Delis galore, Chorlton, Manchester
Rather than spend an afternoon in the crowds of Manchester why not jump on a tram and ride 20 minutes to the trendy south Manchester suburb of Chorlton? The neighbourhood has dozens of crafty shops, independent traders and an unrivalled variety of places to eat, drink and be merry. Among the highlights are The House of Bystander for its local art; Chorlton bookshop, which is a beautiful independent store; and Franny & Filer, which stocks contemporary artisan jewellery. After shopping you can find any sort of cuisine: Barbakan Deli is wonderful for a fresh lunch, the tapas at Bar San Juan is the best you’ll find outside Spain and the Beech Inn is perfect for a winter pint.
Sneaky cocktails, Chapel Street, Penzance, Cornwall
Glorious, colourful Chapel Street in Penzance is a delight and perfect for Christmas shopping. Every shop is quirky and very independent – in 100 metres you can do all your Christmas shopping. There is fashion, art, handmade toiletries, toys, plants, antiques, homeware and so much more. Remember to look up and enjoy the wonderful architecture of the Egyptian House and other regency buildings. Plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafes too if you need to recharge. My pick: Fishboypz and The Planted House – and 45 Queen Street for a sneaky Christmas cocktail.
Reminders of Ted Lasso, Twickenham, south-west London
Tucked away off the main road through Twickenham town centre is Church Street. The road, which is regularly closed to traffic so the numerous cafes and restaurants can spill out into the street, offers a really wonderful selection of independent shops. This part of Twickenham is often used in adverts and more recently has featured in Ted Lasso. Over Christmas the road is beautifully adorned with lights and decorations, and the atmosphere always sparks genuine excitement and festive joy. There’s an array of lovely gift, flower and clothes shops and a fabulous record shop, run by enthusiasts and named after the nearby Eel Pie Island.
Flavours of Italy, Faversham, Kent
It’s not Christmas for me till I’ve visited Macknade in Faversham. It modestly describes itself as a food hall but it’s the most glorious Italian deli and has been open for an incredible 175 years. We buy panettone for the family, Venetian mostarda di pere to eat with their glorious cheeses, hams and salami, gorgeous local fruit, vegetables and meat. One of the staff pointed out a treat that’s recently become a favourite, cherries in a syrup that includes balsamic vinegar. It’s sweet enough to pour over ice-cream but with a tart edge. I must go back soon.
Into the beer trap, Belper, Derbyshire
Belper offers a quaint linear gauntlet of independent shops offering rich pickings for the festive shopper. Drop the kids off at the Ritz cinema and head for the top of the high street to The Beer Trap for a selection of tipples. Next, I Should Cocoa for delicious crafted chocolates and Reunion deli for hamper-filling chutneys, cheeses and coffee beans (anda cuppa and cake in the cafe). At the bottom of the hill Belle La Vie has enough slippers, smellies, scarves and scented candles to satisfy anyone’s mother. Free parking is available off the market place.
Art and furniture, Cardiff
Beti Biggs in Pontcanna is outstanding. Shopkeeper Jan’s daughter lives in Amsterdam, and you can see how Beti Biggs takes its inspiration from Dutch gift and homeware shops – beautiful crockery, a whole wall of candlesticks, lush plants, a selection of Rains bags and coats, as well as Annie Sloan chalk paint. Apart from having a fantastic eye, Jan is incredibly knowledgable about upcycling furniture, examples of which can be bought, and is always happy to give advice. Prices range from small impulse purchases to more expensive furniture. Jan’s Instagram page is worth a look.
Books and gifts, Ludlow, Shropshire
Browsing in the Castle Bookshop in Ludlow recently inspired me to visit the other independent shops in the town. A couple of paperbacks in hand, I headed out into the main market square to the Black Bough gift shop, which is full of lovely watches and stationery ideas, including beautiful Christmas wrapping paper to impress friends and family – whatever’s inside it. I then headed to a vintage furniture and clothes shop in Mill Street then to Gallery 131 for antiques and bric-a-brac, opposite a little local bakery. I ended gloating over my shopping at the Green Cafe, watching the river flow past sipping a hot chocolate and sampling homemade cakes.
Beautiful art store, Glasgow
There is a fantastic independent wee art shop called Draw Art Store in De Courcy’s Arcade on Cresswell Lane in Glasgow’s West End. It stocks the most beautiful pens and pencils for drawing and illustration as well as a great selection of drawing inks and brushes and stationery. The stock comes from Japan, the US and Europe and it is almost impossible to leave there empty-handed because every nook and cranny has something tempting. The resident store dog is rather cute too.
Tacos and jewellery, Walthamstow, north-east London
It’s not just a curiosity shop but a whole little street of surprising shopping options at the eclectic Wood Street Indoor Market in Walthamstow. Enjoy wandering slowly through the pick and mix of shops selling everything from handmade jewellery, curiosities, antiques, vinyl records and vintage clothes to the creations of local makers. Then try one of the small international-inspired eateries like Stow Grab’n’Go for Pakistani street food or Homies On Donkeys, the market’s own Mexican taquerí.
WINNING TIP: Arcade of artistry, Leeds
Branching off from Briggate, the pedestrianised heart of Leeds, Thornton’s Arcade, established in 1878, showcases a wealth of independent businesses. Passing underneath the beautiful Ivanhoe Clock, you can grab the latest graphic novels in OK Comics, skateboards and streetwear from Welcome, clothing from Masato Jones and carefully curated photo zines and books from Village Books. Relax with a coffee at Kapow or head to one of the numerous pubs nearby to complete your shopping experience. Staffed by passionate protagonists of their chosen field, these shops offer a uniquely personal experience far removed from the scattergun algorithmic suggestions you glean while sitting at home and going online.