Our guide to Ramsbottom – the rural, foodie haven close(ish) to Manchester
Rumour has it that when the BBC workers relocating north were toured around property hotspots on a coach, they came to Ramsbottom. We don’t imagine many of them opted to buy there over the leafy likes of Didsbury or Hale. Transport is the main issue: it’s a 15-minute bus or car ride beyond Metrolink, and miles from the rail network. It may have a reputation as the kind of boho suburb that Manc hipsters graduate to when they’re ready to “settle down” (and yes, a vegan and raw food restaurant is poised to open). But this isn’t Chorlton. At its core it’s still a cussedly out-of-the-way mill town buried in the armpit of the Pennine moors. It’s a little bit too full-on, a little bit too grim on winter days, a little bit too Lancashire. But those of us who live there love it precisely because of that. Ramsbottom has character. It’s in a beautiful part of the countryside. And as a day-trip destination, it’s a corker.
Things to do
A walk up Holcombe Hill to Peel Tower is practically required of all visitors. It’s a short jaunt with a paved footpath and far-reaching views across to Beetham Tower (a restorative post-walk pint at the Shoulder of Mutton in tiny Holcombe village is also mandatory). But don’t be afraid to go exploring. The base of the hill is threaded with trails through woods and meadows, which extend along the valley bottom by the Irwell – at this time of year they’re a riot of bluebells and the wild garlic that is supposed to have given the town its amusing name. Ramsbottom is also the gateway to 90 square miles of glowering wild moorland. Serious walkers can go right across the West Pennine Moors to Darwen Tower or Rivington. Or get on to the Irwell Sculpture Trail, and walk all the way to Salford.
Right in town, enormous Nuttall Park has a fantastic playground and plenty of riverside picnic spots. Realise your Railway Children fantasy on the steam trains of the East Lancs Railway, whose whistles lend the valley a pleasant old-timey feel. This kicks into overdrive during Ramsbottom’s frequent 1940s weekends, when the place teems with Jerries and land girls.
The town loves a party so much that Bridge Street must be one of the most frequently blocked off streets in Britain (see the Black Pudding Throwing Championship, Chocolate Festival, Pie Festival and of course Ramsbottom Festival, which takes place every September; Visit Ramsbottom is the place to find out what’s on). If you’re looking to make a weekend of it, book a room at Church View House, a lush B&B in a lovingly renovated old house with legendary breakfasts.
Eating and drinking
Most tourists come hungry: Ramsbottom is something of a foodie haunt. This is mostly the legacy of sadly-departed fine dining superstar Ramsons, but a new generation of restauranteurs have taken up the torch. Our favourite is Levanter, a tapas bar serving fresh, authentic Spanish food – but it’s everyone else’s favourite too, and they don’t take bookings. The Eagle and Child is a real foodie’s pub where you can choose between specials like Lobster Newburg or their unimpeachable fish and chips.
On sunny days, head to the pub’s beer garden with its views of Peel Tower. Unlike most, it is actually a garden – they take their commitment to local produce very seriously, as the pub chickens will attest. The lovely Sanmini serves exceptional South Indian food in a very intimate setting. For quick fuel-ups there’s the justifiably popular Chocolate Café or Bailey’s Tearooms, replete with frilly aprons, sprigged wallpaper and gran-tastic cakes.
Beerwise, this town has serious game. Of Rammy’s three craft breweries the only one with a bar is Irwell Works, which has quickly become the go-to place for discerning ale fans. Nearby is the original First Chop, which spawned a brewing empire that now extends all the way to Salford – it’s a good choice for drinks, Lancashire-inflected snacks and live music. Wine lovers should stock up at the Vineyard and maybe hit upscale gastropub Hearth of The Ram for an interesting glass and a good meal, while whiskey drinkers should head for the hills where The Fisherman’s Retreat lurks with its famous 400-bottle collection. Be warned: it’s a long walk from town, with many hazards and obstacles to come to grief on, so arranging reliable transport back is strongly recommended.
Ramsbottom high street is remarkably free of chain shops, and heavily favours independent, quirky specialists. It’s nice to know that you can get all your bird needs met at Northern Parrot. Or there’s Horse Bits, which always features a horse mannequin and rider outfitted in matching gear in its shop window. There are a few decent clothing/gift stores; a nice cook shop and organic beauty emporium Earth Mother Soul Sister, but people don’t really come here for shopping (we’ve got The Rock and Bury Market for that). Instead, there are a plethora of charity and antique shops to mooch around and weekend car boot sales outside the ELR station. If you’re canny, you’ll time your visit to coincide with the Farmer’s Market, where you can pick up everything from pakora to beeswax candles, all made nearby. Who needs Waitrose?
Manchester’s concert halls and former Wesleyan chapels serve up folky treats in the form of Lau, Jesca Hoop, The Unthanks and more over the coming months. We also explore all things classical from Manchester Camerata and the BBC Philharmonic – and start looking ahead to next year’s festival season.