During lockdown, many of us made the pilgrimage back to our family homes – and rediscovered them through fresh eyes. Part guide, part love letter, “Home towns” is a series in which we celebrate where we’re from. After all, it could be a while before we can go anywhere else…
Being born, bred and living the best of my “babbie” years in Nuneaton has been everyone else’s favourite running joke about me for my entire adult life.
When I left the Midlands for drama school in the mid Noughties, my newfound posh friends couldn’t understand a word I said. They lovingly dubbed my accent “boigle”, a made-up description apparently capturing its drones and downward inflections. Over getting-to-know-yous at events, strangers still apologise to me on my own behalf, certain my short sentence in “The Armpit of Britain” must equate to deep-seated trauma.
It may be a place that has graced a multitude of “Top 10 Crap UK Towns” lists over the years but, for the most part, this much-maligned corner of the world was matchless. The pocket Pacman grid I manoeuvred daily linking my bedroom, school, the corner shop, playing field, nan and grandad’s bungalow and my cousin’s house, was life. All I need dodge was the “chuddy” (chewing gum) all over the pavement, the “jitty” (alleyway) after dark and the “mardy” (grumpy) man up the road who didn’t approve of fun.
It wasn’t until I visited London for the first time, aged 13 (my diary entry remembers it as “THE BEST DAY OF MY ACTUAL LIFE”), that I started to feel trapped. How was I ever going to work in the media or eat Planet Hollywood burgers for tea when my life was a repeat montage of Belle’s song “Little Town” from Beauty and The Beast? (Just swap out the “Bonjours!” for “Hello me Ducks!” and the bread rolls for “batches”).
Although never outright-Nuneaton-bashers, my friends and I clearly chose to glitter sprinkle the hand we'd been dealt once we began questioning it - renaming our town “Funeaton” or “Sunny Nunny” (an irony masterclass). It felt perpetually overcast, or “black over Bill’s mothers”, as we prefer to say (a Bard reference lost on me as I spent my youth wondering why Bill’s mum moved house so much).
Despite making my entrance into this world in the George Eliot hospital, studying George Eliot at school and eventually graduating to drinking in the George Eliot pub, it took me years to appreciate that the leading 19th century writer, Mary Ann Evans (born in Nuneaton and known predominantly by her pen-name) was a grossly overlooked revolutionary who needed to take drastic measures to break through. A kindred spirit! George Eliot inspired my feminism then and, in more recent years, became the muse behind my debut book. Unusual pangs of love for my hometown’s history hit me right in my roots.
Something from your childhood seems to shape your perception of a mile. For me, the walk from my front door to Blockbuster video on the edge of town remains my distance calculator. It’s a route I still trace in my mind as I pound the London streets in running shoes. I have always believed I flourished because I ran a mile and never looked back. On reflection, much of my success is linked to the shreds of love I have for what is widely thought of as an unlovable town.
Nuneaton’s simplicity, secret language and wit still sings to me, because it made me, me
Growing up in Nuneaton gave my creativity an unconventional audacity. I never thought my “boigle” would be celebrated as a diverse voice by the entertainment industry, make me money in the world of voice-overs or allow me to share words like “chuddy” on a platform such as The Independent. Nuneaton’s simplicity, secret language and wit still sings to me, because it made me, me.
There’s a lot to mock Nuneaton for and we will let you because we have the best sense of humour north of Watford Gap. My neck of the woods has some real neck. Here's what to do when you pay a visit.
Nuneaton’s had proud links with the Nepalese community since the 30 Signal and Queens Gurkha regiments joined Gamecock Barracks in the Nineties. Hundreds of former soldiers and their families have settled in the town and in 2002 the Gurkhas were given the highest accolade that Nuneaton and “Beduff” council could bestow: The Freedom of the Borough. A visit to the nation’s first Gurkha memorial and only Gurkha pub, known as the Nuneaton Gurkha Corner, awaits.
Once your appetite has been whetted, head to Crossed Khukris for home-cooked traditional Nepalese cuisine. Serving Gurkha Chulo and Maccha Ko specials to Nuneatonians since 1998, this family-run restaurant, which supports stacks of charities, has a big heart and big flavours. Go for the momo and chutney and stay for the rest of the menu.
Get a round in
With beers baptised with names such as Where Pour Half Thou and Taming of the Brew, what’s not to love about the Church End Brewery? In 2017 it even took top gong at the Great British Beer Festival with its very own goat’s milk beer – a bevvy that crowned it Supreme Champion.
The independent craft brewery started life in an old coffin workshop. In fact, if you visit and feel overwhelmed by all that is on offer, ask for a Church End Coffin, sup your way through eight samples of its finest and thank me later.
The brewer now supplies ale to buzzing bars and sleepy canalside boltholes in and around town and hosts tours, functions and community days onsite. Treat yourself to some of the local produce available too – why not try some Sparkenhoe Stud crumbly bosworth field cheese, or a Rowley’s porkpie with your wobbly pop? Jobs a good’un.
Talk a stroll
During lockdown my mum and stepdad kept me so up to date with their newfound route, that despite having never trodden this particular path myself, I’ve been WhatsApped enough moorhen photographs and accompanying trek trivia from it to feel qualified to share the course.
There’s an abundance of waterway walks but Ann and Dave reckon it's best to start at Atherstone locks. From here you pass by Mancetter bridge, reputedly the last battlefield and burial place of Boudica and cradle of the Tudor dynasty (the Tudors camped here on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth).
Wind on down under the ancient wooded hillside of Hartshill Hayes Country Park, from where, on our annual smattering of clear days, there are glorious views over four counties. Take a breather at the Anchor Inn for a chug of the aforementioned Church End as you go – you’ll need a drink to see you right as you head on in to the suburbs and pass under the shadow of Mount Judd. (As a “littl’un” I thought Nuneaton had a mysterious mountain; turns out it’s just a giant spoil heap).
You can head on into Nuneaton centre proper from here alongside waterside dwellings and gardens, and maybe meet some of the residents.
WARNING: Chit-chat and eye contact are similarly likely local traits. Be not afeard!