order this. Not one to argue, I dig in – and it’s safe to say her food is pretty damn exceptional. Almost immediately, I’m planning my next trip back.
Other signature dishes here include Wendy’s steamed beef strips, which can be eaten alone or dipped into one of her noodle soups, and a dish of ‘saliva chicken’ – a crunchy, cold, textural dish with steamed chicken, fresh chillis and ribbons of cucumber that sit swimming in a bath of homemade Sichuan chilli oil, so named because it literally makes your mouth water.
We also opt for a dish of pork knuckle with butter beans in an umami-rich pork bone broth. Not one for the faint-hearted, even Wendy seemed a little cautious to recommend this one, but as fans of ‘the weird stuff’ we insist – and it really ends up being a highlight of the meal.
We end up needing a little help with it. It’s a slippery bugger and I end up wearing a fair bit of the broth. before she returns with a knife and fork to cut it up properly for us.
That broth it’s in, though, is so beautiful I could happily bathe in it. Some might say I did, to be fair. As for the soft, succulent pork meat? When sliced into tiny morsels and dipped into an extra special Sichuan chilli oil she retrieves from the kitchen, is something else entirely.
If this is Sichuan heaven, then I’ll happily stay here forever. From plump hand-made dumplings stuffed generously with flavourful pork and drenched in chilli oil, to chicken giblet soup noodles, there’s so much on the menu I will be coming back for.
And for those who really can’t handle the spice, I guess I’ll be recommending the scallion oil noodles with soy sauce and crispy egg. No matter what you order here, I don’t think you can go too wrong.
Featured image – The Manc Eats
The Chemical Brothers’ Ed Simons on upcoming arena tour, forming in Manchester and how the city influenced them
The Chemical Brothers are back and life is good. They never really went anywhere, per se, but they have a new album and a fast-selling UK arena tour, including a date right here in their musical home.
It always surprises us how many people are still unaware that the legendary electronic duo formed right here in Manchester and just how much of our city’s music influenced their unmistakable sound.
Having just released their new record, For That Beautiful Feeling — the tenth studio album in a career spanning nearly three and a half decades — it’s great to know that no matter how much they evolve, you can always spot their signature and that the Manc music scene an integral part in it.
Soon to embark on a fast-selling UK tour with a glorious homecoming at the AO Arena on 27 October, we had the immense pleasure of sitting down with one-half of The Chemical Brothers, Ed Simons, to chat all things past, present and future for one of Britain and the big beat genre’s biggest exports.
Back with more block rockin’ beats and another massive UK tour
So, how much are you looking forward to being back touring new music?
”It’s good to be going back indoors — it’s a big thing, you know, we play a lot of festivals; most of them are good but you get a much better sound [inside] and everyone’s in the same place and, hopefully, in the zone.
“[Post-Covid] A lot of people have still missed out on their first experiences of big loud music and big raucous crowds. Maybe some people are waiting to let go again and thrust into it.”
As for the album, first since 2019, what can you tell us about the direction you’ve gone in?
“Yep, well with performing live we really want to play the new music and just rest on what we’ve done before, we want to incorporate the two. It’s exciting for us. People have heard some of [the record] at summer festivals but now it’s is out there are lots of people that want to experience it for themselves.
“There’s always a core thing: some kind of secret thing between us about what we like about our music. It’s not so much a secret as it is the effect it has on other people but, hopefully, it’s evolving and the sound is still fresh. We don’t ever want people to say, ‘Oh, it’s just another Chemical Brothers record’, there has to be some quality to it.
“It’s a pretty rousing album and has the sense of people waking up again out of a long period where things still are difficult for a lot of people, but that sense of fragmentation that we went through in the lockdowns and what it’s like to come out of that.
“We made a lot of music in that period, but we’ve kind of concentrated on the stuff that feels the most rousing and has a bit of get up and provocation to feel alive again.”
Absolutely — the new singles like ‘No Reason’ definitely tap into that energy. What’s the reaction been like so far?
