Northwich is a town with a growing reputation as a destination for interesting independent shops and cafés, and an enthusiasm for hosting events and festivals, including the UK’s only Pina Colada Festival.

The past few years have been tough for the mid-Cheshire town and a series of unfortunate events, including a fire that devastated the market and major floods in 2019 and 2021, led some to wonder whether Northwich was cursed.

On January 21, 2021, Storm Christoph brought widespread flooding to the town centre, devastating businesses and homes. Cheshire West Council said 244 residential and 92 business properties were affected.

Walk around Northwich and it is easy to see the familiar gaps evident in many towns, where former household names used to trade.

Yet evidence of regeneration work is also clear, as are the numerous small businesses are helping it rise again.

Traders’ leaders say there are at least 60 independent shops, cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars in the heart of town, and this entrepreneurial spirit is the key to the town's future success, according to long-time Northwich resident and business owner Phil Bower.

'It’s a town centre with an extraordinary resilience,' says Phil. 'I have worked in many places, but Northwich has a special spirit. It has community strength at its heart.'

Phil, a member of the Northwich Business Improvement District (BID) executive board, owns Northwich Art Shop, on Witton Street. He took on the longstanding Northwich business having moved home to Cheshire in 2015.

Great British Life: Abda Coffee, Cake and Culture, in Crown Street.Abda Coffee, Cake and Culture, in Crown Street. (Image: Nigel Howle)

Abda Obeid-Findley typifies that community spirit. Her business, Abda Coffee, Cake and Culture, in Crown Street, was among those left underwater in 2021. It’s now thriving again, featuring speciality coffee and tea from around the world, and offering space for community and cultural gatherings.

While chatting about her own business success, Abda happily name-checks other independent places to eat and drink, including Vinnies, on Market Street, from where Abda recommends the delicious milkshakes, That South African Place, whose owners are from Durban, and The Bird and Hat, a specialist rum bar.

Abda, originally from Sudan, says: 'I’ve also lived in Argentina and have staff members from different cultures, and all this is reflected in our offering at Abda. We work directly with farmers to ensure our coffees and teas are ethically sourced and organic.

'I came to the area from Manchester just under six years ago and have found that it has great community pride and spirit. It’s a place where shop owners and shoppers help each other.

'The 2021 flood caused much damage to premises, including our own, but we supported each other and our independent businesses. Shop owners work together alongside the BID where I am vice chair of the executive board.'

The BID team is working to enhance Northwich, market the town, bring together the business community and to stage seasonal events and festivals.

Great British Life: Battling the tide: the River Weaver sluice gates in Northwich at sunset.Battling the tide: the River Weaver sluice gates in Northwich at sunset. (Image: Getty)

Northwich offers visitors an intriguing blend of river town, market town and post-industrial town built on the pillars of salt which lie beneath the Cheshire plain.

There’s a smattering of historic black and white buildings in the centre and the older shopping area is complemented by the modern Barons Quay shopping and leisure development.

Opened in 2016, by Cheshire West and Chester Council, the £80m Barons Quay complex has a mix of big-name brands and smaller enterprises, such as Bear coffee shop, Dockyard bar, the Coffee House and Wildwood pizza, pasta and grill.

Northwich is a town with many distinct areas including Winnington, Rudheath, Barnton, Castle and Hartford.

Each has its own character with shops, pubs and bars. Well-known Northwich pubs include the Swinging Witch in the heart of the town centre, the Bowling Green on London Road, the Kingfisher on Kingsmead Square, the Clock Tower on Chester Way, the Slow and Easy on Manchester Road, and the Bulls Head, Davenham.

Great British Life: Northwich heritage signposted at the Lion Salt Works.Northwich heritage signposted at the Lion Salt Works. (Image: Getty)

Built on salt

Northwich through the ages

Northwich is a town built on pillars of salt and it is believed the mineral was one reason why the Roman Empire established a settlement in the area, exploiting Mid Cheshire’s salt beds.

The suffix 'wich', evident in Northwich, Nantwich, and Middlewich, relates to salt, and a reference to a salt house in the Domesday Book shows the mineral was being mined in Anglo-Saxon times.

