Macclesfield may have been overlooked as an inspirational destination in the past – in 2005 the Cheshire mill town was nationally humiliated after being named and shamed by The State of the Nation Report as the ‘least cultured’ place in Britain – but things have been turning round rapidly in recent years, so much so that in 2018 the town made its first appearance in Rightmove’s Happy at Home Index, the annual survey of the happiest places to live in the UK. It has by and large retained its position ever since, ranking 15th in the most recent, 2021 survey.
Macclesfield might seem at first glance like another sleepy market town with a high street struggling to come to terms with the post-retail apocalypse, but the former mill town’s evolving centre and ideal location nestled in the foothills of the Peak District, but just 20 minutes by train from the nearby metropolis of Manchester, hits the sweet spot between city and country.
Rather than wait for the promise of the green shoots of recovery to naturally take root following the 2008 financial crisis, the local townsfolk took it upon themselves to grow an entire ecosystem of independent shops, bars and cafes – which makes it one of Cheshire’s best kept secrets.
Away from the main drag – packed with typical town centre shops and amenities – the historic cobbled side-streets hide award-winning restaurants, vintage shops, bars and cafés that have justifiably started drawing comparisons to Manchester’s Northern Quarter, but without the soaring rents.
Twenty miles up the road, as Manchester’s prices and population creep up, people are looking to live further out. Being only 20 minutes away from the city by train and a hotspot for new housing makes quirky Macclesfield a commuter’s dream. Nestled in the foothills of the Peak District, there are leafy forests and picturesque country walks to lure you away from the urban jungle. Macclesfield isn’t a compromise on house prices, but rather the best of both worlds: city-centre working and country living.
Food & Music to Love
The opening of Picturedrome – Macclesfield’s very own Alty Market containing nine independent kitchens and bars who share a passion for great food and drink – may have been the biggest thing to happen to the town in recent years, but don’t let it distract you from the other end of town. Macclesfield’s miniature version of the Northern Quarter is locally referred to as the Castle Quarter. Treat your sweet tooth in Cherry Blossom Bakery (even take a cake decorating class, if that’s your thing); further down the cobbles is Salt Bar, recommended on BBC2’s ‘The Restaurant Man’ and double Good Food Award winner, serving tasty and homely Scandinavian food; and across the road, for a lighter snack, is Tempranillo tapas and wine bar.
Gin lovers will be in their element too as Macclesfield is home to the award-winning Forest Gin. Karl and Lindsay Bond have been distilling since 2014, with their products recognised and exported around the world. ‘The awards and ratings that both our gin and whisky have been awarded place them amongst the world’s very best,’ they say. Expect only the finest bottles of natural, organic and foraged ingredients, or visit the Silk Museum to delve into the history of this lovely market town, famed for its silk production heritage
Shop with 160 unique craft, vintage and food and drink stalls at the wonderful Treacle Market on the last Sunday of every month, nicknamed by the centuries-old topple of a treacle-filled horse-drawn cargo wagon onto the cobbles below.
For lovers of live music, Mash Guru is a kitsch venue founded by local musician Pete Mason, while real ale fans have plenty of choice – Five Clouds Tap and Bottle, The Treacle Tap, The Snow Goose and Red Willow, all independent microbreweries and bars.
Macclesfield was also home to the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, and fans and music tours dropping by from nearby Manchester are a regular site at the historic locations connected to the iconic frontman’s life.
Since 2005’s unfortunate award for its lack of culture, local artists have put major efforts into growing and celebrating the culture and heritage of the town. They began by resurrecting the Barnaby Festival, which dates back to the 13th century, and reinvented it as a yearly midsummer celebration of contemporary arts and culture, where every coffee shop, bar and pub becomes a live music venue, art house or theatre.
Macclesfield’s lack of a mainstream cinema was viewed as a major factor in its cultural-desert status. After too many broken promises of a fancy multiplex the local heritage centre opened CineMacc in its premises, a centre that shows all the latest releases at a very reasonable price.
Bag a property
When it comes to property, one of Macclesfield’s biggest attractions is the town’s wide variety of characterful stock.
From tiny mill cottages to sprawling Victorian villas, there’s a fabulous range of houses to suit most needs and budgets, and there’s plenty of new-build activity going on too. Macclesfield remains a relatively affordable area – especially when you start looking at the plethora of new builds that are currently hitting the market – and it’s no surprise that developers are drawn to the area. It’s a great place for young professionals and families to buy. You’re in the foothills of the Peak District with beautiful countryside right on your doorstep. The local schooling is also excellent in both the private and state sectors. The private King’s School, for example, founded in 1502 and which takes students from ages three to 18, recently upgraded to a new, state-of-the-art £60m campus.
Of course the centre of town, like many around the country, has struggled in recent years, with the rise of online shopping, various financial and cost of living challenges, and the pandemic all presenting their own challenges, but the opening of Picturedrome is symbolic of the ambition of the town and the kind of people who are living here now, and things only look like getting better as Covid becomes a memory. There’s a renewed energy and positivity about Macclesfield, and with plenty of new housing due to come onto the market soon it’s a great time to buy!