“Yeah, it’s been good. We had bits of and then had a sort of pressure to put it together into something we could play because we were about to DJ at fabric [in London] a few years ago at a charity gig for a friend of ours and the first time we played it at a club, even a really early version of it, you could feel it had an energy and sounded different. Great bassline too.
“It’s been rewarding and it’s been a really big live track for us this summer and we do a kind of live edit of it, which is fun and fresh.
“The track ‘Tell Me I’m Dreaming’ has also been a really big track. The visual that Flat Nose George [real name Adam Smith] and Marcus [Lyall] put together for that is really crazy, and, yeah, that’s been going down really well. I think that could be pretty huge when played indoors.
“We’ve had versions of it for a long time, but I think the first time we played it was actually at The Warehouse Project in 2021, I think? You know, when things were picking up again and it just immediately had that impact with the loops and the vocal.
“I just associate it with that WHP party in Manchester now and a few DJs have been playing it like Erol Alkan now too, so yeah, it’s kind of a big club track — a strange one but it works.”
Foundations in 0161 and how 90s Manchester influenced The Chemical Brothers’ sound
Definitely, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the AO Arena but what other venues have got fond memories of?
“Well, I know there’s a lot of new venues but given that we’ve been playing Manchester since 1990, we’ve done most venues. We even used to DJ at the Old Steam Brewery [later became ScuBar] which I don’t even know if that still exists [it doesn’t] but yeah we’ve played the Arena and both Warehouses over the past few years and we just love them.
“Victoria Warehouse and WHP are just amazing, you know. Manchester is our second home; we were students there and we’ve still got a lot of friends there.”
“I guess the best memory of the Arena”, Ed chuckled, “was when one of the security guards was walking us back after a said, ‘Corrr, I’ve not seen a crowd like that since Ricky Hatton was here”, adding that it’s a wise-crack that still gets brought up on tour and that all the gig staff here have a “proper good attitude”.
Not too bad a compliment, haha. What about other venues then? Any you’ve still got a soft spot for or have any lasting Manc music memories?
“Well, we were there with all the students and the early ‘Big Barn’ days at Manchester Academy, the indie disco, the house night in a house Thursday; the Wiggly Worm which Justin Robertson ran [went on to become the Millionaire Club] — we were just in and out of all those places and then ended up holding our own club nights.
“We’d hire everything from a swanky bar in town where we’d have to move all our speakers in, to setting up in Pizza Express in Didsbury where we used to go on and party as well.
Amazing. Tell us a little bit about the early days and how you and Tom [Rowland] came to meet at uni.
“Yeah, at the University of Manchester in 1989. We met really early on, pretty much the first week through a mutual friend. We were on this tiny little course on medieval history, so there weren’t many of us, and then I think we were talking about wanting to play the Haçienda, which at that time was the big thing and we’d all heard about it.
“So yeah, we just kind of became friends because we were the only people in this course and we just wanted to go to the Haçienda and I think we ended up going every Friday from September to Christmas. We were just so into the music that Mike Pickering and Graeme Park were playing, and just the whole atmosphere. We also loved buying records together.
“Tom was actually in another band at the time called Ariel, so our thing was just DJing together at first and then after making some more friends about a year into our course we started putting on these nights around town and we got really friendly with a lot of DJs who worked at Eastern Bloc like Robertson and [Richard] ‘Moonboots‘.
It always comes back to Manchester
Ed ended the chat by reiterating that, like many artists who come through here either as natives or otherwise, “there’ll always be a big Manchester connection.”
“We used to buy some really brilliant records that Moonboots would put aside for us and then when we came to London, we were suddenly DJing and playing all these cool records that no one else had heard.
“A really big part of our early career was building that bridge between Manchester and London, and, you know, we were around at the same time as The Stone Roses and we absolutely loved them — that first album had a huge influence.
“There was just that sense of if you’ve got an idea, just try and record it and get it out; there was a sort of can-do feeling about everything and we always feel indebted to that time we spent there. I think without being around all these people and artists printing a thousand white labels, we never would have been exposed to the culture and wouldn’t be coming back to the Arena 34 years later…
“Apparently the lecturer who did that medieval history course still starts his years by telling his students that they’re following in mine and Tom’s footsteps…”