In a suburb just outside staid and stuffy Solihull there is a surprise lurking - Akamba an African art and craft shop, garden centre and cafe, with Caribbean food and added music - reggae, soul and funk. You never know what you are going to find: hand-made pots, Fairtrade African art, exotic African prints and posters, all overlooked by giant metal animals - zebras, giraffes, chimpanzees. Magical
Not that there's already enough reasons to visit north-west Sutherland - stunning beaches, great cycling roads, mountains galore - one to add to the list is Cocoa Mountain in Durness. Faced with an endless choice of hand-made chocolate treats, what will you not take home. And those surfers and cyclists can replace lost calories by enjoying the best hot chocolate ever!
I love Hobos. It's the only place I've ever been where I can buy vintage clothes, a retro bag, the wrapping paper and a card all at once. It's perfect for little off-the-wall gifts and is a hippy's paradise. The 60s theme decor works excellently and is very inviting. They also do a 10% student discount, which is great for us lot on budgets! If I need to get something unique and a little crazy, this is the only place to go.
Last year, my aunt and I visited Krakow to do our Christmas shopping. While there, we stayed just off the main market square in a neat little hostel. Every morning we were awoken to the smell of fresh food coming from the market below. It was the perfect place to find homemade, tasty foods and drinks for the family. I bought everything from honey, homemade wine to delicious handmade biscuits. It was perfect. The snowy landscape made the hot foods even better, as it warmed you from the inside out. I enjoyed it so much I'm hoping to go back next year.
The Rynek, Market Square, Old Town
Google map: bit.ly/v0TgXw
On an unassuming road in Hackney, tucked between hip coffee shops and scruffy auto repairs, you will find Viktor Wynd's Little Shop of Horrors.
Upon entering you will be greeted by a party of giant taxidermied antelope heads and African voodoo masks. Tomes of mythology and the occult line the bookshelves while armies of butterflies and beatles roam any left over spaces on the walls.
The resulting experience is a bit like falling down Alice's rabbit hole and re-emerging in a world that is part 17th century curiosity cabinet, part 70s sci-fi movie gone wrong.
As well as being toted as a museum of the weird and wonderful, the shop also holds regular art exhibitions. Framed works by the likes of Mervyn Peake and the Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington have recently been displayed. There are also regular lectures (on subjects you never knew existed), workshops, puppet shows and films.
The shop is part of the wider 'Last Tuesday Society', who are also known for holding some of the most decadent masked balls and afternoon tea dances in London.
A strange little shop, filled to bursting point with fairy, gnome, imp and pixie figurines. The whole place is like entering the underworld. The shop itself is definitely on the cosy side, and with fairies hanging from the ceiling and surrounding you it seems positively minuscule. The fairies and pixies definitely rule this shop, humans can only visit for as long as you can stand the powerful incense that fills whatever room is left.
57 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1BS
+44(0)131 225 8207
Google map: bit.ly/tbEBIL
Alex sources spices, chocolate, garlic and olives mostly from the Mediterranean; what he doesn't know about which hillside which olive came from isn't worth knowing. His stall is stunning, the colours rich and the smells irresistible. Pinch yourself - you're in a Pennine town - but take home Spanish saffron, Tuscan olive oil, figs, pasta and chorizo. All this, and he's a real gent.
Brook Street, Todmorden OL14 5AJ
+44(0)1706 819 731
Google map: bit.ly/sGDJXM
When I want to be a mermaid I step inside Pewsey Wool Shop. Pewsey Carnival fortnight sees the shop full of fraught fancy dressers, such as would-be eskimos, looking for a Mr Benn fix for the procession. And proprietor Ruth Cope is always full of tips on simplifying elaborate transformations. Knitting patterns muddle along with sequins, ribbons, beads, buttons, faux fur, fabric glue and safety pins. But, amongst a clutter of curios, you might also find a melodeon, old-fashioned coffee grinder or antique clock. A wonderful place where you can forget time, lose yourself and transcend the everyday.
45-47 North Street, Pewsey, Wiltshire, SN9 5ES
+44(0)1672 564 585
Google map: bit.ly/svHmZ3
If you like customising everything under the sun with quirky buttons, buckles, ribbons and trim, then this is the place for you. The first shop opened in Harrogate in 1956, and there is another in Ilkley, and a third in a wonderful medieval building in York. Drusilla White, the daughter of Duttons founder, travels the world in search of fabulous buttons, and offers the largest selection in the UK - over 12,000 to be precise. They range from sparkly diamante to vintage glass, shell, wood and ceramic. Unusual designs include buttons in the shape of hats, lighthouses, owls and fish. They sell a great hessian bag for you to customise, and every other haberdashery item you could ever need. Buttons from Duttons can even be spotted in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Evita!
Let’s be honest you thought they were pretty weird as a child, small furry animals, dressed in clothes? But still, stumble on Sylvanian Families tucked away in residential Islington and you’ll start to develop a nostalgia you never knew you had. Selling solely the little critters and their paraphernalia – the Moss Reindeer Family now available on Christmas Cracker Deals – it’s a great opportunity to drag the kids away from the computer and show them exactly what fun Mum had when she was young. The bars of Stoke Newington’s fashionable Church Street are just minutes away to help take your mind of all those glass eyes, and your misspent youth.
