I’m not a person who is easily won over, but this last week I have to admit that I have been seduced. Don’t get too excited, this doesn’t involve any tall dark strangers armed with roses.
No, I have been charmed and disarmed by Aldershot, the military town where I have lived this past decade.
Looking towards Aldershot from Caesar's Camp at sunrise
It all began with a residents’ meeting, where I listened to town centre manager, David Phillips, outlining his plans to improve the presentation and perception of the town centre. David pointed out that, culturally, Aldershot is very well endowed. We are blessed with two live performance venues; a lido; a gymnastics academy; a museum; library and lovely parks.
Of course I knew this already. I’ve been living here for ten years after moving from Alton in Hampshire. I cherish the fact that I have great neighbours, friendly shop keepers and a real sense that people are looking out for each other. But, a bit like when a friend points out your partner’s attributes, listening to David made me look at the town with fresh eyes and to resolve to spend a bit more time enjoying the facilities that Aldershot has to offer. Here’s a run down of the past week when I did precisely that:
On Sunday 7th Feb I accompanied my husband on my mountain bike as he set off to sample the delights of Tweseldown in the 24 hour respite between snow and rain. The local kids have been hard at work building new jumps ramps and trails and we still can’t believe how lucky we are to be able to cycle up on top of Caesar’s camp and look across to Guildford cathedral and the North Downs, knowing that we’re only two miles from our front door. In fact we once got up before dawn just to watch the sunrise over Tweseldown.
Tweseldown overlooks Aldershot and provides a treasure trove of mountain bike trails
We cycled out as far as Hawley Lake without having to cycle more that 200 metres on tarmac and then came back via the Basingstoke canal, popping out by the striking Wellington monument. According to the Military Museum, this originally graced the corner of Hyde Park, but was moved to Aldershot on the wishes of Queen Victoria.
Aldershot’s links with Waterloo are not limited to statues: hopping on the 8.04am train will see you alighting in central London 40 miles away by 9am. Until EuroStar moved to St Pancras, you could have crossed the platform and been in Paris within a few hours of leaving the town.
On Monday evening I went to watch “Coco before Chanel” at the excellent Prince’s Hall (http://www.princeshall.com). This is a treasured live music and performance venue right on our doorstep that draws audiences from Farnham, Fleet, Ash and Aldershot. And deservedly so, I’ve seen everything from the Russian ballet to an audience with Tony Benn, courtesy of David Phillips’ varied programme of plays, films, lectures and comedy. Tonight Julian Clary is gracing the boards.
On Tuesday, I took my friend out for a coffee at the lovely Coffee Mi on Victoria Road, where we were treated to the strains of Albinoni’s oboe concerto which I haven’t heard since I was 15 years old and working towards my grade 5 (hence the “strains”). http://aldershot-info.com/barsandcafes.html
On Wednesday I popped into the fantastic Marks and Spencers Outlet to get a gift for my friend’s birthday. This store offers such amazing bargains that my aunts once turned up for a “lunch” visit at 4pm guiltily clutching three bags stuffed with jumpers, skirts, socks, slippers and jackets. If it hadn’t been for work commitments that evening I would probably have gone in for another bout with the Funky End quiz (http://www.thefunkyend.com/index.html.
Geoff, the friendliest barman in the world
Put on by the proprietors, graduates of Farnham University of Creative Arts, the Funky End quiz is a highly entertaining blend of visual, audio, current affairs and word play questions that pits the wits of artists, scientist and soap fans against those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rock, pop and astronomy. We won once: it was the hardest £20 I ever earned.
On Thursday I had a meeting with my new Aldershot-based client, Eleco (http://www.3darchitect.co.uk ), publisher of the Grand Designs 3D software, used by Tim Bawtree to visualise his underground Cheltenham house http://www.pixahome.com/about.php, which was showcased on the long running Channel 4 programme presented by Kevin McCloud. http://www.channel4.com/4homes/on-tv/grand-designs/episode-guides/cheltenham-the-underground-house-08-06-06_p_1.html. Eleco has recently relocated to Ivy Road from its former premises in Bentley, they still can’t stop smiling when they sit in their roomy new board room for our monthly meetings.
The park leading to the West End Centre on Queen's Road
On Saturday, my husband and I walked through the park to the West End Centre where we watched the magnificent Mabon (www.mabon.org), a modern celtic band, comprising a Scot on bagpipes and wooden flute and 5 Welshmen on accordian, fiddle, guitar, drums and bass, who’d missed the rugby to race down the M4 for the performance. They play a blend of modern reels and Galician tunes, which are aptly described on their website at “Interceltic”. It was a stunning performance to a sizable crowd. At the interval I was joined in the CD queue by two ladies chattering away in French about the performance.
I have watched countless performances at the West End Centre http://www3.hants.gov.uk/westendcentre, including: gigs by The Feeling; Julian Cope; stand up comedy from Stephen Merchant; Mark Thomas and Richard Herring. No matter how many times I go there, I never get over the fact that I can walk there and back within 5 minutes.
Aldershot suffers from a huge perception issue. Go anywhere in the world and people will be able to tell you it’s the home of the British Army. Go four miles down the road to Farnham and people will pull that face when I tell them where I live. But if like me you love the outdoor life; you love being able to hop on your mountain bike and hit the trails within ten minutes of leaving your house;
Tweseldown boasts a treasure trove of mountain biking trails just two miles from Aldershot town centre
if you love live performance by world class musicians, award winning comedians and national treasures like Sir Patrick Moore; if you like a pint in comfortable friendly surroundings and you like being able to leave the car at home while you enjoy a night out; if you want good direct rail links to London, Gatwick, Farnham, Ascot, Woking, Guildford; or if you and your friends want to take part in the funniest quiz for miles, then you’d soon fall for the place too.
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