Brett Gibbons looks beyond the glitz and glamour of the resident footballer’s wives during a stay in the pretty village of Alderley Edge, Cheshire.
Some may have claimed that Manchester has taken over Birmingham’s crown as the second city with the explosion of glitzy hotels, bars, restaurants and business facilities springing up in the northern city and its surrounding areas.
While it may have money and the weight of the BBC and other national media outlets championing its cause, the bright, young things of Manchester still lack the warmth and soul that has been a trademark of Birmingham and the Black Country for centuries.
Trendy Cheshire village Alderley Edge delights in its reputation as the Champagne capital of the UK with the coolest bars and restaurants outside London’s West End. In comparison, Birmingham prides itself on the warmth of its welcome, the honesty of its humour and its diversity of entertainment, food and culture.
Everything about Alderley Edge is like a real-life episode of Footballers’ Wives but I feel it can’t compare with the character of a Brummie suburb like Harborne or the Jewellery Quarter.
The village, under the flight-path of Manchester airport’s main runway, is the place to be seen in the North-west. But there are just too many people desperately yearning to be spotted in the bars where a bottle of bubbly can set you back more than £200.
Each Friday and Saturday night, processions of wannabee wags and hopeful Hollyoaks extras line-up in the cold waiting to be beckoned inside the expensive cocktail lounges to mingle with the chosen few, snare a footballer or be spotted with a reality TV star that few have ever heard of – or more have simply forgotten.
Queues waited outside trendy venues desperate to be invited in – while the De Trafford Arms, a perfectly good pub and the only one in the village, stood almost empty.
Palatial homes belonging to mega-rich footballers and businessmen – like Rio Ferdinand and Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones – stand on the hills overlooking the village’s main road.
These gated fortresses remind the casual visitor that this is more than the average chocolate box village.
But strip the glitter away from the town and it’s the perfect base to tour the nearby beautiful Peak District. Accommodation can be obtained very reasonably in the village pub which also offers a great menu at prices likely to do less damage to the weekly budget.
For visitors wanting something a little more in keeping with the region’s association with the legends of King Arthur, there’s the Wizards Thatch. This converted cottage contains three self-contained suites created in a centuries old atmosphere and are just one minute’s walk from the heart of the village.
Wizards Thatch is filled with sumptuous leather furniture, antique prints and each room has its own indulgent character combined with modern luxuries such as flat screen TVs, DVD players and the latest music systems.
The Camelot Suite and The Wizardry both have magnificent 7ft wide four-poster beds draped in red and gold tapestries.
The Merlin Suite also has a four poster and a lounge with heavily timbered walls and a ceiling painted in Jacobean colours.
The building dates back over 400 years and lies at the foot of The Edge, a reputed mystical sandstone outcrop which stands guard over the Cheshire Plain at Alderley Edge.
It takes its name from a local legend involving a Wizard, King Arthur, his knights and a farmer on his way to market. The house, saved from demolition and lovingly brought back to life by owner Ian Lambert, is an antique-lovers’ dream. There was hardly an inch of spare space.
Celebrity guests at Wizard’s Thatch include Coronation Street stars such as Alison King who plays Carla and her fellow actress, Michelle Keegan who stayed along with her former boyfriend Max George from the group The Wanted. Towns like Macclesfield, Knutsford and Wilmslow are just a short drive away for fantastic shopping.
There’s more star-spotting to be done at the world famous Jodrell Bank astronomy centre. The giant Lovell Telescope is an internationally renowned and awe-inspiring landmark. Visitors can walk along a pathway close to the base to gain a deeper understanding into how it works and the history of the installation.
For those who want a drink with a more traditional and affordable flavour than the Champagne outlets of Alderley Edge, head to the Bollington Brewery which bears the name of its home village.
Deep in the heart of beautiful Happy Valley in the rolling Cheshire hills, the venue has been producing a selection of quality beers to put Bollington on the brewing map. The Vale Inn, on Adlington Road, brews quality real ale almost 80 years after beer was last produced in the hamlet.
With just 150ft between the Brewery Company’s base and the Vale Inn, landlord and chief brewer Lee Wainwright, 35, has a four-barrel plant, producing 16 casks weekly – and there is capacity to increase to 60 casks each week. That’s the sort of place to enjoy the best that the region has to offer – a chunk of Cheshire Cheers.
Wizards Thatch: Prices from £139 per night. www.wizardsthatch.co.uk; 01625 599909
* Tatton Park: Totally Tatton Ticket (Entry to Mansion, Gardens and Farm) Adult £8; Child (5 - 15 years) £4; Family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £20 www.tattonpark.org.uk; 01625 374400
* Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre:Adult £5.50; Child (4-16 years) £4.00. www.jodrellbank.net; 01477 571766
* Bollington Brewery Tour: Tour of the brewery followed by two course meal at the Vale Inn. Including a presentation case of three bottles of beer. £20 per head. www.bollingtonbrewing.co.uk; 01625 575380.