A shop selling specialist teas, delicious home made light bites and offering a range of holistic therapies. I only popped in for a free cuppa on opening day and booked myself in for a treatment the next!
With the chaos and cars of Kingsland Road, Dalston’s busy high street just around the corner, the Farm Shop on Dalston Lane makes a welcome escape. Slightly bizarre stark white décor greets you on arrival in their first room with ‘aquaponic’ fish tanks and a wall of plants. There are signs explaining that the water is circulated between the fish tanks and the plants and this is all harvested off the roof, which incidentally is where they keep their chickens! Wandering through the shop is more like a science museum with gems of sustainable inspiration and you can even hire out the polytunnels for parties complete with a disco ball! Once you’ve finished exploring the shop sells a range of delicious foodstuffs – from London honey to today’s eggs to fish to fairtrade organic coffee. There’s also often art on the walls up for grabs and the café serves the best bacon sandwich in London! Much loved and recommended for an intriguing shopping experience – who knows, you could come away with a chicken!
When my family relocated to Ely I helped them move in. New in the town, I asked a passerby where to find lightbulbs. 'Ely Cycle Centre'
was the Fenlander's confident response. Sure enough, after all the bikes, I spied the lightbulbs along with everything else you could possibly need. Now whenever we visit Ely we head to the cycle centre.
I'll discuss sewing patterns in the little haberdashery section at the back, while my daughter looks at board games and my husband heads to the DIY department. As yet we've bought everything except the bikes at Ely Cycle Centre. But Christmas is coming!
My recommendation is an unusual pop up shop/online shop. It specialises in 'recreating found furniture into individual one off pieces'. Having visited the pop-up shop when it came to my local hometown in Banbridge, Northern Ireland I was both impressed by the quality finish of the restyled items and inspired by the artists' creativity and skill. The pop-up shop has set up in many areas/craft fairs around Northern Ireland and has also recently been in Glasgow, so it is best to either check their website or join their Facebook 'Refound' page to find out where the next location will be. Not only can you buy ready to go restyled furniture you can also bring in your own furniture and commission one of the many talented artists to revitalise it. Failing that, you can also buy furniture/organise a commission for your piece of furniture via their funky website. The founder Jill O'Neill on her website says “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” which sums up the basis for the concept behind her shop. If you like something unusual and a bit quirky, this is definitely something to check out!
On the Salford's neglected Chapel Street, once the city centre but now much in the shadow of its close Mancunian neighbour, there has suddenly appeared 'the modernist' shop, filled with modernist and architecturally inspired prints, photographs, art and designed objects. Illuminated by an artwork made from redundant signage and including mini Granada TV Centres, and Tower Block mugs, tea towels inspired by 'brutal' Park Hill and Salford's Shopping City, the shop has been opened as a 'fundraiser' by the Manchester Modernist Society and publishers of 'the modernist' magazine.
An organic farm shop and café with a difference. Set at the edge of the forest just outside the picturesque and historic town of Falkland, the Pillars of Hercules provides a pretty unique shopping experience. Recently and justifiably awarded the UK’s Best Small Organic Store it sells all manner of organic, fresh, local and tasty foods, lovely home made breads, chilled foods, toiletries, household items, wines, beers and of course the freshest of fresh veg and fruit – most of it grown on site, and even bouquets of local flowers. In season they sell plants in their little nursery and it’s lovely to stroll round the gardens.
However as well as a shop it’s a bit of a “holiday destination” as you can camp in a choice of the tipi field, orchard or banking field, spending evenings sitting round a campfire and days strolling round the different walks that start from the shop. Or rent the bothy with it’s wood burning stove for a few nights for a little more comfort. If you don’t feel like cooking they have a café serving delicious food from breakfast through to late afternoon snacks with the “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” open for dinner and music every month or so.
If you can manage to visit in July the “Big tent Festival” happens in Falkland – a weekend of music, eco and family friendly events and great food supplied by Pillars of Hercules and while in the area it’s worth taking the time to stroll round Falkland and visiting Falkland Palace and Gardens www.nts.org.uk
It's a shop minutes from Oxford Street selling rare and unusual teas and tea paraphernalia.
If you want to learn about tea, have a tea tasting session.
In the heart of historic Bloomsbury, just opposite the British Museum on Bury Place, lies the wonderful Blade Rubber Stamps shop. I have spent hours enthralled by the weird and wacky stamp designs on display. This shop takes me back to a time of traditional innocence and reinvigorates and inspires the dormant creativity left behind in childhood. The shelves are lined with stamps in all shapes and sizes but if you want something more personal, customised designs can be made-to-order. Ink pads can be found in a delightful array of colours. There are seasonal designs and plenty of Santa Claus', tree designs, angels and snowmen ready to be stamped onto personalised cards in time for Christmas. The shop also stocks everything you could possibly need to make beautifully designed scrapbooks including glitter, stickers, buttons, brads and eyelets. Once you are hooked or if you need to kickstart your creativity they even offer classes to help improve your decorating skills.
Mr Woods Fossils sells exactly what it says (and no crystals.) There are large slabs of rock with a lot of fossils in them and huge ammonites but also plenty of interesting smaller specimens as well as some which are pocket money sized. There are also usually the most amazing fossils of fish and shrimp like creatures. When you've done the tartan and whisky bit in Edinburgh this is the place to go.
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