The salt beds beneath Northwich were rediscovered in 1670 by the Smith-Barry family as they searched for coal. This led to salt mining starting up again, which saw a boom in the town’s prosperity and the establishment of the Brunner Mond plant, a significant name in Britain’s economic history as one of four companies that came together to become Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI).

Relics of Northwich’s industrial past can be seen at the former Lion Salt Works, now a museum, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The museum opened to the public in 2015, offering an insight into the country’s last open-pan salt-making site.

It is close to the Anderton Boat Lift, sometimes known as the Cathedral of the Canals, and named as one of the 'seven wonders of the waterways' by the Canal and River Trust.

Around 100,000 visitors from across the UK flock to view the three-storey iron boat lift each year. The lift was designed to lift boats and barges 50 feet into the air as they pass from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal and still does its job more than 140 years after its construction.

The site is set to close for around 18 months from Easter 2025 as the boat lift needs a major upgrade to ensure it can continue to transport 3,000 canal boats a year.

The area is part of the Northwich Woodlands, an area of accessible countryside stretching from the town's doorstep to Marbury Country Park.

The woodlands were created from what was once largely derelict land and are now made up of nine countryside sites each with a distinctive character and history.

There’s access from the Anderton Boat Lift site to Cheshire’s Heritage Cycle Trail from where cyclists can ride to the centre of Northwich. and the Weaver Hall Museum.

Two rivers, the Weaver and the Dane, meet in Northwich. This has helped to shape the geography of the town centre and generates visitors, thanks to the Northwich Quay Marina.

Another familiar Northwich landmark is Roberts Bakery, at Rudheath. The bakery’s cooling towers have become iconic and now feature on the bread wrappers alongside the Raised in Cheshire strapline.

The bakery is close to Gadbrook Park, a 100-acre employment area featuring offices and headquarters for companies including e-commerce retail company HTG plc, until recently known as the Hut Group, and Poole Alcock, a national firm of solicitors founded in 1889.

Joanne Hughes, receptionist at Poole Alcock’s Gadbrook Park head office, has lived in Northwich all her life and says it is a fantastic place to call home.

'I love living in Northwich, there’s so much to see and do, with many great places to socialise. We recently celebrated a family birthday at Chime, in Hartford, and visited the Poppy tea rooms in the town centre for a lovely afternoon tea,' she says.

Great British Life: Community champion Radio Northwich. Community champion Radio Northwich. (Image: Nigel Howle)

'“Northwich’s town centre businesses are always putting on events and helping each other out. The Salty Dog is great for live music, offering artists to suit many tastes, and the Brio Leisure centre has shows on throughout the year.'

Joanne also praises the high standards in the town schools and says Northwich’s rail and road system gives easy access to larger towns and cities, with direct links to Chester, Liverpool and Manchester.

The town has its own radio station, Radio Northwich, broadcasting from Leicester Street, Barons Quay.

Joint owner Kim Smith, who presents a popular morning show says: 'We play great music to suit all tastes and host guests from the area, bringing people from Northwich and Cheshire together through internet radio, wherever they live.

'Radio Northwich is a champion for our town and a force for good. I see Northwich as offering the best of all worlds. We are a market town, we have major stores and the most fantastic force of independent business owners who work with Northwich BID and the town council for positive results.'

Great British Life: Rupert Holmes, former Northwich lad, whose Piña Colada song inspired the annual festival in the town. Rupert Holmes, former Northwich lad, whose Piña Colada song inspired the annual festival in the town. (Image: Stefan Radtke)

Why Piña Colada?

In 2021, Northwich resident Tom Barrow discovered that Rupert Holmes, the writer and singer of the world-famous Piña Colada song, was raised in Northwich.

Tom suggested on social media that the town should home a Piña Colada Day, which attracted hundreds of comments from people who loved the idea.

Escape (The Piña Colada Song) was a chart-topper in the US and Canada and made the UK top 30.

Holmes, whose real name is David Goldstein, moved to live in America at the age of six along with his family, including his father Leonard, a US Army Warrant Officer and bandleader.

Bars and restaurants join in the fun and more than 5,500 piña colada cocktails, mocktails, milkshakes and smoothies were sold at the summer 2022 event.

Tom is among the presenters on Radio Northwich, a hyperlocal station with ex-pat listeners across the globe, possibly even a certain Rupert Holmes.