Stoke on Trent - page 2
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Stoke on Trent - Page 2

Leaving with our freshly made bowl and vase, I started to look at Stoke in a different light. I was suddenly keen to see the city through a tourist’s eyes. Plenty of ceramic experiences exist – from hand painting a bowl at Emma Bridgewater to creating your very own Wedgwood vase (much cheaper than buying a ready made version!) There are also tours of the handful of factories that are still up and running, but my interest in the city’s heritage had been awakened and I was keen to see what else was on offer. What I discovered was that Stoke is a city with a particularly well-preserved culture.

Activities for England

Our curious dialect, spoken by an ever decreasing pocket of the population, is immortalised in a daily comic strip in the local newspaper. You’ll even spot the occasional phrase splashed around town, like the legend staring down at you as you enter the city’s main mall: “Tak yer tarm an ‘ave a good nose rind” (take your time and have a good look around) and the farewell as you leave toward the car park: “Dunna tell me yer goin wom skint” (Don’t tell me you’re going home skint/broke). And there’s next to no chance that you won’t hear any of the local language quirks. In almost every shop the staff are apt to call you ‘duck’ a local term of endearment thought to originate from a Saxon salutation ‘ducas’ rather than from an affinity for web footed creatures!

And it’s not just a weird and largely incomprehensible dialect and a dwindling pottery industry that the locals refuse to let die, the region also has a closely guarded culinary secret – the oatcake. Totally different to its crunchy Scottish namesake, the Staffordshire Oatcake is like a savoury crepe. Generally loaded with cheese and either bacon or sausage, it’s enjoyed as a hangover-relieving breakfast or a less than healthy lunch. The recipe is top secret and even those who work in the small oatcake shops dotted around the inner city don’t necessarily know what proportions of oatmeal, flour, yeast, water and salt go into the mixture they find waiting for them at work each morning. Oatcakes are available from supermarkets, but the best way to try them is from one of the independent shops. While you’re in the city centre, head to the Hole in the Wall Oatcake Shop. It’s a quirky little place and the only ‘front room’ oatcake shop left in the city – a normal house selling oatcakes from the family kitchen through a hatch leading straight onto the street.

Photo Left - (top layer) a man gives his order at the Hole in the Wall Oatcake Shop. (bottom layer) Oatcakes being made.

Ordering Oatcakes at the Hole in the Wall Oatcake Shop
Away from the city I discovered history from another era being kept alive just as lovingly. Staff at the Shugborough Estate apparently believe that they’re living in the 1800s and get confused if you talk about iPods, cars or show them a digital photo. Built in the early 18th century the mansion was for many years the elaborate home of the Earl of Lichfield, but today its grounds have become a shrine to Victorian Staffordshire. After wandering through the working farm, making more original souvenirs (handmade beeswax candles) and witnessing the traditional brewery in action, we found ourselves back at school. Several times a day, the bell rings and passing visitors are herded into a classroom for 30 minutes of spelling, arithmetic and general public humiliation. Those wearing sandals were ridiculed for their poverty, shorts and t-shirt wearers were condemned for slovenliness and the teachers only broke character to grin when their students, ignorant of the hymns they were required to sing, opted for a rendition of Abba’s Dancing Queen instead.

My short trip home ended with a gourmet picnic in Shugborough’s 900 acres of grounds. As I enjoyed the verdant surroundings, locally produced cheese and the rare sight of blue sky peeking through the clouds, I remembered a quote from Irish novelist George Moore: “A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it”. I was never actually aware that I was seeking anything when I started my travels, but it seems that while discovering other lands, appreciating other cultures I also found respect and pride for my own country.

Cheese and wine picnic on the grounds of Shugborough


Continue to: Family Trip Review - England

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